Audio Description – Quill, nib pens & ink bottle

Click the play button to hear an audio description of the quill, nib pens and ink bottle

Hurstville Museum & Gallery has recently undertaken an audio descriptions project for a number of collection items to help increase the accessibility of the collection. This entry is part of the project.

Image 1: the quill, nib pens and ink bottle held in Hurstville Museum & Gallery’s collection

Before nib pens and ink were used for writing, quills were used. Originally made from hand-cut goose feathers, quills were the ‘primary writing instrument in the western world from the 6th to the 19th century’[1].  With either fine or wide tip points, quills were used for a range of writing purposes including artwork design, historical record keeping and daily correspondence[2]. However, quill use declined once the metal fountain pen was invented. Mass production of nib pens began in Great Britain in 1822. Early nib pens had to be constantly filled with ink from a bottle or inkwell, so they could be used[3], as they did not have a reservoir for their ink. France issued the first patent for fountain pens in 1827[4], and the invention of this type of pen made resulted in a ‘writing tool that no longer required to be dipped between sentences’[5].

Unlike today’s disposable plastic pens, quills or nib pens required the owner to look after, clean and maintain the pen. Tips on maintaining pens in ‘good working order’ often featured some unusual advice. The Dawn noted that ‘Life is not long enough to use and mend quills, nor to apply with delicate firmness the pen-wiper to a steel one…In many offices, we are informed, a potato is used instead of a pen wiper…and spares many a well-loved pen to a ripe old age’[6].    

Image 2: Advertising for Waverley Fountain pens, The Bulletin, 25 March 1915. 


Find out more about this item on e-hive, our collection database.

[1] ‘Quill’ ,

[2] ‘The history of pens’,

[3] ‘History of dip pens’,

[4] Ibid.

[5] ‘Quills, nibs and fountain pens – a brief history’,

[6] ‘Potatoes as Pen wipers’, The Dawn, (Sydney), Tue 1 Sep 1891, p. 25.

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