A quill pen is a writing implement made from a moulted flight feather (preferably a primary wing-feather) of a large bird. Quills were used for writing with ink before the invention of the dip pen, the metal-nibbed pen, the fountain pen, and, eventually, the ballpoint pen. The hand-cut goose quill is rarely used as a calligraphy tool, because many papers are now derived from wood pulp and wear down the quill very quickly. However, it is still the tool of choice for a few professionals and provides an unmatched sharp stroke as well as greater flexibility than a steel pen.
In a carefully prepared quill the slit does not widen through wetting and drying with ink. It will retain its shape adequately and only requires infrequent sharpening and can be used time and time again until there is little left of it. The hollow shaft of the feather (the calamus) acts as an ink reservoir and ink flows to the tip by capillary action.
The strongest quills come from the primary flight feathers discarded by birds during their annual moult. Generally the left wing (it is supposed) is favored by the right-handed majority of writers because the feather curves away from the sight line, over the back of the hand. The quill barrel is cut to six or seven inches in length, so no such consideration of curvature or 'sight-line' is necessary. Additionally, writing with the left-hand in the long era of the quill was discouraged, and quills were never sold as left and right-handed, only by their size and species.
Goose feathers are most commonly used; scarcer, more expensive swan feathers are used for larger lettering. Depending on availability and strength of the feather, as well as quality and characteristic of the line wanted by the writer, other feathers used for quill-pen making (but only in the USA) include feathers from the crow, eagle, owl, hawk, and turkey. On a true quill the barbs are always stripped off completely on the trailing edge. (The pinion for example only has significant barbs on one side of the barrel.) Later a fashion developed for stripping partially and leaving a decorative top of a few barbs. The fancy, fully plumed quill is mostly a Hollywood invention and has little basis in reality. Most, if not all, manuscript illustrations of scribes show a quill devoid of decorative barbs, or at least mostly stripped.
Quill pens were used to write the vast majority of medieval manuscripts, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. Quill pens are still used today mainly by professional scribes and calligraphers.
Source: Quill from Wikipedia
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