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When Was The Pen Invented?

Updated on March 14, 2012

The modern pen had its origin in the reed or calamus, which is still used for writing in the East. The ancient Egyptians, like the Chinese and Japanese of the present day, used a brush for writing, while the Romans and Greeks used the sharp point of a stylus to scratch their characters on waxen tablets. It is impossible to say when the quill feather superseded the reed; there is no doubt that for quite a long period both the reed and the quill feather were in use. St Isidore of Seville (circa 600) mentions both as being used in his time.

At any rate, because of its suitability for writing on vellum (the main literary writing material of the Middle Ages), the quill feather was the main pen of the Middle Ages, and indeed even of modern times down to the 19th century. After 1530 turkey quills were most often used, but swan quills were much valued, and crow quills for fine lines. Owing to the loss of time involved in mending the points of quill nibs, various attempts were made to give durability to them by gilding (Watt in 1818), and by attaching to them horn or tortoiseshell tips (Hawkins and Mordan). The only satisfactory substitute, however, was found to be the complete steel nib, which was first introduced in London in 1803 by Wise, and came into general use about 1830, when James Perry and Joseph Gillott of Birmingham, began to make them by machinery. Sometimes the steel is alloyed with silver, platinum, or rhodium, but this greatly increases the expense, while a gold nib with a ruby at the tip has been found to be of great durability and almost perfect for writing.

In fountain pens, the pen-holder takes the form of a hollow shaft containing a reservoir of ink which is released so as to maintain a steady flow during writing. The pen may be designed to be filled in one of several ways: by means of a lever on the barrel of the pen which releases or depresses a small rubber bag which draws up or expels the ink by suction; by means of a filler button which acts as a piston; or by means of a snorkel device. Many present-day pens may be loaded with an ink 'cartridge' which is replaced .as a unit when it is empty. The first effective fountain pens appeared soon after 1860; in their earliest form most needed to be charged with ink by means of an independent filler. It was difficult to overcome the problem of producing a pen that was fluent for varying speeds of writing but capable of retaining ink without leakage when not in use; ultimately a feed was evolved which is controlled by the sub-reservoirs beneath the nib.

Today all manufacturers can supply a wide range of nibs, from fine to broad, including writing points specially adapted for italic calligraphy. The modern ball-point pen (invented by a Hungarian journalist Ladislao Biro and his chemist brother Georg) comes into a rather different category; semi-solid ink is used and is carried to the paper by the rolling of the ball. The stylographic pen with a wire point instead of a nib is a development. Even ball pens are being replaced by fiber-tipped and felt pens. These have a reservoir of quick-drying ink and a 'nib' of porous fiber or felt.


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