A well-known instrument for writing. In the earliest ages, writing was executed with styles of metal or other hard substance, which, after a time, were superseded by pens and coloured inks. The first pens were made of reeds, or small hard canes, about the size of the largest swan quills, cut and split in the same manner as the pens in present use. According to Isidore, and some other writers, quill-pens were first introduced about the year 636; they did not come into general use, however, till the middle of the seventh, and were not common till towards the close of the eighth century. Reed-pens continue to be employed up to the present time, for writing some of the oriental languages, and by artists, for sketching outlines. The greater number of pens now in use. are made from the quills of the goose - those of the swan, turkey, duck, and crow, being occasionally employed - the two latter exclusively for very fine writing or drawing. As the making or mending of quill-pens is to many persons difficult of attainment, and to all, at times, inconvenient, various attempts have been made to render the process less frequently required.
One of these methods consisted in arming pens made of turkey-quills with metallic points or nibs, by which their durability was somewhat increased, although at the expense of the natural elasticity of the quill; nor was the durability sufficiently extended to be commensurate with the additional cost. To do away with the necessity of frequent pen-mending, Mr. Bramah took out a patent for an improvement in pens, which consisted in dividing a quill longitudinally, and cutting it into four or six lengths, according to the size of the barrel. Each of these pieces formed a pen - some two, by being cut at each end. The pens thus formed were held in a jointed silver holder, which imparted great firmness to the quill, while it permitted the free action of the nibs. Pens have been made from horn, also from tortoise and other shells; but no useful application has hitherto been made of such pens, as they are more expensive and even less durable than those made from quills. Some successful attempts have been made to form the nibs of pens of precious stones, in order that they may be used a long time without wear or corrosion.
The first that we recollect were introduced by Messrs. Hawkins and Mordan, whose specification of 1823 states, that they make use of tortoise-shell or horn, instead of quills; and when the material is cut into nibs, these parts are softened in boiling water, and then small pieces of diamond, ruby, or other precious stones, are imbedded into them by pressure; by this means, it is said pens of great durability as well as elasticity are made. To give stability to the nibs, the patentees proposed to affix to the tortoise-shell, or horn, thin pieces of gold or other metal, and attaching the same by the before-mentioned or any other convenient means, as cement or varnish. It is likewise suggested that springs may be placed on the back of the pen, as shown in the annexed figure, which may be slided backward or forward, to vary the elasticity according to the different hands that may be required in writing. We are informed by a gentleman who had one of these pens many months in constant use, that it had exhibited no signs of deterioration or wear. Mr. Doughty, of Great Ormond-street, has likewise devoted much attention to the construction of pens, the nibs of which are rubies set in fine gold.
They are said to write as fine as a crow-quill, and as firm as a swan-quill - to possess considerable elasticity, and produce an uniform manuscript, unattainable by ordinary pens. Mr. Doughty states, that "some of his ruby pens have been in constant use upwards of six years, and continue still perfect; and that if a little care be taken of the nibs, by preventing their being struck against hard substances, and occasionally washing them with soap and water, with a little brushing, they will be found, notwithstanding their first cost, economic pens." The rhodium pens, consisting of two flat strips of gold placed angularly side by side, and tipped with a hard metallic alloy, are very durable, though not equal to the ruby nibbed. Under the head Inkstand, we have given Mr. Doughty's contrivance to prevent injury to his pen-nibs in dipping for ink.
The first decided attempt to introduce metallic pens to general use, was made by Mr. Wise, whose "perpetual pens " will doubtless be remembered by many of our readers. The name of Wise was rendered conspicuous in most of our stationers'shops, some twenty-five or thirty years since, as the original inventor and genuine manufacturer of the steel pens; they consisted of a barrel-pen of steel, mounted in a bone case, for convenience for carrying in the pocket. Notwithstanding his productions possessed but in a very remote degree the requisite properties of a writing instrument, and were extremely dear, he managed to make a scanty livelihood out of the business, by dint of unwearied exertions in promoting their sale. Mr. Donkin subsequently made some excellent steel pens, but the price was high, and the demand inconsiderable. This description of pen has recently been very much improved, especially by Mr. Joseph Gillott, of Birmingham, who is the largest manufacturer of steel pens in the world, converting annually upwards of forty tons of fine steel into writing pens. The improvement has been accomplished by employing metal of a better quality in a thinner and more elastic state - by making the slit shorter, and by more carefully attending to the finish and temper of the pens.
These improvements in quality have also been attended with so great a reduction in price, that a gross of the improved steel nibs may now be purchased for very little more than was formerly charged for one of Wise's pens. The common three-slit pen, that is, the pen with a slit on each side of the central slit, is with many persons still a favourite, and some of these pens seem to embody most of the advantages of which metallic pens are susceptible. Their present excellence and extreme cheapness seems to promise the almost entire disuse of quills, although, up to the present time, there has been no falling off in the demand for this article.