February 19th, 2010 by Tom Knoles
In my last post (“The Acquisitions Table: Matters Bibliopegistical“) I promised a curious story of synchronicity. Readers may recall Curator of Graphic Arts’ Lauren Hewes’s January 27 entry “Slate, before the hype” about writing slates in the AAS collections. (If you didn’t read it, go ahead and do so now. I’ll be here when you come back.)
(You’re back? Good. I’ll continue.) Lauren drafted her post on the 26th, and I read it late that afternoon. Less than two hours later, and before the post was put up, I got an e-mail from one of our bookseller friends, Ian Brabner, offering AAS this curious home-made slate.
What we have here is a pair of covers and spine, probably from an old account book, to which someone has attached a piece of cardboard treated with a black coating. The covers bear the handwritten date 1811, but we think the piece of cardboard was probably manufactured a few decades later.
Of course we wanted it. What I like most about this item is that a small piece of sponge is attached to the book to serve as an eraser. Someone made this for personal use, or perhaps for the use of a child. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, but it offers an evocative glimpse into nineteenth century writing technology.
Since we’re on the subject of slates, here’s another one: This one, also made of treated cardboard, is much smaller and is in our manuscript collection of papers of the poet and editor Frances Sargent Locke Osgood (1811-1850). It came housed in a paper enclosure with this note: “The Slate on which Frances S. Osgood used to write after speech failed and the last word ‘Angell’ (which was addressed to her husband S[amuel] S[tillman] O.) is there as she wrote it.” Osgood’s last word is still visible on the upper part of the slate. What does it mean? I’m not sure. A religious sentiment? a near-death experience? a pet name for someone?