Spinet Desk

April 30th, 2012

I continue to make slow progress, setting up our house. Earlier this week I finally took out this beautiful writing desk, purchased for my grandmother by her parents in 1931. It’s now sitting proudly in the nook looking out of our prettiest bedroom window.

Spinet Desk

The glass ink & pen stand was a present from my mate last year, and the blue stationery I bought for myself at the museum where I used to work. I’ve since added a stash of cream stationery on the right hand shelves, plus more assorted stationery and a pair of silver paper scissors in the bottom drawer. There’s also my grandmother’s stamp box and a matching bowl that must be a pen holder.

Here’s the insignia from inside the drawer:

Spinet Label

It’s called a spinet because of the shape — just like the case of the musical instrument. It was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan, less than 200 miles from Detroit, where my grandmother lived at the time.

I haven’t found my pens yet, or the final box of note cards. I still need a blotter — and perhaps a desk blotter as well, since it’s hardly practical to use a dip pen over a white linen dresser scarf.

So, anyone looking for a pen pal?

I Get the Best Mail

October 19th, 2011

Look at the postcard that I found in my box at work this week!


Who is it from, you ask? What witty message graces the back? Well wouldn’t you like to know!

Owney the Postal Dog Wants You

October 6th, 2011

You don’t write enough letters. Neither do I for that matter, but I’ll wager I write more than most. I’m talking about real letters, the kind with paper and envelopes and stamps. It seems that our national postal service, one of the neatest things that our government does for us, is suffering from neglect.

If you each mailed just one letter a week, think what it would do for the postal service. Even a postcard would help. And great-aunt Martha would be so very pleased to hear from you. Besides, it’s a good mental exercise, it’s fun, and the panoply of charming stationery at your local shop is matched only by the colorful selection of stamps at your nearest post office. What, you don’t know where your post office is? For shame!

Before telephones, cell phones, or internet, the only way to communicate across distances was by post. The postal service was laid out in the 1770s, and Benjamin Franklin, arguably the most interesting founding father, served as the first postmaster general. Until the late 19th century, home delivery wasn’t standard in all places. Instead, your letters were delivered to the local post office, and you had to go pick them up each day, or engage a local private carrier to bring them to your home.

I know everyone is always complaining that the postal rates keep going up. But when you stop to think, you can drop a letter or a card into the mail box on your corner on Tuesday morning, and by Friday afternoon it’s waiting on someone’s front stoop all the way across the country. Where else can you get that kind of service for only 44 cents?

Not that you need any more reasons to go write a letter this instant, but isn’t this dog adorable?


Read all about Owney the Postal Dog on the Smithsonian website. Then trot over to the USPS website to purchase a sheet of Owney’s commemorative stamps!


January 26th, 2011

I bought my first nib pen a few years ago at Barnes & Noble (I had a gift certificate). It was used rather haphazardly, now and then, as the mood struck me. When I did trot it out, I got into the habit of rinsing it off in the sink before putting it away. And wouldn’t you know it, the nib has rusted in place!

I have to admit I nearly got caught in the same trap with my new exotic wood pen. I had already rinsed it a few times when I noticed that rust was starting to form inside the ferrule. I caught it in time to remove the nib and clean out most of the rust. I guess I should think about replacing the ferrule (the insert that holds the nib) eventually. But for now, it is alright. And I learned my lesson.

Now, as they did in the 1850s, I clean my pen with a pen-wiper!


I actually made this a few years ago as part of tableaux at the museum where I work. I forget where I found the directions (it is indeed made from a mid-19th century pattern). Since it was no longer on display at the museum, I decided to bring it home and put it into active service.

Inside, between the crocheted top and velvet bottom, there are four circles of white flannel. Each circle is worked round the edge in buttonhole stitch, then folded twice into a quarter circle. The four folded circles were stitched together to form a single circle with lots of layered openings into which you can stick your pen to wipe it clean.

Wiper with Pen

Like so. Clever, eh? You should see all the different and fanciful forms taken by pen-wipers in the mid-19th century. This one is rather tame. I look forward to making new wipers, in more adventurous patterns.

And I also look forward to receiving my first blotter. Hint. Hint.

Ebay Acquisitions

January 3rd, 2011

I returned to work today, after a long, lovely week of Christmas vacation. So if my posts are a bit less frequent in the coming weeks, or perhaps a little less florid, just put it down to the return of my usual schedule.

I had a particularly enjoyable evening, pow-wowing with the ever-fascinating Zoh and the founder of Tsirkus Fotografika. We looked at some amazing and beautiful photographs, and discussed all sorts of collaborative possibilities. Sorry you missed the fun? You can have some vicarious thrills by “liking” Tsirkus Fotografika on Facebook.

Shamelessly changing the subject, I will ramble on to tell you that my generous mate is always encouraging me to buy things from Ebay, and this week, I complied.

Enoch Wood Tiny Plate

Yes, it’s another Enoch Wood plate, part of the same pattern as the one I found in the thrift store last week. Again, I managed to pay a mere 99 cents for this little darling (plus $5 for shipping since it was an Ebay find). It’s really quite small — much more “wee” than I was expecting. For comparison, here it is on top of my first, saucer-size plate:

Enoch Wood Plates

After learning that one of my friends already collects English Scenery red transferware, I have decided to focus my own newly-awakened collecting impulse more generally on the work of Enoch Wood, so as not to offer her direct competition. I should hate to lose an antiquing companion for fear that we’d come to blows over a red floral plate! So these two starter pieces will one day be joined by any manner of Enoch Wood, the older the better of course.

Also from the mecca of online auctions, more dip pens for my growing arsenal.

Mahogany Pens

These three are plain wooden pen holders, made of polished mahogany.

Cherry Pen

And I splurged on an elegant fluted cherry wood pen holder with a metal tip.

Which of course means I will soon be needing lots more nibs — I’m still in the early stages, sticking to Speedball 512’s from my local Dick Blick. There are many vintage nibs available on Ebay, but I don’t know enough about them yet to choose intelligently. I picked up another pack tonight, along with another bottle of Bombay India Ink for my desk at work.

Ink & Nibs

I’ve hinted that an appropriate remembrance on Valentine’s Day this year will come in the form of a blotter, with some spare papers. I also plan to make myself a stash of pen wipers. Mid-19th century magazines abound with patterns for such items in every possible design and device. Did I mention ink wells? And there is the most charming wooden writing box for sale…

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