19th Century Stationery Items

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By Bob Sullivan

Patriotic Stationery

One of the distinct types of writing paper that I have looked is patriotic stationery. The patriotic stationery comes with literally hundreds of different patriotic cartoons. This stationery also had matching envelopes. The stationery I have seen is folded like a greeting card, with the fold on the left side. The finished, folded size approximates 8 inches high by 5 inches wide. This concurs with 19th century definitions of folio size. The stationery is lined, front and back with fine blue lines that tend to be about 3/8 of an inch apart. The cartoon tends to appear in the upper left on the outside of the finished folded paper. The paper is about as thick as the pages of the hymnal in my church, and its modern name is in fact Bible Paper. Some stationery is thicker. The paper bears no resemblance to any modern commonly available paper, the finish is much finer than most paper.

The envelopes that match this paper are about 3 inches high by 5 inches wide. There is no modern equivalent envelope size. The envelope flap is sometimes teardrop shaped, sometimes shaped like a modern envelope. The cartoon on the outside of the envelope tends to be on the left side.

There are of course exceptions to all of these observations. The observations are based on my studies of originals in my collection, collections of other folks who have been nice enough to let me see what they have, and examples that exist in places like the Gettysburg Visitors Center.

Fine Writing Paper

The fine writing paper I have seen comes in two weights, laid paper and foolscap. The modern term for foolscap paper is Bible paper. Pouring the paper slurry over a wire screen, and then pressing the water out of it made laid paper. Most of the wires were horizontal. There were just enough vertical wires there to support the horizontal ones. This gives laid paper a distinctive look when held up to a light. Many people call these lines chains or ladders. Most 19th century laid paper I have seen has the vertical lines about one half inch apart. Laid paper is commonly available today at most office supply stores under its own name or under the term Resume paper.

Fine writing paper is distinguished from ordinary writing paper with a stationer's mark. This mark appears at the upper left corner of the paper, and is a small embossing. The embossing tends to be no more than one half inch across. I've seen letters, figureheads, and other symbols. I have seen blue paper and cream paper. I've not seen other colors, though I understand that they existed.

Fine writing paper tended to be larger than patriotic stationery. Most examples I've seen are close to 8 by 10 and one half inches, but there are variations. There were also matching envelopes. I have several originals that are very close in size to modern business envelopes. They are made of light blue foolscap, and have the stationer's mark embossed in the center of the teardrop shaped flap on the back of the envelope. While these are the only envelopes I have in my personal collection, they closely match and could fit other stationery that I have seen in other folks’ collections.


I own some unpainted originals that were made around 1840 by the B. Ball Manufacturing Company in Harvard, Mass. My pencils are unpainted, round wooden pencils that are the length of modern ones but smaller in diameter. The diameter is about the size of the colored pencils that you can buy for your kids. Also, the graphite clay mixture (not lead) inside is not round but square shaped. The pencils were manufactured in two pieces, not of equal size. Imagine taking an almost round piece of dowel and cutting a trough down the middle of it. The graphite clay mixture was put in the trough, and another piece of wood was glued on top. The whole thing was then sanded to a round pencil.

Having said that, I have not seen any reproduction pencils that are made correctly. Then again, take any round eraser-less pencil and scrape the paint off it, and you have a perfectly good reproduction that will only be discovered when someone looks at the end of it and sees a round "lead".

I have not seen any documents except very short notes that were written in pencil. Every letter I have examined and every original military form I own (about 150) are written in ink. but then again, I am not looking at collections of letters written during the war, and I am sure that there were many written in pencil. There are always exceptions.


Pens come in all shapes and sizes. There is a picture of at least one in the Collectors Encyclopedia and other places. A very common pen is a plain piece of stained or oiled dowel with a brass cap on one end of it. The nib is pushed between the dowel and the brass. I sell these pens, but I use a modern nib. If you wanted to replace the nib, nibs can be had at antique stores. I sell the pens in quantities such that I can't depend on antique finds, and the nib I use is close in size and shape to common 19th century nibs.

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Copyright © 2006, Bob Sullivan. Visit his site: http://SullivanPress.com.