Letter to Mamma

April 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm (entertainment, history, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

Last week I bid on this little snippet from the Smith & Gosling past:

mrs smith free front 1838

I suspect it once contained a letter written to Mamma by Eliza (and/or her husband Denis Le Marchant). The “frank” is described as the signature of Mr. Labouchere; it’s a REAL guess, because the Smiths obtained franks from so many quarters. Given the date and Denis’ position in the late 1830s, it’s a guess that makes me salivate for the letter it once contained!

My father rather scoffed when he saw the tiny scrap. I must admit to my own disappointment – but I simply had to have it. Something once addressed to Mamma Smith! It was the shock, genuine shock, of seeing MAPLEDURHAM as I looked through tons of letters online. Pity this one contained no actual letter… What might have been written in 1838 to Mamma?? Is the letter somewhere, waiting to be ‘reunited’ with its (partial) envelope?

I held the paper up to the window and spotted a fabulous watermark: a large fleur de lys and below this, J & M, written in script. The cartouche around the fleur de lys has been cropped — for this is only a Free Front: what you see in the image (above) is what I got.

It’s early days; my information on watermarks comes from a book (quite wonderful; called Mozart: Studies of the Autograph Scores) that out of necessity does not comment on English writing paper. IF anyone can ID the paper for me, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, have a look at this terrific set of watermarks from England and Continental papers.

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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 Plea to Postal History Collectors

October 21, 2012 at 7:48 pm (diaries, history, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , )

In conversation with Dave from Ottawa, I had the idea to post something that more plainly laid out what places the letters I seek came from / were sent to and also the people – writers or recipient; and the dates.

The letter that caught Dave’s eye was sent in 1798. It was sent to Charles Smith at his estate ‘Suttons’.

SUTTONS remains an address of great interest from beginning to end: it was the childhood home to Emma Smith and the marital home to Mary Gosling.

Another long-standing address for the Smiths & Goslings would be their residences in Portland Place, London (No. 5 = Goslings; No. 6 = Smiths).

The Goslings also had their country estate, Roehampton Grove.

Of course there are family members a bit further removed: aunts, uncles, cousins. I’ve begun a list, which you can find under the tab “Autograph Letter Signed”.

I honestly don’t know what to search for – ALS will get something far different than an autographed letter. On the likes of eBay, there’s very little about the contents of letters or the addressee in most cases, and I simply tire of sitting at a computer, looking at post marks for hours. Way too many bookseller orders and attorney or banker letters of inquiry are on the market.

I want a juicy letter filled with family gossip!

*

Something which might be of use in helping ID some of the writers are the signatures I’ve posted here, as well as the pedigrees. Even the smallest, shortest sentence about any of these people would interest me!

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How do I love thee: The Browning Letters

February 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm (history, jane austen, news, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

A great new website is up and running, featuring the letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. Baylor and Wellesley have teamed up to present actual images of the letters in their collections. Hurrah, hurray! The letters are “browsable and searchable by date, author, and first line of text.” Other research centers and universities, with Browningana holdings, are being asked to join the initiative — so who knows how much this will grow as time passes.

Wellesley has the original 573 “love” letters (beginning “10 January 1845, with a letter address to ‘dear Miss Barrett’ and continued until a week after their marriage…”).

Here is Elizabeth’s letter dated 11 January 1845 – all eight pages are represented individually; as well as the two sides of the envelope! Scan the page, enlarge the image, move on to a full-screen view – complete with typescript, or have text alone:

Postal historians must be getting their first looks at such as this 11 January 1845 envelope:

The New York Times gives a fine overview in this article by John Williams; but I highly recommend you simply immerse yourself in the world of working with primary materials such as manuscripts (ie, the Austen Fiction Manuscripts Project), diaries, and letters like these. A true gift of a web collection!

* * *

This blog has featured a couple of other “project” websites. The ones that come to mind are:

Happy to hear about projects — ongoing, proposed, or up-and-running — from readers!

UPDATED: How could I forget these sites, which I use but evidently haven’t mentioned on this blog:

* * *

These digitized letters are as authentic online as if you pulled them out of an evelope

 — Darryl Stuhr

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Judge a Letter by its Cover

January 19, 2011 at 9:46 pm (people, places, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When Craig from Australia — a most helpful Smith&Gosling “fan”! — wrote about a letter he found, the tell-tale tidbit that attracted me was hearing that it was addressed to the Marquess of Northampton. Its dating, to 1824, meant to the first Marquess — husband of Mamma Smith’s sister Maria, father to Lord Compton (the 2nd Marquess) and his sister Lady Elizabeth Compton (later married to Charles Scrase Dickins).

The idea that came into my brain while corresponding with Craig was that, although his find might be addressed TO Lord Northampton — the enclosed LETTER might very well be addressed to someone else!

My evidence?

At the Essex Record Office, there is a small set of letters, written by “the children” — as Emma referred to her two youngest sisters (her younger brothers were in school), Charlotte and Maria — but the girls, while addressing their letters to eldest sister Augusta and to Mamma, addressed their envelopes to “Le Chevalier Charles Smith“!

Obviously, therefore, the “head of the household” was the letter recipient whenever letters were sent Poste Restante or to be called for at, say, the offices of the family’s foreign banker.

Just one exceptionally interesting “find” while delving back in time nearly 200 years. Stay tuned for more!

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Bright Star

October 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm (people, places) (, , , , , , , , , , )

A few weeks ago I rented the film Bright Star. Must admit to knowing  very little about the life of John Keats – and even less about his poetry. I was, however, interested in young Fanny Brawne. And what grabbed me from the beginning of the film was its “setting”: 1818, Hampstead! Which is the area (and era) in which Belinda and Harriet Colebrooke lived. Could the three ladies have met?? What intriguing ideas come out of such a thought!

I will agree with my friend Hope, in admiring the costumes — though are we really to believe that three years go by and Keats as well as his friend Brown are still wearing the same clothes? That got rather tedious, I must admit.

So, in wanting to find out more than this film offered about Fanny, I went to the library to pick up the old biography (the only biography), which I’m about half-way through: Joanna Richardson’s Fanny Brawne: A Biography (1952). It’s a slim volume, but has some source material no one will ever duplicate: the author spoke with Brawne’s grand-daughter.

Gale Flament, in a master’s degree thesis (2007), examines the MATERIAL goods Fanny has left behind: her fashion plates and (more importantly) samples of her needlework. The biographical material might have benefited from a good editing, but as evidence of some wonderful investigation among such thankfully-preserved materials from this time period, I recommend Flament’s writing, which is available online via pdf.

One thing that struck me: Fanny paying for the letter the mail carrier delivers to her door! People forget that before the advent of stamps it was the recipient who paid for letters – dependent upon weight (number of pages) and distance. The film did a pretty good job at making a letter look like a letter of that era – though I am wondering about that single postmark…. Postal History enthusiasts can fill us in on that, if they’ve a desire to help out!

In coming months I’ll be paying a bit more attention to post marks, as I prepare an upcoming article. So any books on the subject, or reliable websites — do let me know.

Anyone with some other interesting bits on Fanny Brawne — or anything that ties her to my Colebrooke sisters, do drop me a line. Kind of fun to envision them all at the same little dances and dinners! Sometimes, indeed, truth is stranger than fiction.

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