Tuesday, October 26, 2010
The Quill / The Goose Pen
The number of geese in Denmark was in 1800 estimated to ab. 123.00, but in the first livestock-counting in 1888 was registered 213.530 geese. The largest part of geese was driven down through the Jutland peninsula for sale in Sønderjylland and at Funen. The slowly walking geese could at most walk ab. 14-15 km a day and if a geese became too tired, it had to be carried!
The geese were kept for delivering food for the table, but also in order to provide feather and down for pillows and duvets. 200 geese were necessary to deliver feathers and downs for a one bed-clothes. But the feathers were used for other things too, as toothpicks, pipe cleaners and as a paint brush for oil-brushing the breads before baking. The long stiff flight feathers were fine in a duster, and the ribbed feathers could be tied in bundles as scrubbing brush for pots and pans.
The large flight feathers were through many centuries used as writing materials. With a special pen-knife the end of the feather was cut off slantwise. The tip was not slit; if the line had to be thicker, then this did not happen by pressing harder, but by giving the feather a turn, so the ink could float out broader.
In several districts the farmers had a duty to deliver suitable goose feathers for the parish school. The school pens were cut by the teacher - but the tip soon lost its elasticity and had to be cut again. The pen feathers were an export article.
The quill was an excellent writing tool. The old documents with their tortuous initials with elegant sweeps show this clearly. The history of the goose-pen can be traced back to the 400s, where they replaced the thin metal-pens in copper or bronze, which were known by the Romans. From the Mediterranean the quill spread across Europe and arrived in the North together with the Latin script and the parchment.
The steel-pen with a slit was invented in the late 1700s, but not mass-produced until ab. 1830. This happened in Birminghan and developed into a good business for the enterprising manufacturer. The feather pen was during a few decades almost out-competed, and in 1880 the production had grown to 15 million steel-pens a week.
In linguistic history we still write with the goose-pen, since the word pen origins from Latin, "penna" meaning feather.
Source: Skalk, archaeological magazine, nr. 5, 1989, V.J.Brøndegaard.
photo: grethe bachmann