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Type Of Pen Used By 1849 Gold Rush Prospector

quill pen

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6 replies to this topic

#1 dalemaley

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Posted 19 January 2018 - 12:36

In 1849, a citizen from our town, William T. Stackpole, made the trip from Illinois to California. He kept a diary of his trip. The diary somehow ended up in the Yale Research Library. The library scanned each of the 80 pages of the diary and sent them to me.  I am transcribing the long-hand writing into modern typed text. Once I get the diary transcribed, I will turn it into a modern book, contained the modern typed text and the original long-hand.

 

I was curious as to what type of pen did Mr. Stackpole probably use to write in his daily diary back in 1849?  Was it likely to have been a feather quill type ink pen?

 

Here is a sample from his diary:

 

s1t3c4.jpg



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#2 TassoBarbasso

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Posted 19 January 2018 - 15:57

Most likely a steel dip pen: cheap, mass-produced, and far more user friendly than quills. Ideal for lower-income people in search of fortune and on the move, like the gold seekers.

 

But please do keep us posted! Maybe later on in the diary he will write something about his writing tools? 


Edited by TassoBarbasso, 19 January 2018 - 15:59.


#3 AAAndrew

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Posted 19 January 2018 - 19:54

Well, you could check out my blog and look at the sections for the history of steel pens in the US in the 1830's and 1840's to get an idea of what american pens were being made. By the late 1830's, British pens were the most common, with Perry (the Perryan Pen), Gillott and a few others being the most widely sold. There were a few American makers, but they weren't quite as common as the British makers. 

 

Now, I make no claim to being an expert. I have seen a lot of early-to-mid-19th-century documents. If I had to guess I'd say that he was using a very well-cut quill. 

 

My very unscientific analysis is looking at the fineness of lines. It's very hard to get a very thin line on a quill, and most steel pens at the time were made quite fine, and sharp. The lines I see in the letter are a little thicker than the lines I see coming from steel pens at the time. 

 

Also, as the letter commences toward the bottom of the page, the quality of the line just ever so slightly deteriorates. This could be that he didn't shield the bottom of the paper from the oils of his arm and so the ink is less likely to be crisp and clean, or that the very nicely made point at the top of the paper is starting to be not quite so nicely cut. 

 

The main problem with quills is that they don't last that long, especially if they're cut to a point, rather than a very slight stub. The quality of the line begins to deteriorate. Now, just one page seems like a rather quick degradation, so I could be wrong on this, but I think I might be right. 

 

That's my thought. If I could see further into the letter, it may be clearer. But it's a very cool letter, and great penmanship and a lot of fun to see. 



“When the historians of education do equal and exact justice to all who have contributed toward educational progress, they will devote several pages to those revolutionists who invented steel pens and blackboards.” V.T. Thayer, 1928



Check out my Steel Pen Blog


"No one is exempt from talking nonsense; the mistake is to do it solemnly."

-Montaigne


#4 dalemaley

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Posted 21 January 2018 - 15:38

Well, you could check out my blog and look at the sections for the history of steel pens in the US in the 1830's and 1840's to get an idea of what american pens were being made. By the late 1830's, British pens were the most common, with Perry (the Perryan Pen), Gillott and a few others being the most widely sold. There were a few American makers, but they weren't quite as common as the British makers. 

 

Now, I make no claim to being an expert. I have seen a lot of early-to-mid-19th-century documents. If I had to guess I'd say that he was using a very well-cut quill. 

 

My very unscientific analysis is looking at the fineness of lines. It's very hard to get a very thin line on a quill, and most steel pens at the time were made quite fine, and sharp. The lines I see in the letter are a little thicker than the lines I see coming from steel pens at the time. 

 

Also, as the letter commences toward the bottom of the page, the quality of the line just ever so slightly deteriorates. This could be that he didn't shield the bottom of the paper from the oils of his arm and so the ink is less likely to be crisp and clean, or that the very nicely made point at the top of the paper is starting to be not quite so nicely cut. 

 

The main problem with quills is that they don't last that long, especially if they're cut to a point, rather than a very slight stub. The quality of the line begins to deteriorate. Now, just one page seems like a rather quick degradation, so I could be wrong on this, but I think I might be right. 

 

That's my thought. If I could see further into the letter, it may be clearer. But it's a very cool letter, and great penmanship and a lot of fun to see. 

Thanks for the info.

There are 80 pages to the diary.  If you would like to see some other pages, you can access the PDF copy of the diary using my dropbox link.......https://www.dropbox....mplete.pdf?dl=0

Once you open the link, if you click on the 3 dots in the upper RH corner, you can download the file if you want.

Maybe seeing some other pages would help determine if it was a steel pen or a sharp quill...

Thanks!



#5 AAAndrew

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 02:33

Thanks!

 

I did take a look and it's interesting. The more I look at it the more the difference in the writing between top and bottom of the page seems to be consistent across every page. Unless he was repairing his nib on every page, highly unlikely, it looks more like a matter of his writing position (like his hand was no longer supported on the book so it changed his writing) than a factor of what pen he used. it could be a steel nib. It is definitely not one of the super flexible, super sharp nibs like a Gillott 303 or 404. The pen he was using, quill or steel, was not terribly flexible, nor terribly sharp, but he had definitely had penmanship training, which was not consistently given at the time when he was growing up. I'd be interested in his upbringing and early education, if it's known. 

 

The more I look at it, the more I'm starting to think it was a steel pen. I have proof that they were being sold in Illinois at the time. 

 

Here's an 1846 ad from a stationer in Alton, IL selling both quills and steel pens. 

https://www.newspape..._selling_steel/

 

If you need other ads from different places in the country from the 1840's selling steel pens, I have a few. The vast majority are from the eastern states.

 

But in 1856, the State of Illinois sent out a request for bids for supplies. The list included quite a lot of steel pens (mainly Gillott, Perry and some barrel pens) and no quills. That's not to say they weren't still using some quills, but the tide had definitely turned. 

https://www.newspape...ois_asking_for/

 

If you have any clues as to his occupation before heading westward, that might also help. 

 

Very cool. And thanks so much for sharing. If you need any other research help related to the pens, let me know. 

 

Andrew 



“When the historians of education do equal and exact justice to all who have contributed toward educational progress, they will devote several pages to those revolutionists who invented steel pens and blackboards.” V.T. Thayer, 1928



Check out my Steel Pen Blog


"No one is exempt from talking nonsense; the mistake is to do it solemnly."

-Montaigne


#6 NinthSphere

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 05:56

Cool & thanks for sharing. We had to do a number of journal entries with a steel pen back in US History while we were covering the Oregon Trail/Gold Rush time frame. Looking forward to going over the real deal when I get a moment.



#7 dalemaley

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 13:11

Thanks!

 

I did take a look and it's interesting. The more I look at it the more the difference in the writing between top and bottom of the page seems to be consistent across every page. Unless he was repairing his nib on every page, highly unlikely, it looks more like a matter of his writing position (like his hand was no longer supported on the book so it changed his writing) than a factor of what pen he used. it could be a steel nib. It is definitely not one of the super flexible, super sharp nibs like a Gillott 303 or 404. The pen he was using, quill or steel, was not terribly flexible, nor terribly sharp, but he had definitely had penmanship training, which was not consistently given at the time when he was growing up. I'd be interested in his upbringing and early education, if it's known. 

 

The more I look at it, the more I'm starting to think it was a steel pen. I have proof that they were being sold in Illinois at the time. 

 

Here's an 1846 ad from a stationer in Alton, IL selling both quills and steel pens. 

https://www.newspape..._selling_steel/

 

If you need other ads from different places in the country from the 1840's selling steel pens, I have a few. The vast majority are from the eastern states.

 

But in 1856, the State of Illinois sent out a request for bids for supplies. The list included quite a lot of steel pens (mainly Gillott, Perry and some barrel pens) and no quills. That's not to say they weren't still using some quills, but the tide had definitely turned. 

https://www.newspape...ois_asking_for/

 

If you have any clues as to his occupation before heading westward, that might also help. 

 

Very cool. And thanks so much for sharing. If you need any other research help related to the pens, let me know. 

 

Andrew 

Thanks for the info!!  In his journal somewhere, there is a marking that it was bought in St. Louis, so Alton is next door to St. Louis, so maybe he got his steel pen there.

He was born in Maine, but his father moved the family to Pekin when he was only 5 years old. His father died just a couple years later, so he and his sisters were raised by his mother alone.  I agree, from reading his diary, and other books/articles he has written, he was very well educated. I am not sure how he got so well educated living in Pekin, Illinois, in Tazewell County. 

I plan on having a short section in the new book on what type of writing instrument he used for the diary, so I will use your info as background information.  If I remember, I will send  you a draft copy of the book when I get it written.

Thanks again!!!

Dale







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