The Joy of the Letter

Butterfly cardNicola here, talking about letters and cards, letter-writing and research. Last week, a friend who lives a few doors down, put a hand written card through my door to fix up a get-together. She could have texted or used any one of a half dozen other ways of getting in touch but the card really thrilled me because it feels so unusual to receive hand-written cards and letters these days. Despite this, cards and other beautiful stationery are very popular and I’m always tempted to buy some when I visit historic houses or other lovely places that sell smart stationery. As a result, I have an ever-increasing pile of cards in my desk and seldom seem to have the chance to send them to anyone, though I do my best to find those occasions when I can.

At the same time, I’ve been researching the book I’m writing about the history of Ashdown House, and have been reminded of how important letters and letter-writing was to our forbears as a way of sharing news (and gossip!) and consequently how useful letters are to historians. In fact, my new fiction timeslip book also underlines this, as the heroine and her sister are both illiterate, never having been taught to read or write as children because they were poor (and girls). Learning to read is one of my heroine’s ambitions.

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Old laptops

Anne here, writing to you from my laptop.


It might surprise you to know that Jane Austen also wrote on a laptop. So did my grandfather and I think his grandfather, too. Though theirs weren't quite the same as mine. For a start, theirs were made of wood. (That's a side-on view of Grandpa's laptop above.)

Alexander Hamilton had one — all sorts of famous people did. They were standard equipment, especially for people who travelled. Here's a link to learn more about Hamilton's.

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Regency Notepaper

Anne here, and my blog today is more in the nature of a gentle rant. I read a lot, and as chance would have it, in the last few weeks I've read novel after novel where the heroine pulls out a sheet of foolscap and dashes off a quick note — not a letter, a note, the sort that you'd send a friend who lives around the corner or a few streets away, sent by hand via a footman or some lackey. TheLetter

Sadly, it grates on me every time. Yes, a small thing, I know. As I said, this is a gentle rant. Or possibly a picky one. But I am a stationery addict, so please forgive me.

The thing is, foolscap is a big sheet of paper. It's probably fine if you want to write a long letter, but it's not the size you'd use to dash off a note — especially if you are a lady with pretensions to elegance, and what Regency heroine is not?  

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Regency tobacco and How to Puff It

Francis welshFrom the first importation of tobacco into Europe, to Spain, round about 1528, folks tried various ways to get into the nicotine habit. By the Regency, folks had their choice of snuff, cigars, or pipes. 

Now, snuff is a whole extensive subject I am not going to go into Snuff box circa 1775except to say that it leads to a snuff boxes, like those on the right, which are the delightful byproduct of a nasty habit. If I’d been living in the Georgian era I would have collected snuff boxes and carried them about full of little fruit pastilles. 220px-Rowntrees-Fruit-Pastilles

Were there cigarettes?

Well, no. Not really. Technically there was something fairly similar to cigarettes in  Spain well before the Regency. They were called papelate and based on the Snuff box 1750South American custom of wrapping cut tobacco in rolled corn husks or bark or something other than a tobacco leaf. We have paintings of Spanish folks smoking this way, but no way to tell if papelate were routinely wrapped in paper.

The French, in the 1830s, saw the papelate, renamed it ‘cigarette’, and wrapped the tobacco in fine, thin paper. Voila. The rest is history.

Most significantly, the word cigarette is not used in English till 1842, so our Regency hero cannot step out onto the terrace to meditatively smoke a cigarette, overhear the heroine being reluctant with some man, and toss his cigarette down before he stomps off to be heroic.

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