September. Leaves are changing color, Fall fever is in the air, and students are returning to school. That means raking yards (yuck), pumpkin spiced everything a bit too early, and an influx of new school and office supplies to make every writer’s heart skip a beat.
If you’re a frequent visitor of my blog you know that I am a writer. An published one, mind you (not yet anyway), but I love finding a good notebook or new favorite pen just as much as anyone else. Here’s a crazy question: what did people use before the almighty pen? As my one character’s profession deals with using this type of tool, I absolutely had to research it.
What? Research a basic tool? You bet!
Now I know what you must be thinking; It’s 2018. We use computers. You know, electronics? Cell phones. Touch screen tablets and styluses. Why would we need to know that? If you’re writing a modern day novel or non-fiction then sure, use all the modern tech and emoji references you want. What if your book, like mine, takes place in 1864? 1743? 1902? 44 B.C..? You really can’t use tech in those centuries unless you’re dealing with time travelers, portals, and space ships.
I find history fascinating. I’m not a classically historian and I haven’t been certified with signed and sealed stamps of approval hanging on my walls. But writing a historical novel series requires you to know things, everything really, about your chosen time period. So, in this first Research It post, I’ll be discussing and a very important tool that was used even before the invention of the typewriter itself. I doubt it’ll be brief (TL;DR status maybe?), and I’ll give credit to my sources of course. Without further adieu, let’s jump right into this madness, shall we?
Item 1: The Pen. I said PENS. #allthepens
Get your mind out of the gutter, dang it!
nor am I referencing the Pittsburgh Penguins
Which came first? The chicken or the egg? That can be amended to this version: Which came first? The graphite pencil or the pen? Now there is an entire website dedicated to the history of the pencil. I’m not kidding – it’s called pencils.com. I guess everyone has their own specialty, right? But that’s not what this particular section is about. Oh no. This is just as specialized as pencils.com. Enough with the thin sarcasm. Moving on with life!
Fun fact: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling recently posted this on her Twitter. My own confession: When I was in China in 2008 I wanted to buy all the adorable pens and pencils they had over there. But I guess I’m more practical…?
Typically, when I think of old style pens, my mind always jumps to the fountain pen. Those fancy, gold tipped things that every highly paid executive has sticking out of their lapel. I may be romanticizing that a bit. But what came before the fountain pen? And what came before that? Now I could just link the Wikipedia page here and just be done with it, but what fun would that be? Who wants to click out to a million little pages when it can all be here in one spot? So here’s the general order of things with some overlap of what was used depending on the development level of geographical regions:
- Reed and quill pens. c.3000 B.C. – 1700s. Their materials depended on what the writer had at their disposal to use. The type of ink was also determined by what they had to make it with. (Could ink be my next topic of discussion? I digress.) These, I think, are mostly self-explanatory. The tip of the reed or quill was whittled down into a point and dipped into the ink. I imagine they used a lot of ink – some things can be very porous and probably used more ink. Unless, perhaps, it was made of wood.
- Metal nib pens, aka dip pens. c.79 A.D. – 1822. Usher in the Iron Age, where smelting and brewing and mixing of metals gave inventors the opportunity to create new tools. Including pointed metal nibs. These were typically fastened to another thing so the scribe could have a better grip on things. Nibs have been found all over the world in varying designs and their use continued into the 18th century without much change. That is, until the 1600s.
- Reservoir pens are not the same as fountain pens. c.1636 – 1827. Terminology doesn’t always do a new invention justice, as the German who developed an ink-holding pen still called parts of it “quills.” One of the earliest patents came in 1636 with more to follow as the designs were perfected and produced. The reservoir pen reigned supreme until the 1820s when a French student invented the newest writing implement.
- Ballpoint pens. c.1888 & beyond. A mere 60 years later came the official patent filing of the ballpoint pen. This device is the brainchild of a man named John J. Loud, followed by László and George Bíró, Juan Jorge Meyne, Slavoljub Eduard Penkala and Yukio Horie with their variations in later decades.
For further details not touched upon here, please visit this Wiki page for all the juicy details. Still gotta give credit, even to a Wikipage!
The rest is, well, history! I figured I would take it nice and easy for this first entry since it’s where I am in the first draft of my novella. How do you like this new series? Was it at least a little bit informative? Light with a dash of humor, or just plain stupid? Let me know in the comments below what you think!
Also, let me know what you’d like to learn about next:
Forward we write!