I received a lovely comment from a gentlewoman called Oriane who is studying over at La Rochelle University (or should I say, Université de La Rochelle?) asking about writing boxes:
My last folly? I just bought a writing slope similar to yours and while i was looking for more informations when Google googled your ebony writing slope you bought in june!
Yours and mine are really really similar except that mine needs lots of restoration and will look like yours in a long time!
I was wondering how you know it’s a regency era work? I get a bit lost with english furnitures styles! As you may know we in France do have too a regency style but much different and not at all at the same era.
I began answering her in a comment and then realised it would be better if I could include some images, so here goes with a blog post – do read on if you’re interested in my very amateur sleuthing and deduction (just call me Holmes)! My disclaimer – of course, I know next to nothing about antiques and all I know about my writing box comes from online research … But here’s what I think I’ve worked out and if you know better, I’d love to be corrected!!
Here’s a reminder of the writing slope my mum gave me for my master’s graduation:
Regency ebony writing box.
To be honest the Regency tag came from the person I bought it from on ebay, though they do appear to be an antiques dealer. Some research I’ve done on writing boxes does back this up – I’ll try to explain the little bit I do know.
The size and shape are more Regency than Victorian (after 1830) – the Regency boxes tend to be longer and thinner, while Victorian boxes tend to be more … boxy, by which I mean wider/taller, like this:
Quite a bit ‘fatter’ than my slope, even though both are ‘triple fold’, meaning that the lid folds back and then the slope folds out:
Most writing slopes/boxes open out just the once to show the writing surface, so I wanted to compare mine to other triple-fold versions. The fifth item down on this page is another Victorian triple-fold writing slope – again, more ‘chubby’ in its dimensions than my slope.
Of course, this is not a fool-proof way of judging, as you do get Victorian examples of the ‘slimline’ shape, such as this ‘early Victorian’ example:
Though ‘early Victorian’ is close, time-wise, to Regency, so we’re not too far out there.
There is a very similar example (the only difference being the flat top) on another website dated c. 1840 (just after the Regency era, but close):
That seems to be one of the key differences between the slope I have (and that Oriane has) and many that you see – this slope is Anglo-Indian, that is, of Indian manufacture made for an English/British market. Interestingly, this particular example is listed as being made from calamander wood rather than ebony – I’m going to have to check out some ebony and compare it. Parts of my writing slope do have a slight brownish tinge, but I have read that ebony, especially antique ebony, can have this tone. Also, calamander (AKA coromandel) seems to be more stripey, like this rather handsome example:
Probably the best source on the subject that I found was at hygra.com, a wealth of information on antique boxes, which discusses writing boxes and the Anglo-Indian style, where it mentions that ‘reeded’ finish as a feature of this style and that it emerged in the early part of the 19th century. Hygra also points out that triple-opening writing boxes are relatively rare. According to them, it was between 1800 and 1830 that the ‘side drawer’ disappeared in favour of internal secret drawers, as seen in my slope:
A triple-folder with secret drawers - yay, wewt and huzzah, I say!!
There is actually an example on Hygra of a slope from 1810 with similar drawers.
Well, that’s the information I’ve pieced together – one of the difficulties seems to be that often these boxes were commissioned and quite idiosyncratic, so no two would be identical, which makes it hard to make comparisons!
As I’ve said, I’m no expert and I’m having to rely on other people’s dates being accurate (ie, the ebay seller and that other 1840 date given above), but I’m satisfied that this is an Anglo-Indian box is probably late Regency or very early Victorian, probably somewhere between 1820 and 1840. I’d also note with my box that it’s not very ‘fine’ like the examples on Hygra of Anglo-Indian boxes, it’s actually slightly crude when you look more closely in some places (hidden spots, really!) and there’s a little damage on the lid where the wood seems to have split, but I think that’s down to the pitched style of the lid, which appears to be very unusual.
Anyway, I hope that’s of use to you, Oriane, and perhaps of some interest to anyone else!
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