eBay: Free Fronts

April 7, 2013 at 1:28 pm (diaries, europe, history, jane austen, people, research) (, , , , , , , , )

My! just when you think that searching eBay for ‘entire letters’ is hard, comes the realization that there is a thing called Free Front. Namely, these are the remains (no other name for it) of a letter. The “letter” (as in ‘entire’) is not extant; the “cover” – a free-standing sheet of paper used to wrap the pre-stamp era letter (and may by what the free front represents; keep reading*) has been cut so that the address panel alone exists.

*NB: the address panel could be that of a folded letter – would depend: if writing is present on the backside then the address was most likely applied to a section left blank for that purpose, and the paper folded and sealed so that the address showed. This Jane Austen letter shows what I mean:

austen envelope

You can see the writing on the other side of the paper; the red seal still exists and this view shows the part of the lower page has been taken for more of the letter (typically, there will be two other ‘letter continuations’ to the left and right of the address). You can see more Austen Letters at the Morgan Library’s website. Want Austen facsimiles to keep? Find a copy of Jo Modert’s book!

I digress…

In short, for my purposes I’d kill to find another (my “only” letter was purchased thanks to Craig in Australia alerting me!) Autograph Letter Signed, or ALS, also known as ‘entire’ letter. A cover is nice – but at the same time: no letter (boo…). So who knew such ‘trimmed’ specimens existed too.

NB: I am grateful to ALL who contact me,
whether you have a cover or entire letter
just happy to transcribe contents or addresses

The hard part is, I’m not looking for postal marks, I don’t collect certain counties or places; I want INFORMATION! I want chatty letters. EBay does not make this easy. Few listings comment on the sender / recipient. And I do not have the patience to open and look and try to decipher EVERY friggin address.

Which brings me to today’s post.

Gosh! some of these people have HORRIBLE handwriting!

I’m talking the address, NOT the ‘autograph’. Ah, which reminds me to tell you what a Free Front is.

A FRANK you are probably familiar with; members of parliament could send mail — franked (ie, they made out the envelope and “signed” it) — free of charge to the recipient. This was supposedly used ONLY for parliamentary business. Even Jane Austen writes Cassandra Austen about her ability (or inability) to secure a Frank. So the letters could very well BE those chatty ones I’m dying to find more of! (So you see my dilemma… where are the letters?? pitched or just somewhere else — with a big hole!)

To quote: “Free franks were avidly sought during the first three decades of the nineteenth century for autograph collections. This was accomplished by cutting out the front panels of the envelope which carried the inscriptions which were required under the use of this privilege. These panels are referred to by collectors as free fronts.”

Must say, when there are ‘entire’ letters listed on eBay, so many prove to be letters of business: to merchants of wine or books; or the family solicitor. But even those are not Smith&Gosling letters of business. That’s why I’m so grateful to people like Antony in Essex – he contacted me and sent scans of his Eliza Chute letters, which left me wanting more.

BTW, Jane Austen’s brother Frank Austen gifted collectors interested in the autograph of his sister with a signature trimmed out of a letter from her to him. Ohhhh…. (read that as a big GROAN!). Why not the entire letter?! I have a feeling ome of those snipped-out pieces may be all that has come down to us of some letters.

I am reminded that I had thoughts to pass along to reader of TWO TEENS IN THE TIME OF AUSTEN regarding the letter-writing notations noticed in the 1830s diaries of Mamma Smith, which I’ve been proofing and reading this weekend; so hope to follow up with a part II, but I leave you with two images found on eBay today.

free front1

free front2

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A Lady Rancliffe Mystery

October 22, 2012 at 8:51 pm (books, diaries, history, news, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

A letter written in French in late January 1797, by Augusta (“Mamma”) Smith to her friend Eliza Gosling, had this tidbit of gossip:

“All talk of the death of Lady Rancliffe as sad, & caused by her carelessness; there is surely something that we do not know; have the grace to tell me what caused her death: I hear that she has had some gallantry, & I think with Mr. Matthews. but did she ever leave her husband; we are wholly ignorant of this Chapter.”

Inquiring minds — mine included! — want to know more.

A couple of images of Lady Rancliffe exist – like this 1795 study for a portrait by Hoppner. She was Mrs Parkyns then. And her “biography” is really the only thing I can find. According to the Annual Necrology, Elizabeth Anne James was the only daughter of Sir William James. Her father died on her wedding day! Married to Thomas Boothby Parkyns on 16 Dec 1783. The year of Hoppner’s drawing, 1795, Parkyns was raised to the peerage of Ireland as Baron Rancliffe.

By the time she died, Lady Rancliffe would be written up as “married at 18; has been the mother of nine children in thirteen years, six of which, one son and five daughters, are now living.” Her obituary describes her as, “with every elegrance of person, youth, riches, dignity, and mental accomplishments, in the highest degree refined, and cultivated; matched to a husband, whose worth is equalled only by his benevolence; nothing seemed to have been wanting to complete the happiness of the charming woman whose loss we now deplore.”

So what is the truth?

A happy, charming woman – or a wife on the look-out for other men? What might her “carelessness” have been?

To echo Augusta’s comment, “I am wholly ignorant of this Chapter.”

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Sarah Smith – wife of Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park, Wilts

September 7, 2012 at 9:59 pm (a day in the life, chutes of the vyne, history, news, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I wish I had a picture of Sarah, Mrs Joshua Smith, to share. Alas, the one citation I have of a miniature of her — by Anne Mee — came with NO illustration!

So, to illustrate this lengthy obituary of Sarah, I include this illustration of Stoke Park, where she died. The write-up comes from The Monthly Magazine and British Register, 1810:

“At Stoke Park, near Devizes, Mrs Smith, the lady of Joshua Smith, esq. one of the representatives in parliament for that borough. She was the daughter, by a second wife, of Nathaniel Gilbert, of the island of Antigua, sequire [sic], a gentleman of large landed property there, and chief legal magistrate of the island, the maternal sister of the late lady Colebrooke, and mother of the present lady Northampton. Through life, this lady was conspicuous not only for great good sense and very amiable manners, but also for the great sincerity of her attachments; a sincerity which was the result of affection, principle, and benevolence, alone. In an age in which the woman of fashion too frequently affects the most extravagant degree of moral sentiment, the purity of her conduct expressed the innate worth and value of her mind; and while her charitable heart was ever ready to mitigate distress, the delicacy of her pecuniary favours never wounded the feelings of those, whom her bounty so liberally relieved. Though handsome in her youth, she was totally free from vanity and affectation; her charity, though exerted on the precepts of the divine word, in secrecy and silence, was not confined merely to alms, but manifested by a liberal and charitable opinion of the conduct of all. So far was she from uttering scandal of any one that she did not even think it; and as to pride, if it resided in her, it was of that decent kind which preserved her within the bounds of virtue and propriety. Thus beloved and revered for three generations, in consequence of a debility of body produced by an arthritic complaint, she expired at the end of her sixty-second year, when threatened with a total loss of sight, leaving her inconsolable husband, children, and other connections, the example of a woman, illustrious in every social department of life. Her remains were conveyed for interment to the family vault at Lambeth.”

[Curious mistake: the Lady Colebrooke, who was half-sister to Mrs. Joshua Smith, died in 1818 – eight years later.]

*

Sarah Smith of Erle Stoke Park lives on in letters, especially those to her daughter Eliza Chute of The Vyne, now housed at the Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, England. Eliza, in 1793, was newly married, and frequent correspondence passed between the two households.

A plea to anyone coming across letters of the 1790s: This important decade connects the Smiths & Goslings together in the “parent generation” – not only is Sarah Smith writing to Eliza and William Chute, she also writes of the newly-married pair William and Eliza GOSLING. Eliza Chute, as well, writes of her life — at The Vyne, at Roehampton Grove (the Gosling home), at Richmond — to her sisters Emma Smith (at Stoke); Augusta Smith (at Suttons, in Essex); Maria, Lady Compton (later: Lady Northampton = Marchioness of Northampton). Please contact me (see about the author for contact information) if you have letters to share!

  • Just bought a letter from eBay, for instance, and
  • its contents point to the people in this blog??
  • Contact me; I’d LOVE to hear from you!

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