Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Not a Slippery Slope


Here’s a bit of a riddle to introduce today’s topic: can you guess what it is?

  • Jane Austen wrote her books on one.
  • The daughters of George III had them for their voluminous correspondence and artwork.
  • You can order one on-line right this minute, from a multitude of places.

What is it?

It is one of these: writing slopes!

Writing slopes are elegant little boxes (generally twelve to fourteen inches wide and ten to twelve inches deep.) They’re called slopes because they open like so, providing an angled surface (generally around twenty-five or thirty degrees), usually covered with fabric (blue velvet is a favorite) that provides an absorbent surface on which to write—in short, a portable desk.

The interiors are divided into small compart- ments in which one could keep writing paper, pens, ink, penknives, sealing wax, and all the other appurtenances of writing. The tiny ink bottles just slay me!


They could be relatively plain, like this one:



Or elaborately inlaid with decorative woods, bone, mother of pearl, and metal. They often had locks, so that one could store private correspondence in them; some even had secret compartments.

The world is fortunate that Jane Austen's writing slope, a gift from her father in the 1790s, has been preserved—along with are purported to be some of her spectacles! It is in the collections of the British Library; go here to see a couple of really cool 3-D manipulative images of it.

And as for writing slopes today, physical therapists, teachers, and orthopedists have found that using a slanted surface to write, read, or draw at, which is why slanted surfaces are readily available today. However, I’ve yet to see one as pretty as those from the 19th century!

* * * * *

Speaking of slopes…slide your mind back to March 2022, when NineteenTeen welcomed guest blogger Katie Kennedy to talk about which president she would most prefer to go bathing suit shopping with (among other things!) I’m happy to report that Katie’s The Presidents Decoded: A Guide to the Leaders Who Shaped Our Nation is out today!  You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite independent bookstore.

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