Oh, foolish Foolscap!

This is an excellent article on foolscap

The Regency Redingote

In great agitation, she took a sheet of foolscap from the desk drawer. Placing it on the blotter, she dipped her sharpened quill into the inkwell and began to write furiously …

Or, something like that. How many characters in how many Regency romances have written or received a missive on a sheet of foolscap? More than I can count. So, just what is foolscap?

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Sorry I missed yesterday. I had a deadline.

Seals have been used on documents and letters for over a thousand years. They were used not only to seal letters, but as signatures on documents. There were two kinds of early seals, the engraved images of coats of arms that we’re used to seeing, but some were also portraits of an individual. Some seals were rings and fobs worn by a person and others, used mostly by governments, were stamps. Personal seals were often representative of the status of a person. Signet rings have been used since at least the 6th Century.


As you might suppose, the original users of seals were monarchs and bishops, however, by the 13th Century ordinary freemen used seals. Some seals were made of wood, but if the owner could afford it, the seal would be made of metal.


For a lot more detail on seals I refer you to the UK National Archives. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/seals/

Fob seal

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As we should all know, letters needed to have some method of being secured. That was the use of sealing wax. People have been using one form or another of sealing wax to secure letters and documents since the Middle Ages. Early sealing wax consisted of a combination of bees wax and an extract of the Larix decidua and evergreen whose common name is the European Larch. This yellowish-green extract was called Venice turpentine. The earliest sealing waxes were uncolored. Someone at some later time which has been lost to history, began using vermilion to color the wax red.

By the 16th Century the recipe for sealing wax had changed and it now consisted of different amounts turpentine, chalk or plaster, shellac, and some sort of coloring. Sealing wax started being used for seal wine bottles and jars of fruit preserves. Depending on the grade of the wax, bees wax was not always used. Although, for public documents, and, I would imagine, the wealthy used sealing wax containing bees wax. Some people perfumed their sealing wax using ambergris, musk, and other scents.

By 1866 sealing wax was available in white, blue, black, yellow, and green.

Sealing wax came the form of a stick (if the stick doesn’t have a wick one must make sure not to blacken the wax) or in granules melted down in a spoon. The impression should be made while the wax is still soft, but when the wax and the seal are at the same temperature.

Below are examples of sealing wax sets. The next post will be about seals.

Sealing wax set silverSealing Wax set

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Your letter has been written, sanded, and now you need to send it off. But during the Regency there are no envelops. They are an 1845 invention. So you had to know how to properly fold a letter before sending it. The illustration below takes you through the steps.

Regency letter folding

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Last time we looked at actually writing the letter. So what did one do before sending the missive? The next step was sanding the letter. This was done by using “pounce”, a sand made from dried and ground cuttlefish bones. Pounce was sprinkled lightly over the paper to dry the ink. Once the ink was dried (about 10 seconds), the remaining pounce was poured back into the container.

Here are some examples of pounce pots. The first image is to give you an idea of the scale of a pounce pot. As you can see, they were quite small and could be as simple or elaborate as one wished.

Pounce pot 2

Pounce potPounce pot owl

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Letter writing occupied a large amount of time for both ladies and gentlemen. The goal was to be able to write a letter as if you were speaking to the person. It must also be interesting for the receiver to read. Naturally, letters tended to be long. Unless one was a peer, or had one handy, letters was expensive to receive as the recipient paid for said letter. In order to keep the costs down, letters were frequently crossed. Below is an example of a crossed letter.


Crossed letter 2

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When last we left this subject the prospect of divorce seemed pretty dismal. But there was an alternative. Like marriage, divorce in Scotland was much easier, as long as the conditions were met and women could sue for divorce on the basis of adultery. In order to apply for a divorce in Scotland the adultery had to occur in Scotland, and the guilty party had to have lived there for six weeks. Naturally, this was much easier to accomplish if the husband agreed to the divorce.
Use for divorce
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