Mightier than the Sword: Medieval writing implements and related topics

This week, Dame Aoife provides a plethora of pointers to pages on pens, pencils, and other paraphenalia of period publication.

Greetings my Faithful Readers!

Not long ago, near to the date of Epiphany and in an email message to me, Erlan Nordskald penned: "I don't know if you ever did one (a links list) on writing implements, not like scribal resources, but actually the history of things that people wrote with....but, I have interests in knowing about the pencil, wax crayons, pens.... How early did writing materials come about... and other than the quill/ink... what was there?"

Of course, this is a terrific idea, picking out specific tools used by the average Medieval Person in their daily life and researching their medieval existence. The only question remains...Can Aoife find enough information on this tricky and esoteric topic? Read on, and you will see (and please feel free to share this information widely, wherever it will find a ready and interested audience). This information could be of use to the average re-enactor, scribes, artisans, and craftspersons. After all, where else can you find a link to a visual on a medieval paperclip :)



Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon, wanna-be scribe
Canton of Riverouge
Barony of Endless Hills
Kingdom of Aethelmearc

Medieval Writing: The Quill Pen
(Site Excerpt) You can try this at home without creating hazard, but a lot of practice and patience might be needed to get a good result. Simple technology is like that. The scribe first selected a feather. It didn't have to be a particularly exotic variety, but a good strong flight feather from the wing of a robust bird worked the best. Medieval re-enactors and people putting on plays please note that there were not many ostriches running around northern Europe in the middle ages. It was usual to cut back the plume of the feather and remove the barb, or feathery bits, from at least the underside of the central barrel of the feather. Despite the loss of romantic affectation, this made it easier to write with and it didn't scrape the scribe's hand. Most pictures of scribes show them holding what looks like a narrow stick rather than something fluffy.

Regia Anglorum: Quills Part 1: Broad Guidelines
(Site Excerpt) If you attempt to cut the quill it could well shatter, so before cutting immerse the tip into boiling water for a few seconds. This will give the quill the consistency of a finger nail. You may now cut the nib, cutting horizontally across the root. Clean out the matter within the quill, then make two diagonal cuts that come to an apex at the point. Carefully cut along the centre of the point for approx. 10mm. You can now chose the width of the nib by simply cutting it. SEE ALSO: Part 3: INK
(Site Excerpt) Here are some ink recipes:1: (Taken from the twelfth century manual 'On Divers Arts' by Theophilus) 'When you are going to make ink, cut some pieces of [hawthorn wood in April or May, before they grow blossoms or leaves. Make little bundles of them and let them lie in the shade for two, three, or four weeks, until they are dried out a little. Then you should have wooden mallets with which you should pound the thorn on another hard piece of wood, until you have completely removed the bark....

Materials and Techniques of Manuscript Production 5: Pen
(Site Excerpt) Everyone is familiar with the image of the medieval scribe copying texts with a quill pen: it is quite correct. The inks were thicker and more glutinous than modern commercial ink, and there are numerous medieval recipes for their manufacture but there are almost no medieval instructions for the cutting of pens. All literate people evidently prepared their own pens and there was thus no merit in writing about how it was done.

Stefan's Florilegium: Scribal Arts
A vast array of collected knowledge. For this topic click on Inks, or Iwandoc (inkwells and pen cases), Quills, Sealing-wax, Wax-tablets, Writing Desks and Writing Isntruments.

Chester Amphitheatre: Medieval Finds
Scroll down to see a medieval paperclip, and a medieval copper pen

The Role of the Wax Tablet in Medieval Literacy
(Site Excerpt) In a patch of muddy wasteland a dark brown rectangular (30mm x 50mm) waterlogged object was spotted lying in what seemed to be a rubbish pit. It had fallen open to reveal writing!... The first text is written in Middle English and is part of a poem. Not all has yet been deciphered but the poem contains a phrase interpreted as '....still she did not answer me, but she didn't say no...',

The Waxed Tablet Page of Randy Asplund
(Site Excerpt) The stylus you see was made by forging and grinding a nail. The horizontal smears on the right side are from the spatulate end wiping the surface back to flat. It can be further smoothed by waving it lightly over a flame.

Midlaurel Weblinks: Wax Tablets
11 links to articles on Wax Tablets

Making an Illuminated Page
(Site Excerpt) The second step was to draw a fairly complete linear rendering of the design (see fig. 2) with what a medieval craftsman called a crayon. The medieval crayon was much like a pencil, being made of hardened pigment paste, and so I used a .5 mm 2h pencil to emulate it. Lead styluses were also used in the middle ages to mark a metallic grey line. The next medieval step would have been to finalize the lines with ink, but I skipped that step on this one to save time. With modern kneaded erasers there is so much control over the cleanup of the final lines anyway, that inking before erasing is unnecessary.

The city on a hill - and on a crayon
by Gena Reisner (note: not alot of crayon information, but interesting to note how some colors are named)
(Site Excerpt) The burnt sienna in every big box of crayons is named for the color of the earth around Siena, Italy - a reddish-brown hill town of medieval buildings, narrow alleyways, and old squares surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, and cypress trees.

The Columbia Encyclopedia: The Pencil
(Site Excerpt) The Egyptians ruled lines with metallic lead, as did medieval monks. The so-called lead pencil-a rod of graphite encased in wood-came into use in the 16th cent.

The Ink Compendium
copyright 1998, E. Boucher
(Site Excerpt) The history of writing itself becomes a bit more clear with the arrival of the first cuniform tablets. By the time we get to our period of interest, however, we have individuals not only making ink, but writing the process down for posterity. Ink, the word, derives from incausium, refering to the product's ability to "burn into" the writing surface. Different types of ink will have different abilities to sink or soak into the writing surface; too, different surfaces will allow penetration of some types of ink, while repelling other types of inks.

How To Cut a Bamboo Pen
A demonstration by Ward Dunham

(Site Excerpt) Reed pens are many centuries old. They are used for Calligraphy that needs a broad-edged, flexible pen. Ward uses bamboo pens for Blackletter and other Gothic writing. The pens are about seven inches long and one half to one inch wide at the tip.

If you wish to correspond with Aoife directly, please send mail to: mtnlion at ptd dot net.