The Lost Art of Writing
- Where:Metalware, Room 116
DISPLAY: 'Beautiful Writing pleases everyone, it makes one sought after,' explained the French writer Père Gregoire Martin in 1761. Having a fine writing hand was not only a useful skill but the sign of an educated and genteel person
In the medieval period, writing was mostly practised by the clergy and professional classes. However, from the Renaissance, it became a vital part of education. Advice on writing was available from writing masters and manuals. Abbé Jaubert, the author of the Dictionnaire raisonné of 1773 argued that, 'it would always be useful to write legibly; one would have less recourse to those people one does not know … with whom discretion is as rare as their style is sometimes extraordinary.'
Writing, now the most ordinary of activities, was once a complicated and labour intensive process. A writer needed specialised equipment: a quill pen, a knife or cutter to trim it, an inkstand with pots for different coloured inks, pounce or sand to prepare the paper and dry the ink, a pen rest, wafers or sealing wax to seal the letter.
From the 1600s, greater literacy and a more regular postal system increased the demand for writing equipment. Metalworkers rose to the challenge of making elegant and tasteful writing tools, imaginatively exploring different forms and decoration. These implements have largely disappeared from the desktop,
replaced by the virtual world of icons, cursors and toolbars.
Displays complement our permanent collections, there are many free temporary displays around the V&A. They range in size from a single case to a room.