“The feathers you have to dry,” said history reenactor Dwight Mayeux. “You can’t pluck them off a turkey and make a pen.”
Mayeux is fascinated by old writings and the tools used to create them in the days before typewriters or even ball point pens.
“You’ve got to do something important to make it hold more ink you’ve got to make a little slit in it. Hear how it snapped?,” Mayeux said.
These feathers come from a turkey.
“If I was going to make this pen for my desk, I’d actually cut it like this, just leave a little bit of feather on there and the regular pen on the end,” Mayeux said.
Mayeux does living history demonstrations at places like LSU’s Burden Center in Baton Rouge. And he tries to make everything from his clothes to his ink wells authentic.
“It takes a lot of work to write anything. Up until the industrial revolution, pencils were handmade and pens were handmade,” he said.
In addition to feathers, bamboo and river cane were also cut into pens.
“Reed pens go back 5,000 years. Literally. They were literally using papyrus paper and reed pens to make notes while they were building pyramids,” Mayeux said.
Dipping a pen in ink is a new experience for a generation that’s more accustomed to tapping out text messages with thumbs. And in the days before neighborhood post offices or even envelopes, handwritten letters were folded and sealed with a few drops of hot wax. Texting and emails can’t compare to the artistry of handwritten script.
“They didn’t have a ruler or lines or anything, and the writing is completely level,” Mayeux said. “Every letter is formed beautifully, and their signatures are amazing. And then you would do a flourish and sometimes even a little circle and embellish it.”
A style of writing that your ancestors learned back in grade school is quickly becoming a lost art.
Mayeux will occasionally appear at special events at LSU’s Rural Life Museum at in Baton Rouge.