Who Do You Think You Are?
PEN AND INK
How did our more m literate forebears write their documents?
A person’s individual style of penmanship is their handwriting. In an age of mass illiteracy, handwriting was an art and a mark of one’s education. Students would use copybooks to practise their letters. Most documents that we see today were written with a quill pen, usually made from the wing feathers of geese or sometimes from swans or other large birds. The left wing was preferred because it was curved in the appropriate direction for right-hand use. When writing with a quill, downstrokes would usually be heavier, due to the pen scratching against the surface, while the upward strokes were lighter. To get a fine point, the end of the quill had to be regularly trimmed and sharpened with a small penknife. It wasn’t until the 1830s that a pen equipped with a steel tip was invented and mass-produced.
The writer would dip their quill in an inkhorn, a small portable ink container that was often made of horn. The primary ingredient of the ink used for most legal documents was oak galls.
They contained a high proportion of tannin, and when mixed with iron salts produced a black ink that stained the surface. Carbon could be substituted for the iron salts, but it was not used for legal documents – although it made a blacker ink, it lacked permanence and caused the ink to flake in time. Ponce, a fine dust made from the bone of cuttlefish, chalk or pumice stone, was scattered on the page afterwards to help the ink dry.