Thursday, February 2, 2017

Pens by E. Ayers



Pens by E. Ayers

Being an avid reader, means I read a lot! Unfortunately, I don't have as much time to read as I once did, but I will buy a friend's book as well as occasionally do a content read for another author. So when I was asked if I wanted to trade manuscripts with a particular author, I said yes! This author sells gobs of books so I figured I was going to have a wonderful read. Her book was set in the post-Civil War period of 1865. Thrilled when the manuscript arrived, I immediately began to read with my editing software turned on so that notes, etc. were easy to tuck into the document. It didn't take me long to spot a historical error. I continued to read and the historical mistakes only got worse. But when the heroine was being held prisoner in the house of a wealthy bad guy, she made her way to his desk and wrote a letter, using a quill pen that the author had richly described as being pure white, including the quill tip - obviously an ostrich plume, from the description, without saying ostrich. But when the heroine was finished with the pen, she carefully wiped the quill tip on her hankie until it returned to its pure white color. Okay, I lost it. For a historical novel, it was hysterical. Had I simply been a reader, I would have tossed the book aside. I forced myself to finish reading and kept pointing out all her errors. But I doubt I will ever forget that scene with the quill pen. I can imagine the hankie and her fingers stained in India ink that she would simply wash away as though they were never discolored.
My love of pens sent me looking up information years ago. But with the advent of today's Internet, we have access to information that hadn't been available through normal channels. I've been working for years on a historical diary, and I needed to know more about pens, stationery, and postal information. So I began digging through the Internet. With many companies proudly showing off their patents, famous nibs and pens, advertisements, founders, and much more, the information is easier to obtain.
Now you are wondering what this has to do with the West. Well, what sort of pen would my heroine have taken with her as she went west to the Wyoming territory in the 1840's? She was not
QUILL PENS
from a wealthy family, but her parents did own a dry goods store. That would give her access to things that might not be commonly used by the general public. Dip pens, a general term for any pens that are dipped into an inkwell, were common, but in demand, because of public education for good quills created a shortage. Children learned at an early age to cut a quill, and it was a skill worth learning, because quill pens wore out quickly and were easily damaged.
Enter the metal nib pen, also a dip pen. They had been around seemly forever but not in continuous use, because jewelers handcrafted them out of silver, gold, or bronze. I can't figure out why they were not more abundant, other than the cost of such an implement. But the early 1800's saw dozens of patents for metal nib pens. And in the 1830's, an Englishman William Joseph Gillot figured out how to manufacture a stainless steel nib. It didn't take him long to create a fortune.

MY CHILDHOOD NIB PEN WITH MY BALLPOINT PEN

 These simple pens could make very fine lines, were extremely cheap, and were in common use through the 1950's. It was what was used in school. As a pre-school child, I can still remember my older sister coming home from school with the tip of one braid looking rather blue. Seems Peter dipped that braid in his ink well. By the time I entered school, the round cup holder in our desks no longer contained a bottle of ink. We all carried pens with cartridges of ink inside them.
FOUNTAIN PEN
Fountain pens with disposable, click-in cartridges are available today. Expensive and beautiful, they are still considered to be the finest writing instruments. Barely needing to touch the page, they create beautiful lines, responding to the curves of the letters and pressure of the user to create those letters.
We also take today's fountain pen for granted that it will continue to produce a lovely fine line every time we uncap it. But in the 1800's such was not the case. Several dozen patents were obtained on the continuous flowing fountain pens that did not need to be dipped every few letters. The ink bladder was not easy to refill. They had a terrible habit of letting loose and depositing more ink on the page than desired. They were also expensive. It was 1889 when George S. Parker patented a fountain pen that really was relatively leak proof.
NIB PRESSED HARD AGAINST PAPER  
Pens have evolved considerably since 1800, but quill pens are still fun. I wouldn't say they are easy to make, but a little practice will produce a usable pen. I didn't say fabulous pen, just something that will allow us to scratch a few ink letters on something. The point on a quill pen is split and that is what holds the ink and allows it to flow onto the page. The more pressure on the point, the more ink that flows, making a thicker line. Pressure on the point opens the split wider. Open the split too much and you have a blob of ink. A well-crafted quill pen in continuous use will last approximately a week. But it often needs a little tidying during that week, meaning reshaped or re-cut. So a quill pen user always carried a small, handy, pen knife. A good penknife contained a second blade used for scraping ink off a piece of paper AKA an eraser.
 So my heroine would have left her family carrying an inexpensive metal nib pen and a bottle of ink. And chances are she had a few extra nibs with her. But if anything were to happen to her pen and ink, she'd know how to cut a usable quill from a feather. And she would be resourceful enough to use the juice from some berries or anything that was capable of creating a stain as ink until another bottle of ink could be obtained. Because the odds were any female who knew how to dress a goose for cooking, also knew which feathers to keep for quills.
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E. Ayers enjoys writing about the real west and tangling a love story into it. A firm believer in true love, because she knows what it is to love so intensely, she likes to bring those feelings into what she writes. And when she's not writing books, she's often found with a camera in her hand, capturing images she will use later for her drawings. She relaxes by creating pen and ink drawings usually for close friends or family members. Her favorite subjects appear to be chickens or flowers by the number of drawings that decorate her pre-Civil War home.

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for being our guest today, E. Ayers. I loved fountain pens when they were widely used..."back in the day." And I had several I treasured. Over the years...decades...though, those have disappeared. Now where did I put those "for safe-keeping?"
    The historic error you came across was a doozy, for sure. I cringe when an author places a railroad in Texas where there were none until decades later. We all have our list, I'm sure.
    I enjoyed reading this.

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    1. Thank you, Celia. I've always enjoyed reading your books.

      Taught both my girls to use that old wooden nib pen, but they considered it too much trouble. Although my one daughter, when she was little, seemed to enjoy taking my fountain pen from me and using it. I still love a smooth writing pen.

      The railroads are a study unto themselves! And what happened to them during the Civil War... Some areas were rebuilt quickly but others were not. And railroads and telegraph...It's so so easy to see how they become a study unto themselves.
      But when writing about the various eras in history, I wish more authors paid attention to the history. There's much more than pretty dresses to writing historical novels.

      You'll find that pen where you keep stationery or maybe with the Christmas cards. The other hiding place is the bottom of the kitchen "junk" drawer. :-)

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  2. I love pens...all kinds of pens. Probably the pens I like the most are the wooden pens with nibs I can change out. I do have a Mont Blanc fountain pen, but I don't use it as much as good ol' dipping pens.
    I so enjoyed your article, E. Ayers. Maybe you should consider being an editor because you certainly caught those historical errors quickly. I never really delved into the history of pens, but I found it so intriguing in your article.
    I wish you all the best, E. Ayers.

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    1. :-) I'd rather write than do content edits. But apparently there are plenty of authors who just write with no concern for the actual history. That's so sad. The history is so full and rich that to ignore it leaves so much out of a great story.

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  3. I have always loved fountain pens - when I am forced to handwrite anything at all! On a practical side, I have arthritis in my hands and when I do have to handwrite it is so much easier than with a ball point or even a gel pen. It seems just go glide, and anything that saves my hand is my friend!

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    1. Yes, the gels do seem to glide. But I still like a good fountain because they barely need to touch the page. But comfort is so important. Thanks for stopping.

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  4. I just edited a cozy mystery and all the suspects were part of a fountain pen club. It made me eager to pull out the one I received as a gifr years ago but have been afraid to use. I love them, but I know how they must be handled with care. LOLing at that heroine though!

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    1. Thanks for stopping, Gina. Please pull out that pen and use it. Just doodle until you get used to handling it. Once you get the hang of it, you probably won't go back. :-) And if that pen is really old, you might need a new cartridge. If you need help doing that, call me and I'll walk you through it.

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  5. Your drawing is wonderful. Such talent! Interesting history on pens. I have a fountain pen...somewhere. I'll have to search it out and put it to use.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words about my drawing. It takes concentration, but its fun to do. Please locate that pen. It makes every word look so pretty when you write with one. :-)

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  6. I loved this article, Elizabeth. My current WIP has a heroine who writes stories and articles, so I will be vigilant to use the correct pen! Thanks for your help.

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    1. In the 1800's in the West, a pen would be very important. We think nothing of them today because we always seem to have one around the house someplace, and we probably have more than twenty-five. But in those days, a household was lucky if they had an extra nib. I'm sure your heroine is very careful with her pen(s). But should something happen, I'm willing to bet that she'll know how to make a new one from a quill. She might even have an old quill someplace, because we, as people, haven't changed much when it comes to some things. Certainly she,too, has a quill in some little spot because you never know when you might need one. So she does what we do and stashes it someplace "safe" just in case she might need it. :-)

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  7. Interesting post, Elizabeth. I remember filling the bladder pens in my early school days and then getting the amazing cartridge pen. What an invention when we got our first ballpoint pens and then the Bic. Interesting times. I bet your heroine would have had a good pencil or two to use during emergencies.

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  8. From what I've gathered pencils were expensive. But amazingly they figured out a long time ago how to put that lead into that wooden shaft. I still look at a pencil and wonder how they do that. I've always wondered how things were put together and was always fascinated with the oddest things. I thought maybe I was alone, until my nephew got a fancy speed bike for Xmas and vanished with it. After he rose around the block and few times and showed it off to his friends he came home and put it in the garage where he promptly took the derailleur apart to see how it all worked. It cost his parents a small fortune at the bike shop to have it put back together. Why did he do it? He wanted to see how it worked. There are times you have to leave the room because if I'd known what he was doing, I probably would have been out there with him watching. It was just too funny. He didn't do anything bad! He just wanted to know how all those gears worked.

    I got a bladder pen as a pre-teen and to be honest, it just never did as well as the pop in cartridge. And then it would wee-wee ink on the page if it had an air bubble in there. UGH! Maybe that's why I'm not a nurse. I figure if I couldn't get ink in a pen, I certainly didn't need to be drawing blood into a vial.

    Oh do I remember those Bic pens back then. They'd drop a thick glob of ink as we wrote, and then that would smear. UGH! I haven't seen that happen in years so something changed in the manufacturing or in the ink.

    Did you know that most of our ink today is soy based? Even newspaper print. It's much more environmental and human friendly. And it's renewable.

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