Saturday, 3 October 2020

Writing in pen in the Canterbury Tales


"Sick-hearted Damian in Venus' fire

Is so consumed, he's dying with desire;

And so he took his courage in his hand

To end a grief he could no longer stand

And with a pen that he contrived to borrow

He wrote a letter pouring out his sorrow,

After a fashion of a song or lay,

Indited to his lady, dazzling May,

And wrapped it in a purse of silk apart

To hang inside his shirt, upon his heart.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, 1392.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Dunhill pen set of Tom Wolfe


 There was a large handsome leather-bound desk blotter, a gold Dunhill pen-and-pencil set mounted on an onyx pedestal, a collection of paperweights and medals imbedded in Lucite, several of which had been inscribed to Revered Reginald Bacon by civic organisations, a stack of papers held down by a paperweight consisting mainly of the letters WNBC - TV in thick brass, an intercom with a row of buttons, and a large box-shaped ashtray with leather sides framed in brass and a brass grillwork over the top.


Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities, first published 1987.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Blue and red pencil of Borges


I found what I knew I would find. The American watch, the nickel chain and the square coin, the key ring with the incriminating useless keys to Runeberg's apartment, the notebook, a letter which I resolved to destroy immediately (and which I did not destroy), a crown, two shillings, and a few pence, the red and blue pencil, the handkerchief, the revolver with one bullet.

Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths, first published 1962.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Pencils in the time of Covid

Community spirit in the time of Covid: one of the neighbours is sharing writing and drawing supplies during the first lockdown in north London! 

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Other Voices Other Rooms

There were two things about this letter that bothered him; first of all, the handwriting: penned in ink the rusty colour of dried blood, it was a maze of curlicues and dainty i's dotted with daintier o's. What the hell kind of a man would write like that?

Truman Capote, Other Voices Other Rooms, first published 1948.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Writing in the time of The Plague

He would often go to join Rieux in one of the hospitals, where he would ask for a table in some office or ward. He settled down there with his papers as though he was sitting at his table in the Hotel de Ville, in air thick with the smell of disinfectant and of the disease itself, would shake his papers to dry the ink on them. 

Albert Camus, The Plague, first published in 1947.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Writing the Tin Drum

When I said to Bruno, "Oh, Bruno, would you buy me a ream of virgin paper?" he looked up at the ceiling ... and replied, "You mean white paper, Herr Oskar."  I stuck with the word virgin and told Bruno to ask for it that way at the shop. When he returned later that afternoon with the package, he seemed a Bruno in thought. ... "That word you recommended was right. I asked for virgin paper and the salesgirl blushed red before she gave me what I wanted."   
Fearing a long conversation about salesgirls in stationery shops, I regretted having emphasised the paper's innocence by calling it a virgin, and said nothing, waited till Bruno had left the room. Only then did I open the package with the five hundred sheets of paper.    
I lifted the resilient stack for a moment and tested its weight. Then I counted off ten sheets and stored the rest in my bedside table. I found the fountain pen by my photo album in the drawer: it's full, it won't fail for lack of ink; how shall I begin?

Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum, first published in 1959.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Pen and ink in Nausea

A feeling of immense disgust suddenly flooded over me and the pen fell from my fingers, spitting ink. What had happened? Had I got the Nausea? No, it wasn't that, the room had its paternal, everyday look. At the most the table seemed a little heavier and more solid, and my fountain pen more compact. 

Four o'clock strikes. I've been sitting here in my chair for an hour, with my arms dangling. It's beginning to get dark. Apart from that, nothing in this room has changed: the white paper is still on the table, next to the fountain pen and the ink well...but I shall never write any more on this page I have started.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, 1938.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Luminous ink in the Time of Cholera

Nevertheless, after a resigned siesta, he submitted to reality and wrote her a note excusing himself. He wrote it by hand on perfumed paper and in luminous ink so that it could be read in the dark, and with no sense of shame, he dramatized the gravity of his accident in an effort to arouse her compassion.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Ink: J.Herbin 1670 Red Hematite ink

More inks in the Time of Cholera

Monday, 24 February 2020

Iris Murdoch's Black Prince in a Rathbone Place stationery shop

Winsor and Newton shop in Rathbone Place, London
(picture from Winsor and Newton Catalogue of Artist's Materials, London 1874)

I turned into a stationer's shop in Rathbone Place. I can browse indefinetly in a stationer's shop, indeed there is hardly anything in a good stationer's shop which I do not like and want. What a scene of refreshment and innocence! Loose leaf paper, writing paper, notebooks, envelopes, postcards, pens, pencils, paper-clips, blotting paper, ink, files, old-fashioned things like sealing wax, new-fangled things like sellotape....I had to load somebody with presents. I collected for Rachel a ball of red string, a blue felt-tipped pen, a pad of special calligrapher's paper, a magnifying glass, a fancy carrier bag, a large wooden clothes peg with URGENT written on it in gold, and six postcards of the Post Office Tower.

Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince, 1973

picture from Winsor and Newton Artist's Materials Catalogue, 1874

Rathbone Place, a street off Tottenham Court Road in central London, has been populated by artists since the 18th century and by the 19th century, there were many art supplies shops in the street. Renowned artist colour manufacturers George Rowney and Co, suppliers to J.M.W. Turner, traded there from 1817 to 1884; William Winsor and Henry Charles Newton set up business at No. 38 in 1833 and continued trading in the area until 1987.  Jackson and Sons also set up shop in Rathbone Place in 1817. Charles Dickens has spoken of the Winsor and Newton "Rathbone Place magicians":
Has anyone ever seen anything like Winsor and Newton's cups of chromes and carnations...and crimsons, loud and fierce as a war-cry, and pinks, tender and loving as a young girl?
old George Rowney pencil,
featured in Pencil Archaeology

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Margaret Atwood's Pencils on the Go

Inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, the Guardian asked authors for their personal dos and don'ts. That's what Margaret Atwood said:

1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.


"Margaret Atwood's Rules for Writers" The Guardian, 22 February 2010.

Pencils pictured: Mitsubishi 9850 HB and Tombow 8900 HB

See also: The Forbidden Pencil of Margaret Atwood

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Stationery Store Series: Quill of London

Quill, is a quiet, understated little shop in Angel, north London, with a focus on calligraphy and bespoke stationery. It stocks Kaweco fountain pens, Midori brass pencils and pens, Blackwing pencils, wax stamps, notecards and correspondence sets, and calligraphy supplies - inks, nibs, pads, and accessories. 

The products on the shelves feel curated but there is not an awful lot to browse and things don't have prices, so you got to constantly ask. The place feels more like the front room of someone's house with wooden floors, a long table in the middle and an antique chest of drawers. Quill runs regular calligraphy workshops so if this is your thing that's a place to start. They also create personalised stationery for special occasions, like weddings, and they take calligraphy commissions.

Find them on

37 Amwell St. 
London EC1R 1UR

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Pencil in Irena's Children

He was interrupted in mid-sentence by the stomping of heavy boots outside the door. Someone's pencil dropped to the floor in panic and rattled. These were the feared but familiar sounds of Nazi boots, and the teenage students in the dark room could hear now the horrible bellowing outside the window, the barked orders for the Jews to show themselves. 

Tilar J Mazzeo, Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman who saved 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto, 2016

Irena Stanislawa Sendler, b. 15 February 1910, Polish humanitarian who served in the Polish Underground Resistance during WWII, rescued thousands of Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto. Google Doodle is dedicated to her today.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Enmity pencil in Franzen's Corrections

Something as daily and friendly as a pencil still occupied the random spot on the workbench where Alfred had laid it in a different decade; the passage of so many years imbued the pencil with a kind of enmity.

Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections, 2001

Monday, 3 February 2020

Inks in the Time of Cholera

But, indifferent to the uproar, she was captivated on the spot by a paper seller who was demonstrating magic inks, red inks with an ambience of blood, inks of sad aspect for messages of condolence, phosphorescent inks for reading in the dark, invisible inks that revealed themselves in the light. She wanted all of them so she could amuse Florentino Ariza and astound him with her wit, but after several trials she decided on a bottle of gold ink.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera, 1985.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Mary Somerville's Pen

Mary Somerville holds probably a propelling pencil
like the ones made by Samson Mordan.

In a letter of July 12, 1849, thanking Somerville for a copy of Physical Geography, Humboldt praised Somerville's superior combination of precision, lucidity, and taste; her high attainments in mathematical analysis; and the comprehensiveness of her knowledge. ...
"You alone could provide your literature with an original cosmological work, a work written with the lucidity and taste that distinguish everything that comes from your pen," he told her.

Kathlyn Neeley, Mary Somerville: Science, Illumination and the Female Mind, 2001.

Google celebrates Scottish scientist Somerville with a Doodle to mark the day she published in the world's oldest science publication, Philosophical Transactions. She was the first woman to do so.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Leaky nibs in Angela's Ashes

The headmaster, Mr Scallan, says we are to return on Monday with a composition book, a pencil, and a pen with a good nib on it.

There are seven masters in Leamy's National School and they all have leather straps, canes, blackthorn sticks. ... They hit you if you're late, if you have a leaky nib on your pen, if you laugh, if you talk, and if you don't know things.
Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes, 1996