Writing utensils

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Writing utensils

Postby mcapanelli » Thu May 08, 2008 2:37 pm

Well here I am asking another question again. I was wondering what do you all think would have been the most common writing implement used in the world of Tolkien? In the movies Bilbo is writing with a quill and inkwell and that would make sense to me as I don't think they'd have access to a ball point pen. My concern would be transporting the ink in my backpack. When I google it all I come up with is the quill/ink/brush/knife combo and nothing more. Any ideas?
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Postby Jim E » Thu May 08, 2008 6:00 pm

Quills were most certainly used in Middle Earth since the tengwar alphabet is made to be written with a dip pen (such as a quill), but I don't remember any particular quote of a quill or other type of pen being used in the books :?

Inkwells could be made of glass, clay or even horn. The obvious way to keep the ink from staining the inside of your pack a pretty, deep black colour is the use of a cork or a stopper made of wood/horn tied fast to the inkwell. Here's a pretty example from the Tod's stuff site:


I use a small hand blown glass bottle with a tight fitting cork and have never had any problems even without tying
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Postby Peter Remling » Thu May 08, 2008 10:43 pm

Throughout Colonial and well past the Civil War era, powdered ink was used. The ink was placed in your ink well, a little water was added and away you go. Powdered ink can still be orderd from many reenactment suppliers. I believe Jas Townsend & Sons is one of them.


I just checked and they still offer the powdered ink for $2.50 an envelope.
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Postby Gareth » Fri May 09, 2008 8:23 am

Last edited by Gareth on Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Peter Remling » Mon May 12, 2008 2:27 am

The subject got me to thinking about how a quill pen was cut and sharpened so I looked it up and found this site, seems useful

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Re: Writing utensils

Postby Elleth » Fri Oct 13, 2017 7:57 pm

I recently found a solution(ish) to this: medieval scribes did layout work with a proto-pencil formed from a lead-tin alloy. A gentlemen on etsy sells them:

scribal-workshop-etsy-medieval-lead-tin-stylus.jpg (37.47 KiB) Viewed 3750 times

Lead-tin stylus by Scribal Workshop

His reproductions have Latin characters on them (plumbum as I recall, for "lead") - but as soft as the metal is, I was able to just hammer them flat. I also wrapped the stylus in cord so as to not get *quite* so much lead through my skin. I don't think that small amount will make much diff, but it's cheap insurance.

merf-traveljournal-lead-stylus.jpg (91.2 KiB) Viewed 3750 times

They write something like a soft, lighter art pencil. I've not yet had the chance to see how it wears over an extended period, but I think it'll work just fine for initial notes. Then come evening when one stops for the night, it's easy enough mix up a spot of ink to make a more permanent record.
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Re: Writing utensils

Postby Manveruon » Sat Oct 14, 2017 7:02 am

Very cool! But yeah... the lead content would be a bit of a concern for me. Wonder if there's another metal that would serve the same purpose but be less... y'know... poisonous.
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Re: Writing utensils

Postby pkline5 » Sat Aug 04, 2018 5:50 pm

I had a thought that you could make use the graphite center from a carpenter's pencil and sandwich it between the end of a split stick. Tie the end closed around the graphite, and you have yourself a rudimentary pencil. When the graphite needs to be replaced, simply untie the stub and put in a new one.
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Re: Writing utensils

Postby Elleth » Sat Aug 04, 2018 9:01 pm

I think the original tengwar may have originally been meant for a small brush rather than a quill*, but regardless we know pen and ink existed at least amongst the Hobbits. At the beginning of Fellowship when Bilbo is giving away possessions, one friend or relation received -

For MILO BURROWS, hoping it will be useful, from B.B., on a gold pen and ink-bottle. Milo never answered letters.
FOTR Bk I, Ch 1: A Long Expected Party

Now I suspect that we have a similar situation amongst the peoples of Middle-earth as in our own past: quills are more common, but metal-nibbed pens are not unknown, especially for the well-to-do:
https://scribescribbling.wordpress.com/ ... h-century/

So far as pencils, we have a reference to those as well! In this case, Bilbo's room in Rivendell at the end of ROTK:
First of all, before they had eaten or washed or even shed their cloaks, the hobbits went in search of Bilbo. They found him all alone in his little room. It was littered with papers and pens and pencils; but Bilbo was sitting in a chair before a small bright fire.
ROTK, Bk VI Ch 6: Many Partings

While one could make the case these are elvish in origin, I doubt it. They're all familiar possessions of Bilbo's,and don't seem to stand out as anything but mundane to the other hobbits.

While I suspect the Professor had in mind pencils much like he himself knew in the 20th c, I'd probably still opt for older technology out of verisimilitude to a more romantic past. A modern #2 might well be closer to what Tolkien himself meant, but - like Bilbo's matches - it feels entirely too modern to use myself, reference be darned.

It looks like graphite pencils become a thing for us in the mid-late 16th c:
http://museumofeverydaylife.org/exhibit ... the-pencil

Given the other anachronisms of the Shire, I think one could use a graphite pencil with some justification, though personally I'll be sticking with lead.

Some options to think on -

Goose Bay has metal lead holders and leads:

... though if one's already decided on graphite I'm rather partial to LeLoup's method of simply cutting down a carpenter's pencil:
https://woodsrunnersdiary.blogspot.com/ ... ncils.html

* I believe I recall coming across a line to that effect researching the history of tengwar, but I can not longer find it. It's more than possible I'm misremembering, of course.
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Re: Writing utensils

Postby Iodo » Sun Aug 05, 2018 7:41 am

WOW, great research Elleth :P

Really like that carpenters pencil modification. That would be a lot less messy and easier to use than my lump of graphite (seen in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=27&t=4037)
Gimli: It's true you don't see many Dwarf-women. And in fact, they are so alike in voice and appearance, that they are often mistaken for Dwarf-men.
Aragorn: It's the beards.

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