Reed pen

Reed pens are a type of writing implement made by cutting and shaping a single reed straw or length of bamboo. Reed pens with regular features such as a split nib have been found in Ancient Egyptian sites dating from the 4th century BC. Reed pens were used for writing on papyrus, and were the most common writing implement in antiquity.

The calamus is a piece of cane or rush with a pointed end to be used for writers. It was replaced by the goose pen gradually, between the sixth and ninth centuries. The calamus gives the writing a contrast between solids and fillets, or a contrast of thickness in the strokes.

The calamus was the most commonly used instrument in writing about papyrus in Rome between the first century. to. C. and the II century AD It was used as much in the daily scriptures as in the current books. The calamus could be soft or stiff, and next to it there was the habit of resorting to metallic ink pens.

Reed pens are stiffer than quill pens cut from feathers and do not retain a sharp point for as long. This led to their being replaced by quills. Nevertheless a reed pen can make bold strokes, and it remains an important tool in calligraphy.


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The calamus is a hollow cane, cut obliquely at its end, which was used to write in antiquity.

It was obtained from the stem of a plant or from a bird’s feather; in fact, the hollow lower part of the pen that is inserted in the skin of a bird is also called a calamus.

Its precedent is Egyptian, like a brush, but its origin is Greek; it was used, in the West, until the 12th century; it was used by introducing it previously in a container with ink, which adhered to the interior hollow by capillarity, and by means of light pressure it was used to write on a papyrus, parchment and, later, paper support.

The calamus made with the external feathers of the wings of ducks, turkeys, swans or crows, the favorite birds, were already mentioned by San Isidoro de Sevilla, in the 6th century. The tip was cut, bevelled, periodically, with a penknife, to keep it sharp.

It is assumed that the Romans already used bronze feathers, although the first references date back to the 15th century, being very widespread at the beginning of the 19th century.

The calamus fell into disuse with the invention of the steel pen. It was patented by English engineer Bryan Donkin in 1803. Steel nibs emerged in 1829, popularized years later. They are the precedent of the pens, or pens, used in our days.

In the Arabic calligraphic writing, the calamus, or galam, is still used, which in modern Arabic also means pen.

To write with the calamus, generally two main methods were used:

engraving pliable material, such as wax or clay tablets. In this case the desk instrument is called, more properly, stylus.
This technique has given its characteristic shape to cuneiform writing: of the traits in the form of a wedge, whose triangular end came from the pressure of the calamus in the still tender clay

dipped in ink, on a papyrus, a parchment, a sheet of paper or any other support to be written with ink.

The Arabic calligraphy still makes use of the calamus (qalam) even if this word in modern Arabic has ended up designating the normal pens for writing.
It is probable that the stylus was first used as an instrument to engrave in the clay, and that only later it was adopted to write with ink, a technique developed later, and later evolved with the use of feather pen and the most modern pens, fountain pen or sphere

Carved in a cane or other material, the stylus used for the Mesopotamian clay tablets had, in general, a triangular end, whose use allowed to draw thin lines mostly wedge-shaped, and a rounded back, using which were circular or semicircular signs (normally used in the writing of the figures).

In the tablet shown here, both types of traits are clearly visible. Being a contract, you are given figures, with circular or semicircular strokes that are particularly numerous and evident in the “upper” half (the tablet is lying on a side), while for the rest there are numerous “wedge” traits that give the name to this writing.

To be usable, the barrel must be dried. This operation is carried out keeping it at a constant temperature (for example in a dunghill) as long as it has not lost its humidity and has hardened; whitish when harvested, it becomes brownish-reddish, sometimes lighter, sometimes darker, and sometimes even black, depending on the type of cane.

When the barrel is dry, it is carved by placing it on the palm of the hand and cutting it obliquely with a knife until it takes the desired shape. The end thus obtained is subsequently finished according to the width of the tip to be obtained. Finally, on the end of the tip a slit of a few centimeters is made and an oblique cut is made using a special tool, a kind of support tablet (called makta near the Ottomans), in order to obtain a writing angle suitable for the hand of the scribe.

The calamus is cut out quite often because the tip of the tip in contact with the paper is quickly consumed.

Other materials such as bamboo can be used. For example, in the Naxi dongba writing, a thin and hard shoot of a Malaya tree, very resistant and which does not need to be continuously cut, is inserted into a reed like a pen tip.