Facts about quill pens

Updated February 21, 2017

A riddle from the middle ages is paraphrased as follows: "My mother deserted me, but people picked me up. They cut off my head, scooped out my heart and gave me drink. Then I began speaking. What am I?" A quill pen, of course. The use of quill pens spanned some 1500 years and provided an inexpensive, yet reliable means of communication via the written word.

Fun Fact

The best quills often came from geese, though the flight feathers of crows produced the choicest quills for fine, detailed writing.


Before attempting to create the nib of a quill pen, immerse the tip of a quill into warm water or a small container of hot sand to soften and cure it, and to prevent shattering when cutting with a sharp knife.


Quill pens replaced the stylus and hollow reeds used by the Romans, and the fine reed brushes used by the Egyptians.

Famous Ties

Quill pens have been used to write some of the most famous documents in the world. The quill pen was instrumental in writing the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Constitution of the United States, and countless numbers of illuminated manuscripts scribed by medieval monks.


A well-crafted quill pen generally lasted about a week, and after only a page or two of manuscript, the nib needs to be retrimmed.


Quills from the flight feathers of the leftwing of a goose, swan or crow made the most comfortable quill pens for right-handed writers, and vice versa. The natural curve of a left-winged quill best fit the hand of a right-handed individual.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author