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Instant Messaging, Renaissance Style

Writing tables bound in silver filigree

“…from the table of my memory/I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records.” Hamlet 1.v.105-106.


At a Christie’s auction this summer of the Cornelius J. Hauck Collection, the Folger acquired a pair of 17th-century "writing tables"—erasable pages bound in delicate silver filigree—that would have served as a portable notebook for the owner. The binding wraps around alternating blank pages, coated with gesso and varnish, that are written on with a stylus and erased with a sponge to record witticisms, recipes, birth and death dates, or jottings of any sort. An early silver stylus has survived with the binding, and slips into place along the fore-edge to hold the volume closed.


The table appears in Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print, the Folger’s fall exhibition. In a recent article in Shakespeare Quarterly, Folger scholars Peter Stallybrass and Roger Chartier and Folger staff members Frank Mowery and Heather Wolfe link Hamlet's tables to this innovative writing technology, showing yet again how sholarship, acquisitions, and exhibitions can intersect.


Acquired through a generous gift to the Library from an anonymous donor, as a contribution to the 75th anniversary Collections Campaign.  To learn how you can contribute to the Jubilee Collections Campaign, contact Richard Kuhta, Eric Weinmann Librarian, (202) 675-0327 or rkuhta@folger.edu .

Writing tables bound in finely worked silver filigree. Manuscript, late 17th century

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