Pen and Ink
Literacy was hierarchically distributed in seventeenth-century society. Most middle- and upper-class men could read and write: most the women could read, but not all could write. But though many women did not write, they did make the ink, using oak galls, gum Arabic and copperas. One late medieval recipe reads:
To make three pintes of ink: Take galls and gum, two ounces of each, and three ounces of copperas. Crush the galls and soak them for three days. Then boil them in three quartes of rain water, or water from a still pool. When they have boiled enough and the water is almost half-boiled away (I.e., no more than three pintes are left), take it off the fire, add the copperas and gum, and stir it until it is cold. Then put it in a cold, damp place. After three weeks it spoils.
The resulting ink was a pale, almost transparent grey that became darker and more legible as it dried. The brown ink that we see today on early manuscripts has not faded from black: it has darkened from pale grey. Soot was sometimes added to allow the writer to actually see what he was writing.
Oak gall ink dried and spoiled quickly, so inkwells were lidded and could be screwed tightly shut. A screw-top inkwell is not, as is sometimes thought, a traveling inkwell, it is just an inkwell.
Quill pens were made from feathers plucked in springtime from the left wing of a living goose, or for the rich, a swan. In the spring, feathers were newly grown and at their strongest and feathers from the left wing curled the right way for right-handed scribes.
Carefully selected though the feathers were, their points still wore down and needed frequent sharpening. Hence the need for "pen knives" such as this one. A quill pen in full-time use by a scribe lasted a week at the most. Some (rather obsessive) collectors of early manuscripts derive great pleasure from examining their collection to see how often the scribe needed to sharpen his quill.
In their day, quill sharpeners must have been very common. They are now very rare. Obviously, they were thrown away around 1800 when the steel nib made quill pens obsolete. Lord Byron, for one, would have lamented their passing:
Oh! nature's noblest gift -- my gray-goose quill!
Slave of my thoughts, obedient to my will,
Torn from thy parent-bird to form a pen,
That mighty instrument of little men!
See the one that we have just acquired.