Writing in early modern England required more effort than it does today. Ink had to be made, quills maintained, and paper treated to prevent it from absorbing too much ink. During the writing process, the quill required frequent dipping in the inkwell. Afterwards, sand was spread over the manuscript to hasten the drying of the ink. While pen and ink remained the dominant writing medium, new surfaces and implements were developed to increase efficiency and allow for greater portability.
The first known description and illustration of graphite, seen above, is in Konrad Gesner’s book on geology, De omni rerum , where he refers to it as “English antimony.” Graphite was discovered in England’s Lake District in the 1560s. Graphite pencils, commonly referred to as “black-lead” pencils, initially were used by artists for sketching. In fact, the word “pencil” usually referred to an artist’s brush. Later in the seventeenth century, graphite pencils were increasingly used for taking notes.
New booke, containing all sortes of handes usually written at this daie. London, 1611 (Detail)
Jehan de Beau-Chesne. A booke containing divers sortes of hands. London, 1602
(top image) One of the earliest writing manuals to be published in England, New booke illustrates the proper way to hold a quill pen. It also contains a set of rules written in verse "for his children to learn to write by" and numerous engraved plates displaying different styles of handwriting currently in use in Europe.
(bottom image) The secretary hand was the first cursive hand to be developed in early modern England. Derived from the gothic scripts of the Middle Ages, it went through a number of phases in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, evolving alongside the other new script of the age, italic. By the mid-seventeenth century, a mixed hand that combined the most efficient features of italic and secretary came to dominate, followed by a round hand, which serves as the basis for the modern era of handwriting.