13 August 2013

Erasable ivory plates

Thomas Jefferson's reusable "notepad":
In his pockets, Jefferson carried such a variety of portable instruments for making observations and measurements that he's been dubbed a "traveling calculator." Among his collection of pocket-sized devices were scales, drawing instruments, a thermometer, a surveying compass, a level, and even a globe. To record all these measurements, Jefferson carried a small ivory notebook (pictured) on which he could write in pencil. Back in his Cabinet, or office, he later copied the information into any of seven books in which he kept records about his garden, farms, finances, and other concerns; he then erased the writing in the ivory notebook
Via The Appendix and Erik Kwakkel.

Addendum: A hat tip to reader Walter Susong, who noted in a comment that modern versions of these are available:

"Based on an original that Jefferson owned. These are made of sturdy brass stock with 4 old ivory pages and a pencil. Use this for making notes in the field and just erase with a wet finger when you are done."


  1. This makes me think of Renaissance wax "tables." The book historian Peter Stallybrass has done work on these kinds of early, erasable notebooks (for instance, his "Hamlet's Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England" from _Shakespeare Quarterly_ in 2004).

  2. (Wax tablets used as erasable postcards have been found in archaeological digs at the Roman forts oh Hadrian's Wall, in northern England, also in London. http://www.ingenia.org.uk/ingenia/articles.aspx?Index=372)

    But the thing that struck me on reading this was that last night, I was reading a book written in 1945, by Nevil Shute.
    "Most Secret"
    His protagonist, an engineer in reinforced concrete structures has been spying on the construction works the Germans are building in Lorient, France, to house submarines under bomb-proof roofs.

    'Then he got up and wrote in pencil on a little ivorine tablet all the dimensions he had noticed, and set to work learning all he had written off by heart, as he had learnt poetry when he was a boy at Shrewsbury. Finally, at about midnight, he expunged what he had written upon the tablet with a wet corner of his towel,and lay down upon his bed.'

    And I mused a while about ivorine tablets, notepads easily erased and re-used.

    Less than 24 hours later, I read your blog and wonder about co-incidence, or synchronicity, as I'd never heard of ivory writing tablets, nor ivorine ones before.

    1. Interesting. And I had never heard of the word "ivorine" before your note. Had to look it up. Found this under "celluloid" -

      Celluloid was useful for creating cheaper jewellery, jewellery boxes, hair accessories and many items that would earlier have been manufactured from ivory, horn or other expensive animal products. It was often referred to as "Ivorine" or "French Ivory". It was also used for dressing table sets, dolls, picture frames, charms, hat pins, buttons, buckles, stringed instrument parts, accordions, fountain pens, cutlery handles and kitchen items. The main disadvantages the material had were that it was flammable and fragile. Items made in celluloid are collectible today and increasingly rare in good condition. It was soon overtaken by the more robust Bakelite and Catalin.

      - and this under "Netsuke" :

      Ivorine: A material made from the dust created when carving legally obtained new ivory, Mammoth ivory, tusks, and teeth, which is then mixed with a clear resin and compressed as it hardens. This was one of the many solutions to the demand of the tourist market trade for netsuke carvings after trade in new ivory became illegal. Once hard and dry, ivorine can be carved in exactly the same way as ivory. Though often deceptively sold to the modern tourist trade as elephant ivory, items made from ivorine have none of the striations common to animal ivory, though sometimes, the carving is artificially aged to have the yellowed appearance common to true old ivory carvings.

      You learn something every day.

  3. You can buy new note pads via Jas. Townsend and Son

    1. Excellent find. Added as an appendix. Thank you, Walter.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...