Some time ago now, I obtained a Thomas Handford writing slope dating from around the beginning of the Eighteenth Century. I have always had a soft spot for English campaign furniture but it fetches high prices these days and usually well beyond the reach of my wallet. This belonged to a friend who offered me it at a good price because it was in need of some repair. I took the chance.
The most challenging damage was a crack across the lid which folds out to make the near half of the desk. The wood had shrunk and warped in a manner that made it impossible to bring the edges together properly and the brass work on the lid was distorted as a result. This was going to require a major intervention to repair, something I was wary of doing.
As you can see from this shot, the only one I have from before the repairs, the leather hinges for the writing surface had also disintegrated.
I decided in the end to laminate the lid with a piece of hardwood ply, clamping it to the bench while the adhesive cured which not only flattened the wood but also reinforced it against further damage.
Careful application of some diluted wood stain helped tone the new surface in a bit and hopefully when the compartment is dressed out, it should blend in reasonably well.
Another detail you might just notice in this picture is the two brass register pins I added to the corners of the folded back writing surface on the hinged edge.
The near half of the writing slope had warped badly as well, bending from corner to corner, front left to rear right.
The pins twist the slope back in line now and hopefully, trapped in the correct position, the wood may settle back into it’s original shape over time.
As you can see, the crack is still plainly visible on the lid but at least it is level now and the brassware sits properly again.
Surprisingly, the baize on the writing surface appears to be original. Most writing slopes on the market have had this replaced with modern leather but in this case it seemed in quite good condition apart from one area that had worn though where a rough edge on the brass strapping had rubbed on it over repeated foldings.
I decided to preserve what I could and used a piece of ribbon, one of the original pull tabs, to lift the surface and effect what would look like an old repair.
Behind that and across the rest of the hinged area, I reinforced the baize with a strip of silk for longevity.
I replaced both of the pull tabs, one of which had completely disintegrated, with fresh silk ribbons in a colour not too far different from the originals.
There are two locks on the box, both required new keys to be made, This one was simple, the other, with three levers and wards as well proved a little trickier but I managed eventually.
The ribbon letter webs had almost totally fallen apart. Enough remained to get a sense of how they were laid out but the steel nails had corroded and could not be removed.
I drilled fine guide holes as close as I could to the original positions and use brass pins as replacements which should be more a little more corrosion resistant in the future.
The original candle sticks had long since disappeared. That is not unusual and getting originals is nigh on impossible now. Fortunately I had an old double headed brass stick of no great quality and I butchered that the make a pair of replacements.
I will keep my eye open for some originals and I have not modified the desk to make these fit so maybe I will get lucky some day.
There would originally have been wooden covers for this compartment and the candle stick compartment too. Both were missing and rather than try to replicate them exactly, I opted for something that looked more in like a field repair, the sort of thing someone might throw together to do the job and never quite get around to replacing.
The bar rather than a knob as the original would have had will also prevent the wood from warping along it’s length and conveniently holds my pencil when the desk is folded.
There is another storage compartment under the pen tray. This may have held pens or perhaps more likely, candles for the candlesticks.
Currently I’m keeping my sealing wax in there as well.
Also missing were the ink bottles, again that is quite common. These days, with online shopping, it is much easier to find replacements than it once was.
The ink bottles sit in the wells at just the right height.
You also can see in this picture how the candlesticks are stored. The originals must have been shorter as you can see from the surface where the cover would have rested.
As I mentioned above, I fitted two brass register pins in the corners of the near half writing slope opposite the catches to correct the warp and bring the surface back to a level which, as you can see here, has worked well.
The hinges were replaced with fresh vegetable tanned leather which should last a good few years with care.
I buffed the brassware on the outside of the box a little, aiming for a worn look rather than fastidiously polished and the wood was given a little wax to bring it back to life a bit.
I don’t want to lose the character of the box, I’m happy that it looks like it has been through the wars a bit. It is impossible to tell of course but it may well have seen action in a few of the campaigns going right back to the Napoleonic Wars, who knows?
I made some nice discoveries while working on the box. One was a secret compartment that even it’s previous owner suspected, but was unable to open ( Empty I’m afraid ) and another was an odd bar mounted in the box on two pins. The pins had rusted making the bar seem almost fixed but it wasn’t as well fitted as the rest of the construction and served no useful purpose I could see.
Easing it from its position, which you can see in the first two pictures, I noticed that the pins were spaced the same as two holes I had observed in the edging of the lid. I had at first assumed the holes were just missing pins but fortunately I had not attempted to replace them because the bar is designed to fit on the edge and form a lectern like reading stand when the lid is resting on the bracket on the left hand side of the slope.
All in all, a nice little project that has given me a usable item of campaign furniture well beyond anything I could have hoped for.
This will replace the little Edwardian slope I have used for many years. Another restoration but not nearly so well done, nor as useful. I’ve learned a fair bit in thirty years it would appear.
Hopefully my restoration will give this lovely desk another hundred years of useful life.
It was a nice day today so I decided to take it outside to get some better shots.
As you can see, I’ve added some more of the contents now.
There will no doubt be aa few other interesting things as time goes on.
I need to find the right sort of stuff to blend in with the aesthetics.
Even when you think you are about done with a job, some other idea comes into your head and proves you wrong.
I was looking at the lower drawer and thinking that while it offered good storage space it needed dividing up to stop things rattling around. in there.
So I decided to make a tray for it.
Loose fitted so it does not compromise the original structure but with it’s felt lining I feel it does the job while blending in reasonably well.
What was I was saying just yesterday about ideas? Today I was filling my Dad’s old Parker Victory fountain pen and this one came to me.
I have recently restored this pen as well with a new ink bladder, the old rubber one had perished and it seemed a shame not to be able to use it. The new silicone bladder should outlast me and possibly it’s next owner as well.
I love this ink. It’s made by Diamine, a British manufacturer, in a wonderful range of colours, but because the small bottles are a little on the tall side and ink is one of those substances subject to Murphy’s Law, I’m always a little nervous when the bottle is open. It’s almost begging to be knocked over.
So I thought it needs a holder and while I’m at it I could do with somewhere to put the pen just after filling when it has the cap off but the nib still needs cleaning.
So, killing two birds with one stone, or at least a good lump of hardwood, I made this to fit snugly into the tray.
This will also allow me to hold a bottle at a nice height and position for a dip pen if needed... Bonus...
Judging by the dating of this pen and the fact that it was in my Mother's effects after she died, it appears to be the pen my father wrote letters to my Mum with when they were courting. The line weight certainly seems to match.
So I guess it has a lot to answer for really.
I may age the felt a bit at some point to bring it closer in tone to the writing surface. I haven’t decided yet.
I said I might do it and as we had a nice dry day today I decided to tone the felt down a bit to match the original writing surface.
I think that looks a lot better now.
Isn't it wonderful when you are given service above and beyond by a company these days.
A while ago now I bought two sets of pens from Manuscript, a British company specialising in calligraphy products. The sets comprised three different nib units, one barrel and one cap each in a nice little tin.
The pens were great. Nice balance, good ink flow and really smooth lines with lots of width variation. I was very pleased with my purchase. Not very expensive either, they punch well above their weight value wise.
Only one thing bothered me. I had bought two sets so that I could run different inks and different line widths. That worked nicely but because there were only two caps, it meant four of the nib units needed to be flushed and cleaned at the end of each session to stop the ink drying out.
I visited the company's web sit to see if it might be possible to buy some extra caps but could find nothing online so I hit the contact button and explained what I was looking for. Without any fuss or bother, Katie from the service department asked me for my address and said she would see what she could do for me.
This morning, not only did a full set of caps arrive but barrels as well. ( They arrived bright and shiny but I have rubbed them down with a bit of emery paper to improve the grip. ) I have also labelled them as well to save confusion when they are all capped.
Now I can store the pens loaded with ink and ready to go. Brilliant. A great time saver and much more economical as well.
One very happy customer and I would most heartily recommend both the company and it's products to anyone that cares to listen. Fantastic service.
It’s nice to have a proper use for something like this and I guess in the age of online communication that is a bit of a rarity these days.
I’ve never been much of a letter writer but I do have use for hand writen documents in my living history work which has led to me learning some basic calligraphy over the years.
My own handwriting is not what you would call neat or stylish but there is something about working with pen and ink that I enjoy when I have the time for it.
This writing slope / desk / box now gives me a convenient place to store the supplies I need for it.
Someone spotted one of the slide rules that I keep in the desk. I have two in there actually. The small “Unique” Five-Ten is not an uncommon one, Unique made a range of wood slide rules with celluloid covered paper scales, they were inexpensive and sold in large numbers. The firm was founded by Burns Snodgrass, who wrote ”Teach Yourself the Slide Rule”, in Brighton in 1920. This is an early version of the Five-Ten which would place it around 1950.
The larger Technical Standard was made by the British Slide Rule Company and dates from around 1930 it appears.
Before the advent of electronic calculators slide rules were commonly used for calculations and in fact I used a later version at school as they were allowed into exam rooms years before calculators.
Another nice day gave me an opportunity to update the pictures now that I have kitted it out properly.
It’s just a nice amount of space for my calligraphy tools and materials. I can see that a lot of thought went into the original design.
When folded up I thought that the contents of the lower compartment, being inverted , would lead to them moving about more but so far that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Of course, that might just be the way I have packed so much stuff into it.
These are the seller’s pictures from eBay. As you can see it was fairly basic but built reasonably well.
I stripped the varnish off and gave it awoodstain and wax treatment to give it more apparent age.
I also ordered some ceramic palettes to replace the functional but slightly tacky plastic ones it came with.
Looking at lots of pictures of the originals online there were certain things that were almost universal. One of them being a glass water dish. This one came courtesy of a well known brand of pudding and I have to admit the bowls are very useful for lots of things.
I wanted to make good use of the spaces under the watercolours and the slope well, so I used a simple trick from the writing slope pen tray to create compartments underneath.
I've also added a set of stacking ceramic mixing pans.
The watercolours came in a W&N plastic palette which was quite well designed so Debs pinched that because I wanted something more retro.
Building this tray was quite fun. It still accepts the standard half pans but the grid made from coffee stirring sticks hold them securely and the effect is not unlike the ceramic pans found in some of the Victorian examples
.You can also see I made a brush stand to fill one of the less useful compartments.
My good friend Riam gave me a couple of brass handles a while ago thinking I’d find a good use for them. He was right...
In light of the intended use for this box, doing some illumination work, I have picked colours that closely match the pigments available in the Early Medieval, Insular and Carolingian scriptoria.
Although the colour matches can never be precise they are as similar as I was able to find.
I have re-labelled the tubes with the equivalent pigment name for reference but also so that they fit in a bit better with the aesthetic of the box.
The space in the drawer will soon be filled with an array of small jars I found that should fit.
I will decant some of my calligraphy inks into to them when they arrive.
The space in the lid will be for a colour mixing chart to give an idea of the range of available tones.
I decided to add some corner brackets to add a bit of luxury. You can’t go far wrong with a nice bit of brass.
Still waiting for the arrival of the ink jars but barring any other major changes, this is pretty well how it will all work together.
Someone brought my attention to some of the lovely Georgian / Victorian watercolour boxes that pop up occasionally on the auction sites. Very nice but mostly very pricy too.
A little snooping around turned up a more modern equivalent made probably back in the eighties / nineties that looked like it has the potential for a bit of adaptation in the right hands.
The jars have arrived and I started to decant the calligraphy inks into them now. These are a bit thicker and more permanent than the fountain pen inks in the writing desk.
The reason I am using jars is not just because they fit the box well but also that the wide opening works better for the oblique nib holder that I use for copperplate type script work, seen here in the brush tray, which is too wide for a bottle opening.
All in all, that looks like a done job then. I’m sure a few bits and pieces will get added as time goes on but it’s a good working set now.
Postscript: With the Covid lockdown drawing to it’s end, I got a chance to take the writing slope to the Bushmoot for it’s first outing.
I have to say it is nice to see this back in it’s natural environment and it makes a splendid addition to the furnishings of the Baker Tent.