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Tea Party Winners: Vicki Talley McCollum's Never Say Goodbye, A National Park Romance novella goes to: Caryl Kane, Deanne Patterson, Deana Dick, Carrie Fancett Pagels' winners Beverly Duell-Moore and Cindy Pratt, Roseanna White's winners - Betti Mace, Gabrielle Meyer's winners -, Deb Marvin's paperback winner - Rachel Dodson

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing desks - then and now! By MaryLu Tyndall

A person's desk always tells  a great deal about them. Which is why I hesitate to show you mine!  But I want to give you a comparison between a typical writer's desk today and one from colonial times.  First, here is my desk. Mind you, I didn't clean it up for this picture.. this is it's normal condition when I'm writing under deadline (actually it's usually worse!)


I won't list all the items you see.. but suffice it to say, I've got my keyboard,monitor, a couple of pens, tons of papers containing notes on characters, plots..etc. Tape, my mace gun, an old compass, a tall ship, cannon, candle, pictures of family, an empty mug that used to hold my green smoothing, lip gloss.. etc..  Does this tell you a bit about me?  If it does, I don't want to know what that is!! LOL

Now, here is a typical desk from colonial days. (Picture taken from the Early American Life Magazine)


What a difference! How times have changed. Some of the items of note are the quill pens lying atop the pewter ink stand. To the left, a wooden sander and seal, a pewter mug (hey like mine! sorta), various papers and books, spectacles and case, candlestick, brass snuffers a snuff box, etc..

Other items that you might find, depending on the owner and purpose of the desk, would be account ledgers, a ring of keys, money scales, and perhaps a small metal safe if the person owned a business. If the person was a student, you would see writing exercises and textbooks in Greek or Latin, history or Mathematics.


Of if the owner of the desk was a lady, you might find a set of watercolors or a lovely tea cup!

Either way, you could tell, then as now, much about the owner of the desk just by observing the things upon it. If a desk was large and ornate, most likely it was owned by someone of means, or someone in a prominent position.  Desks were often handcrafted to suit the owner's needs and position and were of such value that they were passed down through generations regardless of the changing furniture styles.

One of the items found on most desks was the quill pen. The quill pen was the main writing instrument from the 5th to the 19th century when Joseph Gillott patented steel pen nibs in 1831.  Feathers often had to be clipped off the quill pen to make it easier to write with and the tip was often scraped with a knife to facilitate the flow of ink.   Ink was stored in containers made of pewter, soapstone, ceramic or glass. Most were round and only held enough ink to wet the tip of the quill. An inkstand as shown in the picture above held the ink bottles and quills as well as a sand pot, so everything would be handy for the writer. Before 1820, sand was poured on the document to absorb the ink before the paper could suck it in and blur the writing.  These sand pots became obsolete in the early 19th century when new types of writing papers were developed which didn't absorb the ink.

Anyway, thanks for joining me on this journey into desks, then and now!!

16 comments:

  1. You know, I didn't know who was posting today when I headed over here. But as soon as I saw that first desk, I knew it was you, MaryLu! Of course, your writing area is a bit different now. :) Great post and very interesting. I don't know how people used to use quills and ink to write with; constantly having to dip the quill. It must have taken forever to pen a letter. And to pen an entire book! Wow, my hand hurts just thinking about it.
    Have a wonderful week, Cap'n! God bless!

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    1. When I FIRST read this, it did not have your name at the top. I left the above comment and when I came back later, the whole post disappeared. Just vanished! I was perplexed, then I realized that someone must have posted it too soon, so it was pulled. Oh well, still a good post, Cap'n! Hugs.

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    2. Yes.. Chaplain, there was a scheduling conflict so this article was moved from it's original spot to today. So, no.. you aren't going crazy!!
      I also can't imagine writing my books with a quill pen! Or even a ball point pen! It would take FOREVER and my fingers would fall off. LOL

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  2. How I long for the simpler times when quill and ink were the norm. What a joy it would be to have a really organized lady's desk for correspondence.

    I have a friend who gave me an ornate inkwell stand, much like that in your picture. My goal this month is to make my office appropriate for displaying it. It currently resides on my studio piano.

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    1. How lovely, Judith. Do take a picture of your lady's desk when you complete it and send it to us. I long for simpler times too.. things seemed to move more slowly and people appreciated time spent with family and friends. We are far too caught up in our busy lives these days.

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  3. Hi! Mary Lu, I loved this post! And thank you for sharing a pic of your writing desk--fun to see where the magic happens!
    Makes me want to get out my china tea cups and sip while I write...at least I can feel a bit of the past in my 21st century life. ;)
    Amber

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    1. That reminds me, Amber, to get out my tea cups, though I'm more of a coffee drinker than a tea drinker, but it would help in setting a mood. I often light candles, however, and that seems to add some ambiance while I'm writing.

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  4. Lovely post and sorry for the change out, MaryLu! We are now officially done with our anthology. Hey, and we are about to start another in March for the other serial from two years ago. Maybe we should put your starting post up here instead of on OWG, MaryLu! It is set in 18th century or early 19th I believe. Hey, you started it off--what year is it?

    I have a mid-century reproduction federalist era secretary that I purchased in Charleston. I love it but wish I could keep it in order. Also, the drop down desk on it is very small, making it more suited for correspondance.

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    1. No problem, Carrie. I'm thrilled the anthology was so popular. The next serial story is set in 1800 Charleston.. so we could post it here if you'd like. :-)

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    2. Am I reading this correctly? Another anthology in March? *Big Smile*...something to look forward to.

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  5. MaryLu, your post took me down memory lane. I remember loving Sheaffer’s Skrip Ink Bottles for fountain pens - my favorite was the peacock blue.

    P.S. My desk is messier.

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    1. Janet, I actually cleaned mine up a bit before taking the picture. LOL

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  6. I think I need to design my (eventual) office around that old-fashioned one... =)

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    1. Yes, Roseanna, ambiance is the spark of creativity. :-)

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  7. When I think about all the comparisons to life back then to now, I'm amazed at all they accomplished. Great article and images. Thank you!

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  8. My desk/computer condition looks a lot like yours, MaryLu--(so thankful, lol!)

    My son's not too crazy about mine area he needs to come over and work on straightening out computer glitches. But his work area is practically sterile at his house. (Makes me wonder if they exchanged babies on me in the hospital!)

    I DO love the teacup (violet--my birthday flower :) and agree with Rosanna-- it's all in the ambiance! I notice though all those lovely compartments they once had have been removed in the more "modern" desk. See where that got us, don't ya?

    Great post, MaryLu!

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