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