What sort of pens/quills would be used?

Would paper, cover and bindings be readily available?

  • Btw, are you writing a novel set in the period? Or just curious about daily life... Jun 27, 2013 at 12:23
  • 2
    I am a re-enactor but am not able to fight at our big shows due to now having children so I was going to give talks to the public on the admin side of things instead.
    – Stefan
    Jun 27, 2013 at 12:25

2 Answers 2


The first issue, it almost goes without saying, is that in the 1400s it was still a fairly rare thing to know how to read and write, and in fact reading and writing were essentially two separate skills. There were many, many scribes during the medieval era whose job it was to copy down ancient texts and who often had no idea what, exactly, it was that they were copying down.

Regarding paper, this was a Chinese invention which was passed over to the West in the 1200s. By the 1400s it would have been fairly well known, and there were probably paper mills in or around most of the larger towns, but it was by no means as ubiquitous as it is today. For documents which were supposed to last a long time you still would have wanted to use parchment and/or vellum, which are made with animal skin instead of wood pulp and as such are much more expensive and rare.

As for putting ink to paper, yes, you're right on that they would have used quills.

Quill pens were the instrument of choice during the medieval era due to their compatibility with parchment and vellum. Prior to this the reed pen had been used, but a finer letter was achieved on animal skin using a cured quill. Other than written text, they were often used to create figures, decorations, and images on manuscripts, although many illuminators and painters preferred fine brushes for their work. The variety of different strokes in formal hands was accomplished by good penmanship as the tip was square cut and rigid, exactly as it is today with modern steel pens.


  • Groovy, thanks (+1). The job I am looking at (at a re-enactment show) is the book keeping and admin for a mercenary company employed by the house of York. Would I be correct in thinking that this level of bureaucrat would have the relevant skills and would write on paper?
    – Stefan
    Jun 27, 2013 at 13:27
  • By 1400, yes, I believe that would be the case. I'm not so sure it would have been a couple hundred years prior, and I want to say that accountants had their own secret notation earlier on, but yeah, by the High Middle Ages period you're talking about, I don't believe that would be terribly out of place. And for regular accounting purposes, paper and not parchment or vellum would have been used. Jun 27, 2013 at 13:32
  • Sorry, I should have said that the target date is 1471! Never mind, you nailed it anyway - thanks! :-)
    – Stefan
    Jun 27, 2013 at 13:35
  • Paper did not "come over" to Europe from China. The word "paper" derives from the Greek papyrus, which is a plant native to Egypt which was used to make paper thousands of years before any Chinese paper existed (or at least has been recovered archaeologically). Aug 11, 2015 at 19:19
  • @Tyler Durden. The word paper may come from papyrus, but papyrus is not paper any more that a wax tablet or a chalk board is. It is an entirely different entity. Paper's origins in eastern Asia/China are well attested.
    – fred2
    Dec 24, 2022 at 17:26

In 15th century Europe the standard pen was the quill pen. There is a very famous book "Il Libro dell' Arte" by Cennino d'Andrea Cennini. It describes writing and painting technology in the 15th century completely. You can buy it on Amazon.

Quill pens were cut from the feather of a bird like a goose using a knife. The tip of the pen is dipped in ink. It works the same way as a modern fountain pen.

Common paper was made from a pulp of hemp and linen and was similar to modern construction paper. Paper was also made from cotton, but that tended to be more fragile and less used. On the other end of the spectrum was parchment, the skin of a sheep, which was used for deeds and other permanent or archival documents. Very fine "vellum" was a skin from a baby sheep (a lamb). It was used for books for the elite or as a writing material for very rich people.

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