Friday, May 19, 2017

Travel Writing Lap Desks: Some History

I'm super excited to be sharing something special with you all today! My kids and I have come out to Oregon to visit my mom for awhile this summer and she had a surprise waiting for me. This is my grandmother's travel writing desk---something my mom remembers her always having and keeping her poetry in. I believe it is made of cedar, but have no idea when it was made or how she came to own it.

I lost my Grandma Betty when I was just eight years old. My mom says I inherited her love for writing and creativity with words. I remember her poetry and am so honored to have this gift of her writing desk!

The Bronte's study, Haworth, England
I took this photo last fall in Haworth. Notice what I originally did not---the writing slope lying open on the table!
The lap desk, writing slope, writing box, or writing cabinet originated in the 17th century as a trendy accessory for the traveling gentleman. The box was small enough to be carried on his horse or by his valet and was designed to hold all his implements of correspondence.

Jane Austen's Writing Desk and Spectacles, British Library
It didn't take long for them to become fashionable for men and women alike. Portable antique writing desks had a hinged writing surface that was sometimes covered in leather or other material and flipped open to a storage space below. Compartments were revealed to house inkwells, pens, blotters, sealing wax, and more. Sometimes there were hidden compartments inside!

The use of portable lap desks gradually declined during the 19th century, as people began mass producing home furniture, as well as more convenient writing tools---and as the middle and lower classes became more literate, making correspondence a much more common activity.

However, vintage and modern lap desks can still be found for sale online. Here is a cute modern version, The Schoolhouse Cushioned Lap Desk from Victorian Trading Company. It employs the use of a cushion for added coziness and to help it stay put.

I'm excited to store my favorite stationery in my new-to-me writing desk. How do you organize your letter writing materials?

Linking with these sites:

Friday, May 12, 2017

5 Things I Didn't Know About Wax Letter Seals

In the 1880s, pink seals were used to send congratulations.
I love to use wax seals on my correspondence. It makes me feel so old fashioned and I enjoy the message it sends to my friends that they are special to me. It's fun to research how the Victorians and earlier ancestors used wax seals in their letter writing. Here are 5 things I didn't know about wax letter seals.

Image credit: Seller collectaprint via eBay.
1. A Matter of Manners

In the early years of the Victorian era, it was considered impolite to use a large seal on a letter. Smaller was better; small and glossy was best.

2. Office Space

Public offices collected a large quantity of mail in a short time. It was customary to always protect official correspondence with a wax seal, and measures were taken in earlier days to recycle the wax. Some offices in France did this in a pretty creative way. They'd gather all the mail into wire baskets and steam it. The wax would melt away from the paper and be collected to be reformed and reused as sealing sticks.

Cornelius Gijsbrechts: Qudolibet, 1675
3. Seeing Red

Close your eyes and imagine a very old sealed letter. What color is the wax seal? Red, right? Nowadays we have access to a beautiful array of colors to choose from, and the Victorians did too, but the most popular color for sealing wax has always been red. This is probably because Vermillion was the most common colorant, dating back at least to medieval times.

4. A Penny Saved

Before the advent of the postage stamp and Uniform Penny Post in 1840, the use of a wax seal was more than just a pretty way to decorate correspondence. Since postage prices depended on the number of sheets of paper used, letters that were sealed up in envelopes cost the receiver double since the envelope added another sheet of thickness. The wax seal ensured the letter traveled safely and undisturbed without charging the receiver excessive postage. {Side note: prior to the Penny Post, the receiver paid the postage, rather than the sender).

Medieval illuminated manuscript featuring document with hanging seal. Photo courtesy British Library.

5. Poison Pen

Researchers in the UK are using medieval wax seals to look for possible cases of forgery and other crimes by examining fingerprints and handprints left behind in the wax. Analysts are studying seals on documents dating from the 12th to 14th centuries, such as business contracts, land sales, and other financial exchanges. These transactions were as important and binding as our modern-day signatures, contracts, and credit advances. Read more about the project at Heritage Daily.

How many of these facts about wax seals were new to you?

Linking with:
Vintage Charm

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Summer Pen Friend Exchange

It's time to kick off the Summer Pen Friend Exchange! If you enjoy handwritten correspondence with like-minded people, The Victorian Letter Writers Guild may be for you! Check out my Welcome message in the menu bar then sign up now for our Summer Pen Friend Exchange! 
**The Summer Exchange is now closed. However, you can still sign up for the Autumn Exchange! Follow the instructions below and I'll notify you when I'm ready to assign partners near the first of September.

Here's what you need to know:
  • The Summer exchange will run from June 1st-August 31st. You will receive your pen friend's information by June 3rd.
  • This is an international exchange but introductory letters must be written in English. (If you and your partner decide to write in a more familiar language after, that is fine.)
  • A minimum of one letter to your partner is required. If you decide to continue the correspondence after that, wonderful!
  • I am not responsible for "flakers", but anyone who does not keep their commitment will not be included in further exchanges. 
  • Privacy Statement: Your information will only be given to your assigned pen friend. I will not use it for any kind of advertising, marketing, or other commercial purposes, nor will I publish it in any form. There is no fee to join the Guild---it's strictly for fun and fellowship. I will add your email to a list for my own purposes and will only send emails regarding the pen friend exchange or other Guild activities I think you might be interested in, such as giveaways or letter writing challenges. I will not add you to my blog subscription list but there is a link on the sidebar to do so if you wish. 

Are you ready for a new pen friend? Copy and paste the answers to the following questions in an email and send it to:

Pen Friend Sign Up Questions
Send to

1. Full Name

2. Full Mailing Address including zip code and country

3. Email Address

4. What is your age group? 

5. Do you have a preferred age group to correspond with?
no preference

6. Do you prefer a pen friend from your own country or is any country fine?

7. Do you prefer a pen friend of a certain gender? 

8. What is your gender?

9. List some of your hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes.

10. What interests you about the Victorian Letter Writers Guild?

11. How did you learn about the Guild?

Welcome to The Victorian Letter Writers Guild!

Scattered amongst our fast-paced, stressed-out society, there is a special kind of people hiding in plain sight.

They come from all walks of life and possess varied interests and goals, but all hold one desire in common---a longing for a more relaxed and thoughtful way of life.

The Victorian senses of modesty, decency, and order required them to live in a way many of us desire to emulate today.

There are many benefits of structuring our routines to enjoy life at a slower pace. I appreciate the ability to be more authentic and attentive in my communications with others. One way I accomplish this is by composing handwritten letters, often sent with an accompanying poem or recipe.

If you enjoy handwritten correspondence with like-minded people, The Victorian Letter Writers Guild may be for you!

Here you will find:

  • Creative ideas for designing extra-special correspondence
  • Mail art techniques
  • Historical information regarding letter writing, Victorians, etiquette, and more
  • Quarterly pen friend exchanges
  • Writing-related swaps and giveaways

Be sure to follow us by email (see top sidebar), Instagram, and Facebook to stay caught up on the latest guild happenings and diversions. We're glad you're here!