The friend writing in the palm of your hand

In 2697 BC, Chinese philosopher Tien-Lcheu discovered ink by mixing kerosene, musk and donkey skin. The brotherhood between pen and paper thus began, not by blood but by ink.

The friend writing in the palm of your hand

Seyma Aydin

Thousands of years ago, when people wanted to record their feelings and thoughts, the index finger came to their rescue. As the finger rushed on soil and sand, shapes and pictures appeared and his knots came undone. However, what was written on soil had the lifetime of a gust of wind. Something more stubborn than fingers and more durable than soil had to be set to work. This would begin the story of thepencil, its appearance on the stage of history and its reign over fingers.

The Turkish word for pencil, “kalem” came all the way from the Greek word “kalamos”, to Latin “calamus”, or reed, which also found a place in Arabic and finally came to Turkish. The first pencil was introduced as sharp instruments used for drawing shapes on tablets by the Sumerians 6,000 years ago. In Egypt and Rome, writings were recorded in hieroglyphics with reed pens on soft clay tablets. As hieroglyphs evolved into linear symbols, a great number of writing tools emerged in different parts of the world, from Egypt to China. Natural materials like ivory, feathers, flint stones, sticks, animal bones, reeds and bamboo were all at their owners’ disposal.

In 2697 BC, Chinese philosopher Tien-Lcheu discovered ink by mixing kerosene, musk and donkey skin. The brotherhood between pen and paper thus began, not by blood but by ink.

Ink was initially used only to darken the hieroglyphs, but afterwards it contributed to the invention of the reed pen. Reed pens were made by cutting one edge of a tube-shaped reed and filling it with ink. Iron powder, acorn powder and resin were mixed in the ink to make it more durable. It is possible to see samples of pens with metal and steel tips in the ruins of Pompeii. Although they were given the name 'fountain pen' with reservoirs to draw ink, the real success came in 1884, from the American inventor L. E. Waterman.

Writing with brushes is a method that has been used in China since the 10th century BC and it is still accepted in the Far East. Uyghur people used paper made from linen, fibers and cotton and wrote with reed pens instead of brushes.

In the Middle Ages, quill pens made out of goose, swan and crow feathers became widespread and in European languages they were given names derived from the Latin word penna (feather).

Lead pencil without lead

Lead and silver sticks that are not suitable for writing were used to make marks in the Middle Ages. In 1658, after the discovery of graphite mines, this material was cut into small pieces and the lead pencil was produced. However, don’t let the name fool you, as they were by no means lead in pencils. Black carbon, which makes up the main substance, was initially used to oil barrels to separate the bullets easily. Quarries were protected with great care as it is a military equipment. We also know that it cost too much because it required a tedious production process. This is the reason why everyone could not use lead pencils. Their use became widespread only after J. Hardmuth added clay into the graphite powder, burnt the mixture, then dunked it in beeswax to ease the manufacturing process.

It would be unfair to say that pens were only used for writing. They were also the sign of status and the identity of the owner. Pens with feathers, gold and jewel embellishments were a sign of wealth and reputation, whereas reed pens or plain ones were preferred by some poets or middle class people.

The ballpoint pen, developed by Argentinian Lazlo Biro, first appeared in 1895. Ink was transferred to paper by a little ball placed in the brass tip.  The ink clings to the ball, which spins as the pen is drawn across the paper. You may find it hard to believe, but a ballpoint pen has enough ink to draw a line of 2-3 kilometers. And what’s more, the ink dries up a lot faster than that of a fountain pen.

We should also note that although they couldn’t shake the throne of the ballpoint pen, felt-tip and fiber-tip highlighter markers became very popular among both adults and children at the end of 1960s.

The attention to writing consequently created related etiquette. For example, it was considered disrespectful to write to one’s superiors with new inventions like pencil and ballpoint pen.

The artist pen of the Ottomans

The pencil has a sacred place in all divine religions and it has a special importance in Islam as there is a separate section of the Quran with this title.

The pencil was associated with the words kilk, hâme and hâmen in the Ottoman Empire. It was usually made from reed, and sometimes bristle. The pencil would reflect its glory on both modest and golden pages, by the hands of Ottoman poets and writers.

In the Ottoman Empire, inner walls, dome and ceiling of the buildings were decorated by paintings on the top of plaster, wood, stone, cloth and leather with a thin pen brush using colored paint or gold foil. This art was called “kalem ishi”, or pencil work. The Kalemkâr would create the decoration and the Nakkash would prepare the drawing.

The reed, which was turned into the musical instrument ney, created mysterious tunes from the breath of the musician. In calligraphy, it took the form of a pencil and created beautiful works from the hand of the calligrapher.

It is important to mention that in the olden days people believed that the reed pen moved with the love of God, and shed black blood from their eyes:

“Kalem feryâd idüp ağlar mürekkep / Beni nâdân eline virme yâ Rab.” That is, “Pen and ink cry out and say ‘O God, don’t let us fall into the hands of the ignorant and vulgar.’”

Ottoman calligraphers were modest and carefree people, but when it came to their art, they would go over the matter with a fine-toothed comb. Java reeds were most preferred at the time, as they were thick and hard, meaning one could write many pages once the tip was cut.

The top and bottom parts (called vahshi and unsi respectively) of the reed pens had to be cut properly as they determined the thickness and inclination of the writing style.

Even though it went through changes in time, the pencil has always preserved its elegance and nobility and never surrendered to technology. There is no doubt that it will keep on being our faithful friend in our palms, bringing the valuable texts of the history to the present like a gatekeeper.

It is said that as words fly away, writings remain. O pen, May your words be true, and your ink eternal!

Timeline of the pencil

The elegance of fountain pen

With their handmade adornments, fountain pens have been close friends of their owners since the 20th century.

Pouring out of the brush

Brush pens have been used in the Far East, in various correspondences, since 10th century BC.

With an eraser to forgive the mistake

The main material of lead pencil is not lead, but black carbon. In time, those with erasers, scents and bells came to our service.

Whomever serves the pen…

Produced at the end of 1960s, highlighters with felt and fiber tips are used to highlight what is already written by another pen.

Ney becomes a pen

Reed that became a ney with breath, turned into a pen and witnessed the poems of Ottoman calligraphers.

Writing never ends

Ballpoint pens that appeared in 1895 contain enough ink to draw a line of 2-3 kilometers.

(First appeared on ''derintarih magazine'')

Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Ocak 2014, 14:45