Speedball Crow Quill Pen

For those who consider fountain pens new-fangled, there are dip pens. Dip pens have a nib with a small reservoir that must be dipped into ink before writing. They started pushing quill pens out of favor sometime in the early 1800s and they were continued to be used in schools right up into the 1950s and 60s. These days they are mainly used by calligraphers and comic book artists.

I have a few dip pens and the smallest one I have is the Speedball Crow Quill. I got this pen and ink set at a bookbinding workshop I took at the Provincial Archives of Alberta a couple of years ago. The name “crow quill” reflects the history of dip pens when they really were made of feathers. Only the five feathers on the wing tips could be used for pen making. Right-handers used feathers from the left wing and lefties used feathers from the right wing. Swan and goose feathers were usually used but for really fine lines, like the ones needed for mapping, crow feathers were best. Alas, feathers are not very durable so when metal manufacturing improved in the 19th century, pen nibs began to be made of steel. I like how crow quill pens have kept their name though.

The name Speedball, not to be confused with the illicit drug, also reflects some history. In the early part of the 19th century, speedball meant someone who was really fast (other slang originating from that time included dingbat and goof for a silly person and hoosegow for jail). The C. Howard Hunt Pen Company joined forces with an expert letterer, Ross George, to improve their dip pens and the result was nicknamed “Speedball” because it was said to cut working time in half. Alas, the C. Howard Hunt Pen Company is no more but the Speedball brand lives on.


You get a very fine line with these pens but as the nib is split, when you press a bit harder you do get a slightly thicker line. Down strokes are definitely easily to write than up strokes. Writing with a crow quill pen has a scratchy feel and works better on smoother paper. I like the very black ink that came with it. As is suitable for something I got at the archives, it is acid-free and archival quality.


 If crow quill pens were people they would come off being a bit abrasive and old-fashioned but once you got to know them you would see that they have an artistic side to them too.


2 thoughts on “Speedball Crow Quill Pen

  1. Gloria says:

    Oh….I love, love this post! So interesting and funky. Thank you for your creativity and wisdom of words and all that relates. Gloria


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