18th Century Quill Pens and Postage

A Physician in His Study, Writing a Prescription for His Waiting Patient by Pieter Jacob Horemans, 1745 (c) Wellcome Library

We know through our research that those Georgians were prolific letter writers so we thought we would take a look at  communication before the advent of telephones, the internet, computers and the like, back to a time when the quill pen was all the rage and when all letters were either hand delivered or sent by mail.

Henry Hoare (1784–1836), Son of Sir Richard Colt Hoare, as a Boy, Writing a Letter by Samuel Woodforde c.1796/7 NT; (c) Stourhead

Quill pens pre-date the Georgian era by some considerable time, made mainly from goose feathers, although high-quality ones were made from peacock or even swan feathers by using discarded flight feathers after the bird has moulted.

The Book Keeper by Van Dijk, courtesy of Museum voor Communicatie
Saturday Magazine Volume 12
Saturday Magazine Volume 12

In 1764, an Act of Parliament was passed that allowed the Postmaster General to set up a local Penny Post in any city or town, similar to the system that already existed in London. In 1784 a new type of postal rate was introduced linking the distance a letter had to travel more important than ever before. The further it had to travel obviously the more expensive it was to send it, not to mention the cost of paper.

“The Post Office” by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin, from the Microcosm of London, 1808

Sending two sheets of paper cost twice as much as a single sheet, so those canny Georgians opted for an impressive way of saving money – they adopted a style of writing to fill the entire page, firstly they wrote the way we today, then they turned the paper and wrote in the remaining spaces, commonly referred to as ‘cross hatching’.


Mr B. Finds Pamela Writing by Joseph Highmore c.1743/4 (c) Tate

35 thoughts on “18th Century Quill Pens and Postage

      1. I understand that you have to use a quill from the other wing if you are left-handed; but my husband just had to sign 4 times on the electronic pad for his renewed driving licence, as being left handed smeared that as much as he smears ink, so I sympathise for the largest and least-catered-to minority group in the world.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. DiggingUp1800

    What a great post and I love the images too, the first being my favourite for obvious reasons! Very interesting to read about the bibs inlaid with jewels!


  2. LallyABrown

    Just rec’d wonderful Christmas present from @1812Dance (Karen) in Toronto – and it’s a QUILL complete with dried ink – absolutely thrilled, can’t wait to try it out ….!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. LallyABrown

        Thanks Sarah – advice re left and right handed quills noted, makes sense now I’ve carefully studied my quill – fortunately @1812Dance sent me right-handed one, which suits me fine! Now just have to master the art!!!

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Lally brown

            Thanks for the advice Sarah – I shall turn to you when exasperation kicks in!
            Karen tells me to avoid glossy paper and to write quickly … She says my Victorian travelling writing desk will give me a good sloping surface … I can’t fail, or can I?

            Liked by 1 person

          2. haha a good victorian writing desk should give you the perfect slope. Yes, avoid shiny paper. Use cartridge paper or old fashioned notepaper. Go for wove rather than laid at first; laid is beautiful to work on but challenging until you are used to it. Wove was invented by good old James Whatman in the first half of the 18th century so it’s authentic enough. If you can get it, it’s better than cartridge paper which can be very variable in quality and tends too wick ink if it’s too porous. Try to keep your hand as upright and straight as you can to avoid blots and smudges, and try some calligraphy exercises with any old pen emulating a nice copperplate hand to get the feel of it first. And then a prize for essay writing from Hogwarts School is yours for the asking. [I would so like a quill from Lucius Malfoy’s white peacocks]

            Liked by 1 person

          3. I did a photoshop pic of him outside a house that should be Malfoy Manor WITH white peacocks… just because I could… airbrushing out the tourists and the un-Lucius-like plebby little car was the hardest bit. Boy I love those peacocks.

            Liked by 1 person

      1. LallyABrown

        Wonderful advice from Toronto’s Post Office on ink reads: “thick inks, such as India ink, are not well-suited for use with quills”. They add “Acrylic inks can be lightened with water, or try calligrapher’s ink.” Rather more complicated than I first thought – here goes tho’ – good luck to us both!

        Liked by 1 person

          1. LallyABrown

            Not Canadian but love the country – currently resident on Isle of Wight having lived overseas a great deal. @1812Dance (Karen) sent me dried ‘Walnut Husk’ Ink, a rich dark chocolatey brown – good enough to eat!

            Liked by 2 people

          2. You can make your own ink out of oak galls too, or lamp black [which is lumpy and foul to use] but there are some good art inks out there so long as you are happy with the look of it and don’t care too much about the authenticity or composition of the ink. I try anything once and then thank the modern age for a selection of proprietary products [hasty editing not to advertise but any good art shop will advise]

            Liked by 1 person

    1. All Things Georgian

      Our pleasure, we’re thrilled that the post has generated such a huge amount of interest and for all the new information. Good luck with your writing skills, we’ll expect to see a sample at some stage 🙂


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