The Evolution of the Pen Throughout History

Beginning in ancient Egypt, the evolution of the pen is monumental to human history. People tend to forget how much pens have altered to become the perfect writing tools.

Cave painting in the stone age - The evolution of writing

Photo by Rabah Al Shammary on Unsplash  

Before pens, cave paintings were the only form of written communication humans had. Often using paints made out of charcoal mixed with spit or red pigment from iron oxides. 

Reed pen pencil nib evolution grass Egypt ancient evolution writing
Scribe's Tool Bundle - Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund - Creative Commons-BY

The first pen shape occurred in 3000BC in ancient Egypt. They used Reeds with a sharp point (like that of a nib) to write with. They used hard grasses, like Sea Rushes, sturdy enough to carve things out with, drying them out for days to get it right. The evolution of the pen is an important part of human evolution and connection, without pens and the use of writing utensils we wouldn't be where we are today!

The paper they often used was Papyrus scrolls, but before this, the most common object was a stone tablet, no wonder they were looking for something easier to write on! There was no room for mistakes on a stone tablet. 

Ancient Egypt had specific people for writing and recording things, named Scribes, who were tasked with keeping the record of important events, and anything their superiors wanted. Scribes were male but there is evidence of female scribes, they had an important role to play as an essential part of the administrative princess in Egypt. 

From court proceedings, and food stocks, to magic spells and rituals, they are a huge part of why we now know so much about Egypt, again displaying the importance of writing utensils and keeping a record of things via pen.

In 1300 BC, ancient Romans developed a metal stylus that they could use to carve out words and pictures on wax tablets. The utensil resembled a pencil with its shape and was used in the same way. 

The Romans had a humorous side that was discovered when a large excavation in London found these “pens” with joke pens being common, much more than archaeologists had before thought.

These excavations occurred from 2010 to 2014, finding many variations of the pens, all made from Iron, with the Latin engraving of “I have come from the city, I bring you a welcome gift” (translated) which translated to “I went to Rome and all I got you was this pen”.

The Romans did things exactly like the modern-day, buying cheap souvenirs to bring back as a joke for loved ones and friends. 

Roman pen

Source: The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA)


The shape of Roman pens was significant too as they had an end that was flat and round in shape, acting as an eraser to flatten out the wax had a mistake occurred.

At about the same time, ancient Asian scribes were also using styluses made out of metal, this time Bronze. The Chinese also created a brush-like pen that had an end made out of animal hair like rat or camel hair. Within ancient China it was found that scribes would carve into the bones of animals, to record things from important events to spells.

The most common use is divination, which is the practice of gaining knowledge of the future or the unknown through supernatural means. These pens that they used to carve out writing into animal bones, were instrumental to the preservation of traditions and the history of their culture.

The Egyptian reed pens carried on until the soft papyrus paper turned into harder animal skin and thus got phased out with harder pen shapes that could do the job better.

Meanwhile in the 6th century Seville in Spain, the quill pen was created and began its journey across the globe as the favoured writing utensil.

Quill pen nib metal feather writing

Image Credit: Kinjal bose 78, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This stayed this way until the 19th century when quills were slowly replaced by metal nibs.

In the 19th century as metal nibs became more popular and of better quality, more people were wanting a more practical pen to write with, then in the 1940s Josef and Georg Biro, two Germans who fled Nazi Germany to Argentina, created the biro ballpoint pen.

Laszlo Biro Patent

Image Source: Patent #239063A (google patents)

Everyone knows the Biro pen, so the Biro brother's creation is a monumental part of pen history that cannot be overlooked.

Furthermore, Papermate created a ballpoint pen, yet had a lot of trouble with their ink and so created their own, claiming it was “banker approved” to increase sales and it was successful.

At the same time, Parker Pens released their first ballpoint pen, named "The Jotter".

Parker pen jotter writing modern communication nib fountain pen ballpoint ink refillable refill


As reported by Parker Pens, the Jotter had "additional features" and "technological advances." Which meant it became a reputable pen brand as people believed in the quality and claims of Parker pens. The advertising was so successful that the brand sold several million individual “Jotter” pens in less than a year.

Cheaper pens came about too, as with the World War meaning people required pens that were disposable but reliable and cheap. BIC pens are another brand that came about during this time, being a cheaper ballpoint pen brand that gave the people of the world exactly what they asked for, along with the happy slogan; “Writes The First Time, Every Time!”.

Fast forward to today and there are too many pen brands to count. Pens are created around the world not only be writing utensils but as accessories, as they become more expensive depending on the material they're made of, as well as the brand they associate with. Have a look at our 10 most expensive pens in the world article to see what we mean! 

1 comment


    I live in Lubbock Texas and Trying to Come up with a Theme in our Restaurant with pens Throughout the years. The idea of reminding people of pens they used when they where younger and growing up. I kinda wonder how hard it would be to aquire pens throughout the years to display in our Restaurant.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.