|A very stylish bronze lizard pen wipe with boar bristles, ca. 1900|
Every well-dressed desk includes fine writing tools, and we all have our personal favorite pens and pencils that perfectly suit our needs. There are many excellent sources for information on writing instruments, and one of my favorites is the very informative blog, Palimpsest. So today, rather than concentrating on writing instruments, I thought I'd introduce a lesser known desk accessory, the pen wipe.
|A rare Tiffany glass mosaic pen wipe, 1906|
In the early years of letter writing, before the ballpoint pen and fountain pen, writers used quills or dip pens which were dipped into an inkwell for use. Since this operation tended to result in messy drips, pen wipes were developed and came into widespread use along with the steel nib pens produced in Birmingham England in the very early nineteenth century.
|A more humble early 19th century cloth pen wipe: |
the pen nib is inserted between the layers of fabric for cleaning
Thankfully, our letter-writing ancestors were not content to simply use a scrap of fabric to clean their pens. Pen wipes were made in countless ingenious forms, from hand-sewn discs of cloth with embroidered embellishments, to fine figurative sterling silver examples. Usually measuring no more than 3 inches across, they make helpful and alluring writing mascots.
|A sterling silver pig pen wipe with boar bristles, hallmarked Birmingham, 1912|
Even today, a carefully chosen pen wipe can be a charming and functional addition to a handsome desk. I favor fountain pens for my correspondence, and have found that not only are my little pen wipes enjoyable to use, but they've become something of a record of the colored ink experiments that accompany my letter writing, like a well used artist's palette.
|A recent commission at the bindery for a fountain pen enthusiast:|
A set of stacking fountain pen trays and a matching chamois pen wipe
all made with French marbleized paper
|A cold painted bronze dog pen wipe, Vienna ca. 1900|
|Another cold painted bronze example from Vienna, ca. 1900|
|A simple and handsome Sampson, Mordan & Co. Victorian pen wipe in sterling silver|
|A 19th century tartanware pen wipe in the form of a knife box|
The next time you find yourself scribbling on a scrap of paper to get the ink in your pen flowing, perhaps you'll be inspired by these stylish and functional objects produced by our very elegant predecessors. As William Morris said, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." Wise words, indeed.