Monday, 21 November 2011

Writing in Victorian Times

Like many writers, I adore pens and pencils and stationery of all kinds. Even though most writing is now done on the computer by typing on keys, nothing beats the pleasure of a new notebook and all the pristine pages awaiting the point of a pen.
Throughout history, most writing implements were fashioned from whatever material was available, such as reeds and feathers. Quill pens, made of sharpened goose feathers, were used in Europe by the 13th century. Although metal pens were made from the late 16th century, they were mostly ornamental and rare.
In 1803, Bryan Donkin developed a steel nib which wasn’t very successful,  as the ink corroded the steel and it was less flexible than a quill. The English inventor Joseph Gillot eventually cut three slits into the nib to make it more flexible, making steel nibs commercially available by the 1830s.
Quills and steel nib pens were slow to use, as they had to be dipped in ink every few seconds. In 1832, John Joseph Parker developed a way of producing a pen with its own reservoir of ink. Fountain pens didn’t catch on until 1884, however, when the American inventor Lewis Waterman developed the first practical version using non-corrosive ink.
The ink used for quills and steel nib pens was contained in a bottle, until portable inkwells appeared in the 19th century. The writer then pressed a blotter over the wet ink to prevent smudges on the paper. Rolling blotters were popular during the 19th century. Letters were then folded up and sealed with wax.
Children at Victorian schools used a slate pencil, or sometimes a piece of chalk, to write on a slate. When they finished, they wiped the slate clean with a rag cloth. Older children copied letters on to paper with a nib pen which they dipped in ink. The ink was kept in a large bottle and dispensed into individual inkwells on the desks. You can still see these in very old schools.

Surprisingly, the first typewriter was invented as early as 1829, by American William Austin Burt, and was made of wood. By 1866, Christopher Latham Sholes and Carlos Glidden produced a workable typewriter using the QWERTY keyboard. Seven years later, Sholes signed a contract with E. Remington and Sons, who made the first mass-produced typewriters in 1873, which they renamed the Remington 1. Although Thomas Edison invented the first electric typewriter in 1872, it was not actually sold until 1902.
We’ve come a long way since quills, but I’m so glad that pen and paper have survived to be used as an alternative to all the fast-changing technology!



Carolb said...

Interesting post, Rosemary, thank you.
I remember having to use a fountain pen when I went to Secondary school- cartridges were so much easier than bottled ink. But being left handed it left a lot of my pages smudged.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Carol- thanks for commenting. I don't remember using anything but a biro or a pencil!

Noelene said...

Showing my age here, perhaps, :) but I remember those messy inkwells in my school desk in the 1950s in a small country school in Australia. Got blue ink all over your fingers and big blobs if too much ink came out. I couldn't wait to learn shorthand and typing at high school and love all forms of communication but still my favourite method of writing is with pen/biro on paper. Very therapeutic.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for that, Noelene - I can just picture that ink! Have to agree about pen and paper - I'm sure I write better that way but usually go straight to computer when at home.