Saturday, April 15, 2017

Prelude and Preference to the Modern Laptop

I'm a writer.  Although I have only had a very few published articles (and those in somewhat esoteric publications), still I write nearly every day.  My current focus is my Goody Prymm blog series, which I hope to have published in the next few years.  So, yes, I am a writer...and a lover of history and its artifacts, so I suppose it's not unusual for me to take up an interest in writing tools of the past.

I've been reading a lot about the Bronte sisters lately.  And although I taught Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre for years, I've suddenly taken a keen interest in Emily Bronte in particular.  Best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights,  Emily remains elusive to historians, as she was quite the solitary person.  I like that.  I am like that in many ways (though Emily would most likely never have a blog!)..and I am most enthralled by her poetry.

In Deborah Lutz's The Bronte Cabinet, she reveals the biographies of the three sisters---Charlotte, Emily, and Anne---through nine objects of theirs, one being their slope desks.  This captivated me, knowing that, upon these portable desks, some of the world's greatest literature was born!  I began researching the history of slope desks, finding that they go back hundreds of years, even used on the battlefields.  Well!  I needed to have one of my own!  I recently purchased this little slope desk, believed to be ca. 1900 to 1909.  It was purchased in Pennsylvania as an American antique by the seller's mother back in the 60s.  She is now 96.  It is made of genuine mahogany (typical of slope desks), the bottom being pine.
What charmed me most was the little brass heart escutcheon for the keyhole... <3

When folded out, the desk could be placed in the lap whilst traveling or simply placed on a table, much like today's laptop.  In the 1800s it was all the rave.  Sometimes the desktop surface was leather, but most times in the Victorian era, it was a type of material such as velvet or baize (like on billiards tables).  Mine is green baize.  At the top end is a tray for desk supplies, and little wood separators which could be removed if desired.

At the other end is a latch and, when opened, reveals a place for writing paper and whatever the owner desires to keep there.  So far I keep an antique photograph of two sisters and a lock of my (startlingly!) greying hair tied with a slip of antique Victorian lace.
I was informed by a locksmith that the hole to the right of the latch once held a metal pin which would have been a part of the lock (most likely a ward lock).  I wanted a key made, but as this was the case, my little slope desk would need further restoration, and I prefer my antiques stay as they is a part of their history.  Opening up the other side is yet another section for objects.


The entire storage tray can be fact, the locksmith said, "Do you know that it has a false bottom?"  I told him I had suspected that, but was proven wrong as my hand can slide under there.  I believe it just made more room for paper.  But that's what's so intriguing about antiques...mysteries abound!  So what else do I keep in my writer's slope desk?  So far, I have a traveling ink well, an 1800s silver nib pen, a vintage dip pen nib wipe, and a small magnifying glass (who knows...maybe I'll create a teeny tiny book just like the Brontes!).

The pen actually came from a mid-Victorian era traveling embroidery kit that I inherited.  In my research I discovered it is a prized collectable, marked S Mordan & Co Makers, which made these high-end solid silver dip pens from 1845 to the 1860s.  I figured it belonged here more than in the little traveling kit...but I will return it to its rightful place when I buy another antique dip/nib pen.  You can see how it is so portable!

The traveling ink well is just so darned clever.  Made of brass, it holds a glass well (which still has ink residue) which can be removed.  It is only a few inches in size....perfect for traveling.

Finally, I found a dip pen nib wipe in the shape of a little leather book!  There are leather "pages" inside through which the writer can slide the tip of her pen to keep things neat.  It is only 1 1/2".

The portable magnifying glass has a small ring for a chain so that it can be worn around the neck...and was typically used to examine stitching closely.  Charlotte had one in her slope desk...:)

I've said before that I am not really of this world...I much prefer a beautiful, simple antique slope desk filled with all manner of both practical and pleasurable objects over the modern laptop.  Why, just yesterday I entertained the idea of creating my own oak gall ink...and writing the very first page of A Year and a Day in the Life of Goody Prymm using all of these writer's tools...

© 2017 Nancy Duncan


  1. Beautiful! Wonderful! What a treasure. Making the ink and writing the page sounds like a great plan! Thanks for sharing about the slope desk and the rest of your writing collection from yesteryear.

  2. Hi, Vicki Jo! I get on these kicks sometimes...but one thing leads to another, and this little slope desk has me preparing for smaller series within the Goody Prymm series. Goody Prymm's days are numbered, as you know, so readers should have more details about her early years in Ipswich...personal accounts. So Remember will be finding some journals Imagination wrote in a carved oak desk box (slope box)...