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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Art of Letter Writing in Regency England, Part II

After finishing the second book in my Widow’s Club series, I wanted to share my research on letters, letter writing, and the post during the Regency. My characters wrote a lot of letters (as did most gentlemen and ladies of the Regency) Since I wanted to share some of the more interesting things I found out about the art of letter writing during the era, I devised a short series of posts on this topic, and this month I’m focusing on quill pens.
Quill pens were the only writing implement available during the Regency era. Steel nib pens don’t arrive on the scene until the 1830s, so quills were necessary for writing not only letters but novels and other documents as well. The most popular bird feathers for quills were the swan, the crow, and the goose. Swan quills made a very broad stroke; crow feather quills made a very fine line and were often used by ladies who wanted to write an elegant hand in their letters. But goose quills were by far the most popular feathers for making quills. If you want to learn how the very long process of making a quill was accomplished, please see Kathryn Kane’s article “The Quill—The Regency Pen” for all the details. Suffice it here to say that one goose could produce 20 quills per year. With quills being the sole source of pens, most of the quills used in England during the Regency were imported from the Norse countries of Norway and Iceland, from The Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Russia. After the protracted processing, the quills were sold in stationer’s shops in lots of twenty-five or fifty. As the nibs wore down, the writer had to re-cut the quill with their own pen knife. Once it had been cut sufficiently up the barb, it was discarded and a fresh quill taken up. Jane Austen penned her novels with a goose quill, as did other Regency writers such as Charlotte and Emily Bronte. And while I wouldn’t suggest writing anything substantial with one now (even though I do write my first drafts long hand now even I, a hard core historian, would not attempt to pen my novels this way), I may just try letter writing with a pen—by candlelight—to give me that certain connection to my period, to go deeper into the experiences of my hero and heroine, and revel once more in the world of the past.


Sue Barr said...

I almost bought a mechanical 'quill' pen during a moment of romantic fantasy, but the price tag stopped me short. $1700. Yeah - not happening.
One of these days I'm going to pen a whole novel by hand. I have in the past written out some scenes on actual paper and quite like the idea. I find it slows the whole process down. However, editing is a drag ;)

Lil said...

It's the candlelight that would get me. From time to time, storms have knocked our power out, so I always have a store of candles on hand. It's fun for a while, pretending I'm living in the early 19th century and doing everything by candlelight, but it's hard to read unless you have quite a few candles by your side, and they really do flicker. As for doing anything else, like trying to cook dinner—keep the bandaids handy!