Isn’t is astonishing to think that when Boulton and Watt were busily producing steam engines, people were still using feather quill pens to write with? It wasn’t until 1803 that the first steel pens were made and Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter rapidly established itself as the world centre for the trade. The availability of cheap pens made mass literacy possible. Such a simple invention, that had such far-reaching consequences.
Armed with these thoughts, a visit to the Pen Museum is an experience not to be missed. You can make your own steel pen nib exactly as was done by the thousands of women that used to be employed in ‘the Quarter’ for over a century. And as you do so, you can think of the huge impact this simple device has had.
Learn all about the early days, the development and the eventual decline of pen making in Birmingham and hear the stories of the firms and the people who worked in the industry. The conditions that workers endured were appalling by today’s standards, yet each worker would produce thousands of nibs each day by hand, using fly presses to cut and shape strips of steel.
The history of the Pen Trade is told through the collection of pens and nibs which is worthy of a visit in its own right. The techniques used to promote steel nibs at exhibitions also produces a fascinating display.
You can also try your hand at Calligraphy – steel pens are still used for this purpose -and some of the few surviving companies that originate in the Quarter continue to produce pens for this specialist market.