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Pens, Ink & Letter Writing in the Crimean War


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GCCE1854

Believe it or not, finding out what British soldiers used to write their letters home during the Crimean War has been an interesting bit of research. And after more than a couple of years working on this, information is still rather hard to come by -- so please add to any of this as you can! 

 

I've been working at transcribing some family letters from an officer in the Coldstream Guards, and these were all written in pen. Seemed natural until asking a few others who also research the Crimean War. It seems that most soldiers ran out of ink and often mentioned writing their letters with pencil (leading some to believe that all British soldiers in the Crimea used pencils to write their letters). However, it turns out that a house in England (Audley End) still has many of the family items sent back from the Crimea -- included in there are two silver pens still on display in a glass case!

 

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Then, I came across a small mention in a letter about a Sheldon Escritoir. Bingo!

A look at John Sheldon's patented Pocket Escritoir reveals a pocket-sized sort of "writing desk in a box" that boasted everything a person needed to write a letter. The nine "pens" included are what we now refer to as nibs, while the long silver "pen" is called the "pen holder". 

 

If anyone has more information to add about pens or inks from the Crimean War period, please do so. It appears from letters that the ink purchased by the soldiers in the Crimea was very expensive and very bad quality. Several letters show almost a faded watered-down blue-tone ink.

 

These photos below show a remarkable 1845 Escritoir example that was sold by a British antique dealer: https://www.steppeshillfarmantiques.com/antique-silver/d/john-sheldon-s-patent-pocket-escritoir-1845/133826

 

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  • 2 months later...
GCCE1854

Continuing with this thought, here are some more interesting tidbits about letters home in the Crimean War.

There's a nice blog entry from the Norfolk Record Office, but I'm going to include a few of their mentions here, as entries like this are likely to disappear (do note that the first letter they show in photos was not actually written by the soldier himself and is obviously a copy letter made by someone in England -- very common for family members to share letters around and make copies which were then kept in various places).

https://norfolkrecordofficeblog.org/2018/02/21/i-suppose-you-think-that-i-am-shot-problems-writing-home-from-the-crimean-war/

 

 

The NRO holds a collection of letters of Daniel Anguish of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards (NRO, MC 20/40, 445X4), and there was an interesting bit mentioning the scarcity of paper and stamps, rather than ink itself.

‘This Bit of Papper cost me a Shilling and a verrey ard job to get it atorl it would give me much pledger to wright to you as awfen as I could. I will wright to you as soon as you write to me if you will please to send me some papper and stamps so I can wright to you again’ (sic).

 

‘I must now conclude with my love to father and mother Brothers and sisters you must wright and let me know how you all get on and send out some Stamps as I cannot get them out here for love or money.’ (sic)

 

And for a few pictures of letters from officers serving in the Crimean War, just to give an idea what the letters themselves looked like.

This first letter is part of the collection at the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum, Lancaster. The second letter from the Cornwall Record Office.

 

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GCCE1854

Just came across this image from a 2014 Bonham's auction of the Journal of Captain William Thomas Markham of the Coldstream Guards, kept in 1854 and 1855 while attached to the 2nd and 1st Battalions, Rifle Brigade, and with the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards (from February 1855 as ADC on the staff of Lieutenant-General Sir George Brown, Commander of the Light Division). Obviously, this bit of his diary appears to have been inked after the hardships of the campaign (as the entire date is listed), but considering that these soldiers were capable of inking in this artistic detail, you can understand why they complained about the bad ink, lack of supplies, etc., and felt that their letters home were poor examples of their writing.

 

45396072_JournalCaptWmThoMarkhamColdstreamGuards1854-551stBattfromFeb1855ADConstaffofLtGenSirGeorgeBrown.jpg.38a4067d171dfef0ee8e6b3d75483ecf.jpg

 

 

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  • 4 weeks later...
GCCE1854

This 1855 letter sent by a British soldier at Sebastopol in 1855 shows very well how the letter was folded to form the cover -- in the days before ready-made envelopes. The special rate of 3d postage was for soldiers on duty in the War. The obliteration of the postage stamps was done once the letter reached England.

 

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And sending pressed flowers home was not at all uncommon in those days. This letter included some flowers from the field at the Battle of Balaklava -- at the sight of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade.

 

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Currently, this nice piece can be purchased here: https://www.hipstamp.com/listing/the-crimean-war-letter-sent-home-by-a-soldier-from-the-battle-of-balaclava/19581989

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On 5/12/2021 at 6:04 PM, GCCE1854 said:

Believe it or not, finding out what British soldiers used to write their letters home during the Crimean War has been an interesting bit of research. And after more than a couple of years working on this, information is still rather hard to come by -- so please add to any of this as you can! 

 

I've been working at transcribing some family letters from an officer in the Coldstream Guards, and these were all written in pen. Seemed natural until asking a few others who also research the Crimean War. It seems that most soldiers ran out of ink and often mentioned writing their letters with pencil (leading some to believe that all British soldiers in the Crimea used pencils to write their letters). However, it turns out that a house in England (Audley End) still has many of the family items sent back from the Crimea -- included in there are two silver pens still on display in a glass case!

 

image.png.7f140ef970d3b91367f3cca88a025f76.png

 

Then, I came across a small mention in a letter about a Sheldon Escritoir. Bingo!

A look at John Sheldon's patented Pocket Escritoir reveals a pocket-sized sort of "writing desk in a box" that boasted everything a person needed to write a letter. The nine "pens" included are what we now refer to as nibs, while the long silver "pen" is called the "pen holder". 

 

If anyone has more information to add about pens or inks from the Crimean War period, please do so. It appears from letters that the ink purchased by the soldiers in the Crimea was very expensive and very bad quality. Several letters show almost a faded watered-down blue-tone ink.

 

These photos below show a remarkable 1845 Escritoir example that was sold by a British antique dealer: https://www.steppeshillfarmantiques.com/antique-silver/d/john-sheldon-s-patent-pocket-escritoir-1845/133826

 

image.png.ee2af4a548e801ed110a5f2dcbaa122e.png

 

image.png.fc6ef04782b5254175667a7da3901086.png

 

image.png.96c0ac264dfd1402eb71d764cc21037f.png

 

image.png.d63694c0ebfd1367db7e9174e52b84c1.png

 

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What an ingenious design! Thanks for showing it.

Mikie

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  • 1 month later...

Doing a little more research on the types of pens and pencils used during the Crimean War and found this rather amazing collection! This was put together by a gent in the UK, Brian George, who was with a pen museum in Birmingham, I believe. This shows many pens, pencils and other pieces created and sold by John Sheldon in the Pocket Escritoirs.

 

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And a close-up view of one of the John Sheldon pens --

 

image.png.a11c8652071ddf37bd8b83928117a2a0.png

 

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