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How Geese Made History

Most quill pens were made from goose feathers
© Frans Vandewalle CC View Large

It was the wing feathers of geese that supplied most of the quill pens that were humanity’s prime writing tool for more than 1200 years—from the 6th century until the 1820s, when steel pens took over. The lightweight goose quill has a hollow shaft ideal for storing ink. With a smooth, light stroke, you could write up to six words before re-dipping. A well-used quill might last a week.

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Transcript: 

BirdNote®

How Geese Made History

Written by Bob Sundstrom
 
This is BirdNote.
(Greylag Goose calls, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/59330361 starting at :23  or https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/37827931 or https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/103434 (this last one is pretty good) )
Let’s hear it for the goose.
(Greylag Goose calls)
The humble barnyard goose was—through its feathers—uniquely vital to human writing, learning, and literature.
It was the wing feathers of geese that supplied most of the quill pens that were humanity’s prime writing tool for more than 1200 years—from the 6th century until the 1820s, when steel pens took over.
The lightweight goose quill, perfectly suited to the job, has a hollow shaft ideal for storing ink. The writer trimmed the quill tip and slit the quill slightly, then dipped it in an inkwell. Ink oozed to the pen’s tip by a process called capillary action.
With a smooth, light stroke, you could write up to six words before re-dipping—a slow process to be sure. A well-used quill might last a week.
The choice of feathers was precise: only the outer five feathers of the wing were ideally shaped to make good writing quills. For fine detail work, one might turn to crow feathers.
Quills made history. They signed everything from the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Independence.
So let’s hear it for the goose, whose feathers enabled writing for more than a millennium.
(Greylag Goose calls)
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
                                                                            ###
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by L Schofield.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2018 Tune In to Nature.org   May/June 2018   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID# quill-01-2018-0X-XX     quill-01

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