23 August 2012

Anatomy of a Well-Dressed Desk, Part 1: The Desk Blotter

A well-appointed desk can make working and corresponding a pleasure.  Today, I'm beginning a series detailing some of the elements that can make your desk, no matter how grand or small, both functional and beautiful.

The Desk Blotter

An open design desk blotter from our bindery, Parvum Opus

When dip pens and fountain pens were the writing tool of choice, the desk blotter was a ubiquitous and important tool. Written references to ink blotting paper in the United States date back to the early 18th century, but it wasn't until the 1850s, when Joseph Parker and Son began manufacturing blotting paper, that it came into widespread use. 
From the Collections of the Whitney Library, New Haven, CT
Nineteenth century antique and vintage desk blotters, especially those made in the 1930s and 1940s, are coveted by collectors. With the invention of the more efficient but less elegant ballpoint pen in the 1950s, the use of desk blotters began to wane. The popularization of the modernist aesthetic and glamorous streamlining also must surely have played a part in the turning away from traditional (backwards-looking)  handcrafted (old fashioned) household goods.
An early 20th century desk set by Tiffany & Co.
A fine desk blotter provides a functional and aesthetic for your desktop composition, as well as a comfortable, functional writing surface. First and foremost, it protects your desk from ink and marks that can push into its surface from pressing your pen too hard, no matter what type of pen you favor. It also provides a smooth and comfortable writing surface, preventing any texture or color from your desk top from marring the back of your writing paper. There are several desk blotter styles available through our bindery and others, and I've included some images here. Leather blotters are still being expertly produced today by both Hermes and Smythson, and with a bit of searching, one can find handsome antique examples through Christie's and other online auction sites. 
The two most common desk blotter designs are the open blotter and the double hinged closed blotter. The open design features a broad blotting paper surface finished with decorative corner pieces or vertical panels at the right and left edges. Double hinged desk blotters tend to be smaller in size, but allow for a tidy presentation when not in use. They also serve as a mini-desk when space or circumstances don't allow for a dedicated desk top. The double hinged blotters from Parvum Opus have convenient pockets for stashing stamps and stationery, a feature I haven't seen in other blotters. Our 6" x 9" Petite Desk Blotter is an unusually small piece, but functions beautifully in small apartments, dorm rooms or on any small table, allowing for elegant correspondence even in the smallest spaces. 

Top: a closed double hinged desk blotter from Parvum Opus
Bottom:  a petite 6" x 9" desk blotter from Parvum Opus

Working and corresponding at a desk equipped with a handsome desk blotter is a pleasure, full of the warmth and humanity of the generations of letter writers who came before us. It provides a beautiful framework for the act of writing, a stage for putting our thoughts down on paper, and, most importantly, makes us more awake to small but wonderful everyday activities. 

For more information on our work, we invite you to email us at: info@parvumopus.com or visit our bindery's website, www.parvumopus.com

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