Art of Pen Making” was reprinted from The Young Lady’s Book, and details the complicated process of making a quill pen, complete with a diagram. (For more details, see Pen, Ink, & Evidence, by Joe Nickell.) One reader of Robert Merry’s Museum apparently learned from this article how to make and repair pens for her teachers and other students. If so, she was about 12 years old when she read Parley’s Magazine. For an example of the artistry possible with quill pens, see the presentation to Anna Mills of a copy of Love Triumphant, in 1805.
“Art of Pen Making” (reprinted from The Young Lady’s Book; from Parley’s Magazine, 13 September 1834; pp. 15-16)

The complaint of having wretched pens, ink, and paper, as an excuse for careless or unintelligible writing, is a plea that ought never to be accepted from a young lady. She can rarely, if ever, be placed in situations where she cannot obtain paper and ink of proper quality. Quills are also easily obtained, and she ought to be able to make or mend a pen herself. If she have not already acquired the mode of performing this very useful operation, the following directions will, perhaps, be of considerable assistance. It is of course necessary that she should be furnished with a good pen-knife[.]

the steps in shaping a quill

The handle of the knife should be held low in the hand, so that a full command may be obtained of about half an inch of the top of the blade. A quarter of an inch is to be first cut off the back of the quill (fig. 1); and about twice as much in front (fig. 2.) A short slit is then to be made, as nearly as possible in the centre of the back of the quill (fig. 3); the slit is to be increased, (fig. 4);—not in the ordinary way of filliping it with the thumb nail—but by using the end of the handle of the knife. To prevent the slit being carried too far, the left thumb should be pressed firmly on the back of the quill.

The knife is now to be applied to the front part again, and what is called the cradle-piece (figs. 5 and 6); cut away. A point is then to be obtained, by cutting gradually from the sides of the quill towards the end. For a free running-hand, such as is usually adopted by ladies, the shoulders should be considerably sloped, as fig. 7, which shows the pen with the cradle-piece removed, the shoulders properly sloped, and the point ready to be nibbed.

When the pen is in this state, it is proper to ascertain, by looking at its back as well as front, that an equal quantity has been removed from each side, that the slit is neither too long, nor that too much of it has been cut away;—for in the former case the pen will be either too soft, or splutter; in the latter it will be too hard. The slit, if too long, may, of course, be easily decreased, by cutting more away from the sides. If the pen be too hard, the slit may be increased, by applying the end of the knife handle, or another quill, as before. At this stage of the operation, it is also well to see that the points, as well as the sides on each side of the slit, are nearly even, and neatly tapered. They are to be lightly closed, and the back of the pen, from the points of the shoulders downward, gently rounded by a trifling pressure of the ball of the left thumb.

The pen-nibber, or the end of another quill, is now to be introduced to the barrel of the pen. With the knife held sloping, its edge being forward, a fine piece is to be cut from the top of the points; the pen is

p. 16

then to be cross-nibbed, by cutting a small portion of the ends of the points, with the knife held in a perpendicular position. That part of the pen called the scoop, from which the cradle piece has been removed should, finally, be cut out and finished, so as to bear a proper proportion to the shoulders (fig. 8, the perfect pen).

A pen may be mended several times without increasing the length of the slit; for if two or three thin strips or shavings be cut away from each side, and the ends nibbed, a fresh point is obtained. When the slit becomes too short, it may of course be lengthened.—The shoulders and scoop should be cut away as the slit is made to advance up the barrel, so that the pen may preserve its proper shape, however often it be mended.

The pen should never be nibbed on the thumb nail, nor should its point be pressed against the ball of the right thumb, while cutting off the shoulders. The edge of the quill should rather be held against the side of the thumb, so that the knife may pass clear off from the point; thus all danger of cutting the thumb is obviated.

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