Antique Gentleman’s Writing Slope. Ca. 1880.

Ever since I was a child, almost without exception, one type of antique has drawn my attention more than any other: Writing boxes. Also called writing slopes, lap-desks, box-desks and countless other things. This is the latest one which I found at the local flea market:

It’s not too shabby, but it ain’t fantastic, either. But I do like it, nonetheless! What we have here is a beautiful late Victorian (ca. 1880) gentleman’s writing slope. The plaque on top underneath the carry-handle says:

“~S. Neaverson, 1886.~”

Although this gives us a glimpse into the box’s history, there’s no way of knowing if 1886 is the date of manufacture (which it almost certainly isn’t); it’s merely the date of purchase.

Most boxes of this kind that I find are in HORRENDOUS condition with wildly inflated prices! On the same day I picked this up, I saw another one on sale for $400 and in nowhere near as nice a condition as this…some people and their money…

The deciding factor in me buying this box was the fact that it had its original glass inkwell still intact. Often, these glass inkwells go missing and you never find another one. People pinch them and reuse them and you never see them again. Keys going missing is a minor inconvenience. A missing inkwell is a pain in the ass.

I am rather proud to say that I cut and filed my own key for the lock in this box. This box had a warded lever-lock, which is a bit more complicated than a straightforward lever key, but I got there in the end.

A warded lever lock is one which has a sprung lever for the key-bit to press against, to push the bolt to lock or unlock. Filing a key for this is a matter of getting the key-bit to the right dimensions and then throwing the bolt. Easy enough if it’s a one-lever lock. If it’s a two-lever or three, four, or even five, or even EIGHT lever lock, then the challenges mount, as you have to cut new grooves into the key for each lever. As this box had a simple one-lever lock, it was easy.

But this box also had a warded lock. This means that there’s an obstruction inside the lock (a ward) which the key has to bypass BEFORE it gets to the lever. It’s an added security feature. Again, wards can be as complicated or as simple as you like. In this case, I was lucky. It was a one-ward, one-lever lock. So all I had to do was file one bit to the right size, and then cut in a groove at the head of the key, so that there was a gap to bypass the ward.

It took a couple of tries and I got very sore fingers afterwards, but I got there in the end!

The box fitted out with original and period accessories. The unsharpened, unused pencil reads:

“H.B. J.H. Jackson’s Drawing Pencil. Prize Medal. London & Paris”.

Underneath that is an ivory page-turner. An underneath that is a sterling silver dip-pen marked: “S. Mordan & Co. Sterling”.

The box, fully opened. There’s a lot of storage-space underneath the two writing-leaves which are both in excellent condition.

The hand-filed key which I cut for the lock. The gap underneath the barrel is to bypass the ward in the ‘warded’ part of the ‘warded-lever’ lock. And the square bit underneath the gap is to operate the spring-lever in the lever-part of the ‘warded-lever’ lock.

I think it’s the first key I’ve cut for a lock with more than one complication to overcome in opening it!

Still, for something that’s 130-odd years old, it’s nice to see this box in such great condition. Once I get a brass keyhole-plate to neaten up the front of the box, it’ll all be complete.

 

4 thoughts on “Antique Gentleman’s Writing Slope. Ca. 1880.

  1. WheelyBad says:

    Hi Sheong,

    What a lovely little writing slope. To have all the parts- pen, pencils, ink wells is such a bonus. Great job on filing the key, I am so impressed with that.

    I’ve always had a bit of a thing for bureaus and other writing desks. Even those battered old school desks with the holes for an inkwell! So seeing your writing slope was a real treat.

    With best wishes,

    T x

     
  2. WheelyBad says:

    Hi Sheong,

    What a lovely little writing slope. To have all the parts- pen, pencils, ink wells is such a bonus. Great job on filing the key, I am so impressed with that.

    I’ve always had a bit of a thing for bureaus and other writing desks. Even those battered old school desks with the holes for an inkwell! So seeing your writing slope was a real treat.

    With best wishes,

    T x

     
  3. Sonya Raeber says:

    G’day Sheong
    I found a writing slope in France last weekend. Unfortunately ofcourse no key. Your filing is absolutely fantastic as I saw on your YouTube film. Your a real Handy man. Now it is a wooden box, quite large with a brass handle at the top. The lock is made by Bramah, however I think it is French due to an insignia in Gold writing rue de …
    I am not quite sure what I want to do with it. I got a real bargain, 50 Euros, at least I think I did. I posted it on Antiquers, care to tell me Abit about it. Thanks in advance.

     
  4. MARC SMILEN says:

    I collect whats called “triple slope” writing boxes. I have bought six. Four came out of England, one came from Australia, and one was at an auction in my local area here in the United States. Of course the leather sciver is always worn, but to replace it, would be to take away the patina of 19thc use. The outer appeal is the inlay on the boxes from Tunbridge england, with the tunbridge design. One box I bought came with the glass inkwell. Condition is relative. maybe some of the boxes some nicer brass trim pieces. maybe some of the boxes have a unique dark staining of the wood. keys can be replaced, but i find myself spending money on a trial and error basis to get keys. I think I once spent $300 or more, but that box was pristine. $80 to $90 Is my average cost on a less than pristine writing box. The triple slopes had a silk material under the top lid. On one box, the silk material was gone, but the underside of the lid had some original 1920s english “graffiti” of an english girls name written multiple times, with multiple dates. quite fascinating for me. Many of the triple slopes come with trays inside, the british women converted these writing boxes to sewing boxes.

     

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