M15296.1 | Writing case

Writing case
About 1850, 19th century
24.2 x 37 cm
Gift of Miss M. Gould
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Writing case (1)
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Keys to History

Until the mid-19th century, quill pens dipped into inkpots were widely used for writing. Writing this way was time consuming, as only a few letters could be formed before the writer had to dip the quill again!

Quills such as the ones in this writing case were made from the feathers of birds. The strongest quills were those taken from living birds, from the five outer-left wing feathers. The left wing was favoured because its feathers curved outward and away when used by a right-handed writer. Before using a quill, the writer had to sharpen it with a special penknife. This was also time consuming - another disadvantage of using a quill pen.

Boxes or cases containing writing materials have been produced since the 17th century. This portable writing case contains five quills, some paper, a crayon and an inkpot. It would have enabled the owner to write whenever and wherever he or she chose.

  • What

    This writing case has a wooden frame covered in leather and may be rolled up to form a cylinder.

  • Where

    In use in 1850, this travelling writing case could be easily transported for use anywhere.

  • When

    Lewis E. Waterman (d. 1901) patented and then introduced the fountain pen in 1884. He was inspired by the quill pen, which was used worldwide for centuries.

  • Who

    This writing case was used by the De Witt family. Jacob De Witt (1785-1859) was a successful Montreal businessman with interests in transportation, lumber and banking.