Photo #1 - Hands-on exercises with quill and metal-nibbed pens was part of a special
course for students hosted by the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River
Photo #2 - A freshly-prepared quill pen, ready for use
Photo #3 - Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence with a quill pen. A prodigious writer, Jefferson bred special white geese at his home in Monticello for their quills.
(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - March 3, 2023) Eighteen home school students learned about civics, government, and the Wyoming and U.S. Constitutions at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum this week. Public Engagement Coordinator Aidan Brady taught the special class, which included hands-on writing exercises with real feathered quill pens, metal-nibbed pens, and blueberry-based ink. The students learned that the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were written with quill pens.
The use of quill pens goes back to the 7th century or even earlier. The best quality quills were made from the first five flight feathers from the left wing of molting birds, including geese, turkeys, and hawks, with goose quills favored over those of other species due to their large size and durability. (Quills from the left wing were desirable because they curved outwards, away from the writer. Left-handed writers preferred quills from the right wing.)
Quill pens work because the shaft of a flight feather is long and hollow. Once a quill has been properly prepared and its tip fashioned into a nib with small, sharp knife or other cutting tool, it is ready for use. The quill is dipped into an ink bottle, and the hollow shaft of the feather functions as an ink reservoir. As the user writes, the ink flows to the tip by capillary action. The quill has to be re-dipped repeatedly as the user continues to write. Learning to use a quill pen takes patience and practice, as it requires a much lighter touch than using a ball-point pen. (Small knives used to prepare quills were called “pen knives,” and the name stuck even after quill pens began to be replaced by metal-nibbed pens in the 1820s.)
Preparing a quill pen for use is not a simple process. The procedure is well-explained (and illustrated) on the website of the Jane Austen Centre in the United Kingdom at