www.hygra.com

ANTIQUE BOXES
at the Sign of the Hygra
2 Middleton Road
London E8 4BL
Tel: 00 44 (0)20 7254 7074
email:
boxes@hygra.com

Antique Boxes in English Society
1760 -1900
by ANTIGONE
WRITING BOXES

 Thumbnail index of writing boxes and slopes.  Thumbnail index.

   News | Buying BoxesContact usThe Schiffer BookAdvanced Search | Request current  list of available writing boxes.

BEFORE 1780 |FROM 1780-1800 | FROM 1800-1830 | FROM 1830-1900

Bookmark and Share

INTRODUCTION

Whereas the Tea Caddy and the Sewing Box can be said to be accurate reflections of the stylistic and cultural influences of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Writing Box epitomizes the social and economic developments of this particular period.

Portable boxes for writing materials had existed for many centuries and in many cultures. However it was not until the last decades of the 18th century that the socio-economic circumstances in England necessitated the wide use of a portable desk in the form of a box which could be used on a table or on one's lap. Hence "Lap Desk".

Although quality, ornament and form did play an important part in its selection as a personal item, it is the purpose for which it was used which gave prominence to the writing box, at a time of expanding intellectual curiosity, communication, literacy and increased commercial activity. The writing box was an item of style and fashion yes, but it was also an item connected with intelligence, commerce and world awareness.

From the end of the 18th, to the end of the 19th century, the writing box featured prominently on military expeditions, travels, libraries and in drawing rooms. Great literature as well as dispatches, contracts, letters and postcards were written on its sloping surface. Through it both business and personal activity were transacted. Unlike the writing desk or table it was a personal and not a household possession.

 

"a lady's traveling box" from Thomas Sheraton
The Cabinet Maker And Upholster's Drawing-Book (1793). This box has accessories for both writing and dressing. It would have had everything a lady needed!
 WB144: Mahogany late 18th century writing box the top inlaid with maple inlay depicting a patera and edged with a cross banding in laburnum to the top. The box has drop side handles and a side drawer for papers. Inside there is a leather covered writing surface and further compartments for papers and writing implements. The box also has a riser mechanism to enable it to be used as a reading stand/ lectern. circa 1790. Enlarge Picture WB144: Mahogany late 18th century writing box the top inlaid with maple inlay depicting a patera and edged with a cross banding in laburnum to the top. The box has drop side handles and a side drawer for papers. Inside there is a leather covered writing surface and further compartments for papers and writing implements. The box also has a riser mechanism to enable it to be used as a reading stand/ lectern. circa 1790.

 

An early 19th century partridgewood writng box with inlaid banding and decorated with a hand coloured  engraving depicting a  winged Victory ahead of a Classical  laurelled hero riding in his chariot, having side carrying handles a drawer, inner velvet writing surface and places for writing materials and accessories. Enlarge Picture WB109: An early 19th century partridgewood writng box with inlaid banding and decorated with a hand coloured engraving depicting a winged Victory ahead of a Classical laurelled hero riding in his chariot, having side carrying handles a drawer, inner velvet writing surface and places for writing materials and accessories.

 

Enlarge Picture

 

18th Century Solid mahogany writing box with side drawer Circa 1790
This is a solid mahogany writing box made in the characteristic late 18th century style, designed to withstand military campaigns and/or extensive traveling.

This box is very similar to that which was owned and used by Jane Austen. Jane's box is now in the British Library.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

WRITING BOXES BEFORE 1780

The stylistic development of the writing box in the first part of the 18th century can be traced to portable inkstands, writing sets, oak bible boxes and sloping bible/writing boxes.

The few which were made before 1780 were rectangular and had sloping tops, less steep than the earlier bible boxes. They had side drawers for paper and spaces for containers of ink and sand. Dr Johnson tells us that Alexander Pope (1688-1744) "actually required that his writing box should be set upon his bed before he rose."

WRITING BOXES  and SLOPES 1780-1800

WRITING BOXES
WRITING SLOPES

However by the last decades of the century writing boxes were necessary in many non-domestic situations and the tops became flat in order to facilitate transportation.

Brass bound Solid mahogany writing box of dovetail construction in the military style with drop side handles and side drawer for papers. Inside there is a sloping leather writing surface (mid Victorian replacement). There are further compartments for papers and writing implements. There is a nest of secret drawers hidden behind a panel. The box also has an adjustable riser enabling it to be used as a reading stand 1790 Enlarge Picture WB143: Brass bound Solid mahogany writing box of dovetail construction in the military style with drop side handles and side drawer for papers. Inside there is a sloping leather writing surface (mid Victorian replacement). There are further compartments for papers and writing implements. There is a nest of secret drawers hidden behind a panel. The box also has an adjustable riser enabling it to be used as a reading stand 1790

 

Early Tunbridge Ware Parquetry Writing Box/ Slope/ Lap Desk circa 1800 WB159: Early Tunbridge Ware Parquetry Writing Box/ Slope/ Lap Desk circa 1800.

 

Georgian mahogany writing slope circa 1790 WB155: Rare Georgian mahogany writing slope circa 1790


The increased popularity of the writing box by the end of the century can be attributed to two main reasons. The onset of the Napoleonic wars and the popularity of traveling. Officers in the army had their own boxes, using them both for army business and for writing home.

Traveling then was altogether a more complex business than  it is now.

By the end of the 18th century, apathy and stagnation of thought had caused the education system in England to disintegrate. Schools and universities were establishments of rites of passage for the ruling classes who had hitherto held the wealth and privilege of the land.

At the same time exciting things were happening abroad. News of excavations in Europe and North Africa stimulated the imagination. Books on different subjects became more widely available. Scientific and medical thinking was given a new impetus through alternative educational establishments set up by the progressive thinkers of the time.

 

A Georgian Mahogany Triple Opening brass bound Writing Box circa 1815  Enlarge Picture WB115: A Georgian Mahogany Triple Opening brass bound Writing Box circa 1815. 

 

Georgian Mahogany Triple Opening brass bound Writing Box circa 1810 with original inkwells and secret drawers Enlarge Picture WB 108: Georgian Mahogany Triple Opening brass bound Writing Box circa 1810 with original inkwells and secret drawers.

 

An Early 19th C solid mahogany Captains writing box with elaborate secret compartments screw-down mechanism and historical associations WB104: An Early 19th C solid mahogany Captains writing box with elaborate secret compartments screw-down mechanism and historical associations to the last High King of Ireland and the Peterloo Massacre.

 

Well to do young men found a way of accumulating knowledge by going on the 'grand tour' of Europe. Some came back wiser, some just had a good time. Architects, artists, thinkers took to traveling more seriously and brought back impressions, drawings, objects and sculptures. Their knowledge was disseminated through publications and through professional application.

Men with entrepreneurial leanings went off to India, China and wherever there were trading opportunities, traveling on English ships which were establishing their supremacy on the oceans. The mobility of a substantial section of the population became part of the social ethos.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

Detail showing the hand cut dovetails and the handle. Note the early type of screws used for fixing the brass. this is a typical Georgian writing box in mahogany with brass corners and side handles circa 1790. The drop handles point to an early date.

WRITING BOXES 1780-1800

Both the traveling civilians and the army officers needed compact and strong writing boxes, which could withstand the rough and tumble of strenuous journeys. This gave rise to the most popular type of 18th century writing box, the military style, or campaign box. In look this is similar to the military chest.

These are typical characteristics of writing boxes of the period:

  1. They are made of solid mahogany in rectangular shape with a flat surface. They are approximately eight to twenty inches long, ten inches deep when closed and seven inches tall.
  2. They open up to a sloping writing surface consisting of two flaps with space under them for paper etc.
  3. When open to the writing position, there is a space for ink and sand wells, pens and quills on the top part of the box. In some early examples, these are accommodated in a side drawer, which follows the line of the slope.
  4. They have a side drawer, occasionally two, for storing writing materials or correspondence. Sometimes they also have 'secret' small drawers. Occasionally they may have a hinge and a piece of wood, which enables the outside to be used as a reading stand.
  5. The inside of the box is made of unpolished mahogany and the writing surface is covered in baize.
  6. Most of the boxes are 'bound' with thick brass corners screwed with steel screws. These are structurally important in that they strengthen the joints and stop 'bruising' of the wood.
  7. The earliest boxes have drop down brass handles, in slightly later ones the handles are set in.
  8. The outside is usually finished with wax.

The solid mahogany brass bound writing boxes look good even when battered by usage. Restoration, which destroys their patination and gives them a later glossy look, is inappropriate and detrimental to their character.

Such boxes continued to be made and used well into the 19th century. Oliver Goldsmith in the 18th century, Charles Dickens and Lord Byron later, are some of the intellectuals who possessed sturdy writing boxes.

 

 
Brass bound Solid mahogany writing box of dovetail construction in the military style with drop side handles and side drawer for papers. Inside there is a sloping leather writing surface (mid Victorian replacement). There are further compartments for papers and writing implements. There is a nest of secret drawers hidden behind a panel. The box also has an adjustable riser enabling it to be used as a reading stand 1790 Enlarge Picture the military style, or campaign box.

 

Antique brass bound mahogany writing box in the military style with Bramah lock circa 1800 Enlarge Picture

 

the writing surface is covered in baize.

 

Enlarge Picture

 

space for ink and sand wells, pens and quills on the top part of the box.

 

Enlarge Picture a side drawer, occasionally two, for storing writing materials or correspondence.

 

Enlarge Picture Sometimes they also have 'secret' small drawers.

 

Enlarge Picture Occasionally they may have a hinge and a piece of wood, which enables the outside to be used as a reading stand.

 

Enlarge Picture Most of the boxes are 'bound' with thick brass corners screwed with steel screws.
Enlarge Picture The outside is usually finished with wax.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

 

A brass bound mahogany Captains writing box with secret compartments  and drawers circa 1800. 

The Schiffer book for collectors Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies and Society 1700-1880. by Antigone Clarke and Joseph O'Kelly is now in print and can be ordered from the links www.hygra.com/book Read what people are saying about it.

 

EXCEPTIONAL WRITING BOXES

These are stylistically the same as the writing boxes described above, but they are made to perform an extra service for their owner.

1. One type of such writing box incorporates personal grooming items such as a gentleman would require on his travels, i.e. shaving and general hygiene containers.

2. Another type incorporates a machine for printing. This comprises a heavy brass cylinder, which is turned by a handle over a sliding surface, enabling the fast copying of maps, dispatches etc.

3. Ship Captain's Writing Box. Mechanically the most complex and intriguing of all such boxes. Each one seems to differ in its arrangement of secret compartments and drawers. Often there are spaces for candlesticks and a reading stand. Their most unique feature is that they have a mechanism enabling them to be screwed down, thus achieving some stability in stormy seas.

4. Triple opening writing boxes. These were made to open in two directions, one part upwards, the other down. The middle and down part form the two sections of the normal writing box. The upper part opens as an upright lid with an attached leather covered container and sometimes 'pockets' for notes etc. Most impressive even when opened to writing position.

These four types of writing box are now rare.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

 

 
More details of box  A rare Regency rosewood metamorphic writing/sewing box with brass edging and inlay, opening up to form a chest of drawers above a writing slope complete with inkwells and sewing tools circa 1810.

 

An Early 19th Century Captains Box with elaborate secret drawers and compartments Fitted with dressing accessories By  George Palmer London One type of such writing box incorporates personal grooming items such as a gentleman would require on his travels, i.e. shaving and general hygiene containers.

 

A combined writing box and dressing box of c1800. The top writing flap opens down to give access to grooming/shaving accessories. The lower flap has the conventional space for storing paper. The box is typical of the period made with solid mahogany reinforced with brass bindings. The brass binding protects the box from warping in changes of humidity. It also provides structural reinforcement for something expected to have a hard and useful life.          A combined writing box and dressing box of c1800. The top writing flap opens down to give access to grooming/shaving accessories. The lower flap has the conventional space for storing paper. 

 

A triple opening rosewood veneered box, edged and strung in brass. The box combines strength, elegance, and impeccable workmanship in the Regency tradition. A triple opening rosewood veneered box, edged and strung in brass. The box combines strength, elegance, and impeccable workmanship in the Regency tradition.

 

A rare late 18th Century stained beech tambour top writing box Enlarge Picture A rare late 18th Century stained beech tambour top writing box 

 

 
Enlarge Picture Opulent high Regency writing box veneered in very thick strongly figured kingwood, banded and inlaid with brass, having brass set-in handles to the sides.   English circa 1815.

 
A brass bound walnut veneered writing box  opening to an embossed  leather writing surface and compartments for writing implements and paper. circa 1860 Enlarge Picture Large military style brass bound solid mahogany writing box of dovetail construction with countersunk brass handles a side document drawer and secret drawers beneath the pen tray concealed behind a sprung panel. The box retains its original green baize writing surface. Beneath the surface there are compartments for keeping papers. Unusually there is a tooled leather document wallet, Circa 1810.

 

Georgian Mahogany Triple Opening Writing Box circa 1800

 

A Rare late 18th Century Mahogany, Tambour Top Writing Box Circa 1800

WRITING SLOPES LATE 18th CENTURY.
These are not as usual as the rectangular boxes, but the ones, which have survived to our day, bear witness of fine artistic judgment and craftsman-ship. They were made for gentler more personal use and as such they are more varied in style than the 'military' writing boxes.

The postal service was pretty inefficient and chaotic up to about 1784, when armed guards were introduced on mail coaches rendering them safe, fast and efficient for the first time. Delivery of letters was much improved and so was the art of letter writing, which became a genteel occupation in its own right. Fine boxes, which could easily be carried from room to room and fit comfortably within the interiors of fine drawing rooms and libraries, were made to serve the need of private correspondence.

These boxes are smaller and of a more delicate style than the solid mahogany brass bound type. They are a development of the early sloping bible box shape, only the slope is more gentle, the box shallower and the construction much lighter. The front cover of the box opens back to reveal a sloping surface for writing. This consists of a flap, under which there is a space for paper. At the back there is a section for inkwells and pens.

Most of these smaller boxes were made of pine, occasionally of mahogany or oak and veneered in carefully selected saw cut thick veneers of beautifully figured woods. Fruitwoods, yew, mahogany, satinwood and others were combined together in simple or complex decorative pat-terns. They were often decorated with stringing, cross banding and marquetry of the finest quality.

Some of the most exquisite boxes date from this period. There are examples veneered in beautifully figured native woods such as yew as well is those veneered with exotic imported timbers. There were boxes incorporating Tunbridge Ware with marquetry. There were also boxes decorated with Penwork, Chinoisserie and Painted scenes. Often these were varnished in order to protect the pigments and inks.

Small sloping boxes of the 18th century have the charm and period flavor of their era and are now very rare.

Very occasionally there are boxes of this type, which combine sewing and writing elements; for example a box may have a shallow drawer containing sewing tools.

ANGLO INDIAN

Very fine examples of Anglo Indian boxes date from this period. Sometimes combined with sewing boxes. These too are very rare.

 

 
A writing slope veneered in mahogany. The whole top is framed in pear wood. The center with an oval of burr yew, crossbanded in mahogany. A symmetrical effect in the neoclassical tradition is achieved by the juxtaposition of timbers, grain, and figure. A subtle piece of inspired craftsmanship, the design belies the complexity of the work. Typical of the school of understated quality of the Georgian period. A writing slope veneered in mahogany. The whole top is framed in pear wood. The center with an oval of burr yew, crossbanded in mahogany. A symmetrical effect in the neoclassical tradition is achieved by the juxtaposition of timbers, grain, and figure. A subtle piece of inspired craftsmanship, the design belies the complexity of the work. Typical of the school of understated quality of the Georgian period.

 

A Brazilian Rosewood writing slope of c 1790 inlaid with exotic and native woods in a geometric star pattern. It opens to reveal a writing surface pen tray and place for keeping paper.

 

A very rare Tunbridge Ware parquetry writing slope/ lap desk of c 1800

 

A rosewood writing slope of c 1790.  The rosewood is framed with sycamore with penwork decoration of stylized foliage. The centre panel has a hand tinted print of classical inspiration framed in gold leaf and pen and ink decoration.

 

Anglo Indian Sadeli mosaic  Writing slope circa 1840. wbsadeli05.jpg (110783 bytes) Anglo Indian Sadeli mosaic Writing slope circa 1840.


WRITING BOXES AND SLOPES 1800 to 1830
WRITING BOXES
WRITING SLOPES

This is loosely known as the Regency period although George IV was Prince Regent only for the second decade of the 19th century. On the death of George the III in 1820 he became king until his own death in 1830. However the term Regency typifies a stylistic tendency typical of the beginning of the century and much encouraged by George the IV himself.

REGENCY WRITING BOXES

Mahogany boxes with flat tops continued to be made with very slight modifications. The handles tended to be set in and the escutcheons and top plates were often made in more complex shapes.

It is difficult to generalize as styles overlapped and older features continued to be in use. Customer preferences were considered but although the rules were not rigid we can detect distinguishable trends.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

 

A Very Fine  Important and extremely Rare Brass inlaid  Rosewood Writing Box Circa 1810 by Bayley's of London. wbbaily05.jpg (75039 bytes) A Very Fine Important and extremely Rare Brass inlaid Rosewood Writing Box Circa 1810 by Bayley's of London. 

 

Hygra: beautifully grained wood contrasted with impeccable brass inlay: Regency Bulh (Boulle. wbrwbrstfl01.jpg (79259 bytes) Beautifully grained wood contrasted with impeccable brass inlay: Regency Bulh Circa 1825.

 

WB151: A rosewood writing slope of  with fine brass and ebony inlay. The upper flap covers compartments for pens and inkwells. The lower flap opens down to a velvet (replacement) covered writing surface framed with a cross-banding of rosewood. the box retains an original inkwell. There is a compartment for holding paper under the writing surface. 1820 Enlarge Picture A rosewood writing slope of with fine brass and ebony inlay. The upper flap covers compartments for pens and inkwells. The lower flap opens down to a velvet (replacement) covered writing surface framed with a cross-banding of rosewood. the box retains an original inkwell. There is a compartment for holding paper under the writing surface. 1820

 

 

Instead of solid mahogany throughout, the boxes were made in plain mahogany for strength and stability and then veneered in figured mahogany, rosewood or kingwood. The veneers were carefully selected for their rich appearance. The surfaces were French polished which enhanced the beauty of the dark striations within such woods as kingwood and rosewood and the beautiful figure of mahogany and other woods.
For more details of a similar Box Click here.

 

By the second decade of the 19th century the strengthening devices such as brass bindings, now often in the form of brass edgings, were enhanced with decorative features. Extra stringing, circles, fleur-de-lis, intricate escutcheons, ornamental top plates.

Instead of solid mahogany throughout, the boxes were made in plain mahogany for strength and stability and then veneered in figured mahogany, rosewood or kingwood. The veneers were carefully selected for their rich appearance. The surfaces were French polished which enhanced the beauty of the dark striations within such woods as kingwood and rosewood and the beautiful figure of mahogany and other woods.

The writing surfaces were covered in velvet or leather and the interior was sometimes polished. The secret drawers were by this time more popular than the side drawer. Occasionally both were used, especially on larger boxes.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

Regency brass edged  rosewood writing box with brass accents, countersunk brass handles  circa 1815  Enlarge Picture Regency brass edged rosewood writing box with brass accents, countersunk brass handles circa 1815 

 

A Rare Penwork Writing Slope Circa 1800 Regency brass edged rosewood writing box with brass accents, countersunk brass handles circa 1815 

 
Triple and Captain's boxes from this period are very rare.

The first boxes to depart from the military look still retained their robust qualities. Gradually however the military features such as handles and thick brass edgings and corners gave way to more ornamental rather than strengthening use of brass. Dark rosewood or figured mahogany boxes were made with subtle brass stringing enhanced with circular small ornaments or curvilinear escutcheons.

Other boxes were more ambitiously ornamented in the manner promoted by Thomas Hope with borders of floral swags. Occasionally a box was completely covered with inlays of leaves, flowers and even grotesques in flowing combinations.

Dark woods and bright brass are certainly mutually enhancing and these high Regency boxes have an excellent 'period' look.

Another decorative device, which was beginning to be used from about the second decade of the 19th century, was inlay in mother of pearl. This was very fine and usually consisted of stylized floral designs. Birds and the occasional animal, such as deer were sometimes incorporated within the design. White metal lines were used if stringing was required.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

 
Enlarge Picture An Early 19th C solid Mahogany writing box with elaborate and unusual secret compartments screw-down mechanism and historical associations. 

The top has a brass plate inscribed "Colonel L'Estrange K.C.M"

 

 

 

The L'Estranges are an old established Anglo-Irish family. They first came to Ireland with Earl Strongbow in A.D. 1149 and married the daughter of the last High King of Ireland Rory O'Connor.

 

Enlarge Picture Lieutenant-Colonel George L'Estrange was the military commander of the Manchester in 1819. He is famous for having given the order which resulted in what has become know as the Peterloo Massacre

 

Writing box veneered in very thick strongly figured Brazilian rosewood. Banded and inlaid in brass. Brass set-in handles on the side. It opens down to reveal a writing surface and space for writing implements. Under the last space there are also secret drawers which are revealed by a spring mechanism. English circa 1815

 

 

ENLARGE

Some details of a captains box of about 1800. The picture on the right shows a screw which is inserted in the hole and turned with the key which is kept in the slot when not in use. This enables the box to be secured in stormy seas. This boxes often have individual and complex interiors.  The picture on the left shows a pull out box under which there are further secret compartments


ENLARGE

 

 

A double opening  or triple writing box of c1810 made in the traditional campaign style of solid mahogany with brass straps corners and countersunk handles. The upper part has pockets in gold embossed leather and a central section which folds down to reveal a pocket for letters. ENLARGE PICTURE

 

 


ENLARGE

An example of secret drawers in a good quality writing box of c 1815.  A panel is released when finger pressure is applied to part of the box, in this example the inkwell has to be taken out to access.

 

 

Simpler boxes of rosewood with mother of pearl circles and metal stringing were beginning to appear by the 1820s. This style continued to be made for a few decades, the veneers becoming thinner as the century progressed.

During the early part of the 19th century, vandyke and cube Tunbridge Ware, mahogany, yew, or fruitwood boxes with marquetry, stringing, crossbanding, or in combinations of woods were also made. These boxes are often unique, idiosyncratic and delightful with a character all of their own and very sought after by serious collectors.

Characteristics of early 19th century writing boxes:

1. Thick veneers of mahogany, kingwood, rosewood, occasionally yew or fruitwoods on mahogany base.

2. Brass inlay, fine lines or floral swags.

3. Fine mother of pearl inlay.

4. Marquetry of naturalistic, neo classical or geometric designs.

REGENCY WRITING SLOPES

The sloping writing boxes dating from this period changed very little in style from the late 18th century, although their arrangement was subtly modified so as to give more room for writing. The introduction of a narrow flap at the back part of the top which opened to reveal the pen and inkwell section, enabled the main flap to open downwards giving a larger writing surface.

As in the writing boxes, inlaid brass, mother of pearl and marquetry were used for decoration. In addition very fine examples of Chinnoiserie, Penwork and Tunbridge Ware slopes date from this period, although these are now few and far between.

Another kind of writing slope, which made its appearance in England at about this time, was in the Boulle style, in tortoiseshell and brass. These were mostly imported from France. The shapes of these slopes are elaborate versions of the wooden slopes. The back part is higher and often curved. The interiors are of polished rosewood, or ebonized wood. The flaps are velvet covered.

Papier Mâchè slopes had only one flap opening downwards allowing for the continuity and integrity of their fine decoration. Few rare and very beautiful Anglo Indian boxes in both shapes date from this period.

he steel pen nib, which was first patented by Gillott in 1831, made the use of quills or rigid metal pens unnecessary. Writing became simpler. The Penny Post in 1840 enabled the sender to pay for letters and as a result letters quadrupled in the following decade. They were followed by postcards, Christmas cards, Greeting cards and Valentines.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

 
WB150: Antique Regency highly figured rosewood  writing box brass accents and countersunk carrying handles  opening to an embossed leather (replacement) writing surface, compartments for writing instruments and paper and having a nest of secret drawers, and a working lock and key, Circa 1820. Enlarge Picture WB150: Antique Regency highly figured rosewood writing box brass accents and countersunk carrying handles opening to an embossed leather (replacement) writing surface, compartments for writing instruments and paper and having a nest of secret drawers, and a working lock and key, Circa 1820. 

 

WB165:  Antique figured rosewood writing box with rounded edges, and countersunk brass carrying handles, inlaid to the top and front with fine inlays of mother of pearl and white metal (pewter) depicting stylized curved foliage, opening to an embossed velvet  writing surface and compartments for writing implements and paper. The box also has an unusual sprung secret drawer  hidden under the pen-tray. Circa 1840. Enlarge Picture WB165: Antique figured rosewood writing box with rounded edges, and countersunk brass carrying handles, inlaid to the top and front with fine inlays of mother of pearl and white metal (pewter) depicting stylized curved foliage, opening to an embossed velvet writing surface and compartments for writing implements and paper. The box also has an unusual sprung secret drawer hidden under the pen-tray. Circa 1840.

 

A  writing slope of c1810 decorated with a floral border in penwork  and a central painted picture of flowers and fruit. The introduction of a narrow flap at the back part of the top which opened to reveal the pen and inkwell section was in the late 18th century.

 

 

WRITING BOXES AND SLOPES 1830 to 1900

WRITING BOXES 1830-1900
WRITING SLOPES 1830-1900

The transformation of English society, which had started in the middle of the 18th century, culminated by the fourth decade of the 19th century in a social structure which would have been unrecognizable 100 years earlier. Basically what had been a mainly agricultural society had been transformed by land reforms, mechanical inventions and expanding overseas trade into an industrial society with brisk trading and modified agricultural activity.

The greatly expanding population gravitated towards the towns with the result of many active commercial centers being established outside London. The necessity for goods to be transported gave great impetus to improved transport, which in turn facilitated a great boom in personal travel.

Education was revived in many levels of society to cope with the new needs. Steam driven presses (first used in 1814) had lowered the cost of printing, with the result that books, periodicals, magazines etc. became more plentiful and mobility of ideas more possible.

Easily portable writing boxes became obligatory for more people as more people transacted business, traveled or wrote letters from home.

WRITING SLOPES 1830-1900

Two earlier types of writing slopes, which continued to be made during this period, were decorated in a different style to those of the earlier decades.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

 
A Brazilian Rosewood Writing Box with Brass Corners and Bindings Circa 1840.

 

A Brass Bound Mahogany Writing Box Circa 1840.

 

A Coromandel Writing box inlaid With Mother of Pearl and Abalone depicting exotic horsemen, Circa 1850. WB156:A Coromandel Writing box inlaid With Mother of Pearl and Abalone depicting exotic horsemen, by Lund.  Circa 1850.

 

A Superb Early Victorian Writing Box/ Lap Desk in Brazilian Rosewood circa 1840.
A double Opening or Triple  Writing box veneered in very thick strongly figured Brazilian rosewood. Inlaid with mother of pearl and white metal. Brass set-in handles on the sides. It opens down to reveal a writing surface and space for writing implements. 

 

 

A good example of a mid century writing box veneered in well figured walnut and edged in brass.  The interior has the characteristic two flaps and secret drawers.

ENLARGE PICTURE

 

Detail: showing the brass corner, black edging with further inlaid lines, and slightly faded beautifully patinated surface of a  Burr Walnut Writing Box Edged in Brass, Circa 1860.

 

Burr Chestnut Curved Writing Slope / Lap Desk Circa 1840

 

WRITING BOXES 1830-1900

During the 1830s and 1840s craftsmen making writing boxes continued to develop the inlay possibilities of the earlier decades. Mother of pearl and thinner brass superseded heavier brass decoration. Boxes veneered in a combination of rosewood and bird's eye maple creating floral inlay borders were also made, but marquetry in the neo classical style was no longer fashionable.

A new decorative style appeared by this time. Examples of these boxes, bearing the label of LUND, a firm renowned for quality, are known to exist. Fine brass lines, mother of pearl and abalone shell were inlaid on coromandel or rosewood veneered boxes to form designs of flowers, birds, animals and even humans. Very few of these were made as both the materials and the work must have been very expensive.

By the middle of the century by far the most popular style was an adaptation of the earlier military type of box. Less solid and lighter both in style and construction the characteristics of these later brass bound boxes are:

1. Basic box in mahogany or later in pine.

2. Veneered in thin knife cut veneer, which was cut by mechanized processes, in walnut, bird's eye maple, burr chestnut, or rosewood. In more expensive boxes the veneer was still quite thick, usually coromandel, rosewood or figured mahogany.

3. The brass bindings were either in the form of now rounded brass surround, or brass corners and straps. The brass was glued and secured by small brass studs.

4. The outside and inside wood was French polished and glossy.

5. The flaps were mostly covered in leather, but velvet was still used.

6. Secret drawers invariably superseded the side drawer, although sometimes both were still used.

By the later part of the century the basic box was sometimes made of pine and veneered with very thin veneers. The brass became very thin or replaced with geometric inlays, which were produced using mechanical processes. These boxes are still very attractive but much lighter than their predecessors are.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

 
An exceptional example of a writing box of the second quarter of the 19th century. The main panel is in a highly figured burr wood, and surrounded in a raised frame edged in gadrooning and inlaid with white metal and mother of pearl.

 

Detail of the embossed writing tablet with the repeated palmette motif, Victorian Figured Walnut Writing Box Circa 1880.

 

Inlaid Writing Slope in Rosewood and Maple Marquetry, Circa 1840

 

Fine Betjemann Writing Slope With Neo Gothic mounts inlaid with pietra dura Circa 1880 wb134: Fine Betjemann Writing Slope With Neo Gothic mounts inlaid with pietra dura Circa 1880.

 

A Very Fine Writing Box Veneered with Ebony and Inlaid with metal and Abalone shell by Hausburg of Liverpool Circa 1850.  WB164: A Very Fine Writing Box Veneered with Ebony and Inlaid with metal and Abalone shell by Hausburg of Liverpool Circa 1850.

 

Enlarge Picture

 

WB102: A Tunbridge ware writing slope veneered in well figured and beautifully patinated walnut. The main picture depicts Eastnor Castle Circa 1875.

 

 

Tunbridge Ware inlays on writing slopes were now of the mosaic pictorial type. Papier Mâchè decoration invariably incorporated mother of pearl and abalone shell.

Wooden slopes in the earlier decorative styles disappeared but a new style developed out of the Gothic Revival. These were sloping boxes very much in the shape of the earlier ones. They were well made in mahogany, veneered in thick coromandel or burr walnut. They were decorated with overlays of perforated or engraved brass and sometimes with jasper medallions. Occasionally they formed part of a desk set with the back part higher and more rounded, or even in the form of a domed envelope/card box. These epitomize the ostentatious taste of the Victorian entrepreneur. They combine impeccable workmanship with glamour.

Simpler burr walnut or coromandel slopes were also made. These relied for their appeal on the beauty of the grain of the wood or fine brass/mother of pearl decoration. The surviving examples are of very high quality.

Request current  list of available writing boxes.

Antique writing slope/ lap desk, the top decorated with marquetry in contrasting rosewood and birds eye maple  depicting stylized themes from nature, opening down to reveal an embossed royal purple velvet writing surface and compartments for pens and writing instruments. There is a compartment for holding paper under the flap circa 1840 Enlarge Picture WB131: Antique writing slope/ lap desk, the top decorated with marquetry in contrasting rosewood and birds eye maple depicting stylized themes from nature, opening down to reveal an embossed royal purple velvet writing surface and compartments for pens and writing instruments. There is a compartment for holding paper under the flap circa 1840

 

A Tunbridge ware writing slope veneered with rosewood and decorated with micro mosaic depicting floral subjects. Circa 1850 WB103: A Tunbridge ware writing slope veneered with rosewood and decorated with micro mosaic depicting floral subjects. Circa 1850

 

wb138:  A fine French mid 19th century red tortoiseshell and brass boulle writing slope  of curvilinear form  with engraved brass contrasted with tortoiseshell  to all sides, opening to a velvet  (replacement )covered writing slope and compartments for stationary  and writing tools having two original inkwells, and a working lock and key. The inside is veneered in tulipwood and highly finished  Circa 1850. Enlarge Picture wb138: A fine French mid 19th century red tortoiseshell and brass boulle writing slope of curvilinear form with engraved brass contrasted with tortoiseshell to all sides, opening to a velvet (replacement )covered writing slope and compartments for stationary and writing tools having two original inkwells, and a working lock and key. The inside is veneered in tulipwood and highly finished Circa 1850.

 

A rosewood writing slope of c1835 with fine mother of pearl inlay.  The upper flap covers compartments for pens and inkwells.

ENLARGE PICTURE

 

ANGLO INDIAN

A fine ivory inlaid Anglo Indian Rosewood Writing box. circa 1870.

Click here for more details.

Very fine examples of Anglo Indian boxes date from this period. Sometimes combined with sewing boxes. These too are very rare.

News | BuyingContact usThe Schiffer BookAdvanced Search | Request current  list of available writing boxes.

 

We maintain the website primarily as an information source.  If you would like to be advised on the current availability of writing boxes and slopes please write telling us what you like | Request current  list of available writing boxes

The Schiffer book for collectors Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies and Society 1700-1880. by Antigone Clarke and Joseph O'Kelly is now in print and can be ordered from the links www.hygra.com/book



Home


e-mail

Contents

Back
 
Next

Thumbs

© 1999/2011 Antigone Clarke and Joseph O'Kelly