The first feather pen was used as a writing instrument around the year 500 BC; dried and well cleaned, feathers were great in combination with ink made of herbal extracts. Swan, goose or turkey feathers were the only ones reliable for writing since their thicker capillary system sucked more ink. The feather pen was made by sharpening the tip of the feather and splitting it in half so that the ink could spread evenly on the writing material. During the last millennium BC, the Egyptians had invented an alternative to the feather pen by using sharp sticks to apply soot to the papyrus.
Instead of a feather pen, the ancient Chinese used brushes made of camel and mouse fur that were passed through clay. In case the material that had to be written on was silk, very fine brushes were used, and they simply consisted of a few hairs added at the end of a rod. Little by little the feather pen and its variants inspired the invention of the modern fountain pens, since people had to find a system that would no longer rely on repetitive dipping of the feather pen in ink. The hardness level of the nibs we use today is definitely one hundred times higher than that of the initial feather pen.
Though tradition has made us believe that the feather pen preserved the real feather as such, history proves otherwise; apparently all the hairs were removed and the feather structure was cut at a comfortable size for the hand. Writing was definitely slower that we know it today, not just because of the many feather pen dippings in ink, but also because of the quality of the materials on which people were writing. The capillary structure of natural feathers was the one to have actually inspired the inventors of the first fountain pen.
Presently, there are plenty of feather pen models, but they are distant imitations of the authentic items that where used in parchment writing. Thus, you can find feather-shaped fountain pens and ballpoints that school-age children usually enjoy. They are pretty cheap and often show special distinctive features such as multicolor writing, and sparkling or even invisible ink use. Considered great gifts for the Christmas holidays or special family celebrations, a modern feather pen preserves only the simulated image of the real writing tool that was so widely used not more than two centuries ago.