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Writing Slope Restoration



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Graywolf503

Good afternoon gentlemen! I have purchased a writing slope and I am trying to do a partial restoration on it. I have included some pictures with this (sorry about the quality of the pictures but it's the best I can do it this time).  The seller knew nothing of the history of the box as they had procured it through an estate sale.
 
Overall this box appears to be in excellent shape. I only paid $60 for it at an antiques fair, and felt that it was well worth that amount of money.  The veneer appears to be overall intact, but there are a few cracks very small that can be seen in places. None of the veneer appears to be loose or in danger of peeling off. As seen in the picture, the escutcheon was missing. However, included with the box was a cartouche that will fit into the opening for the escutcheon, all I will need to do is cut a keyhole in it. While the cartouche will fit into the hole for the escutcheon, there are some wide gaps around it.
 
It was missing a key but I have managed to find a spare key that will lock/unlock the box.  There are two secret compartments however the board hiding these compartments has a broken spring. It still works but it's missing about a quarter inch of the end. the biggest problem is that the end of the and is jagged. I have procured some material that I can use as a replacement however I'm wondering about just smoothing off the end of it and leaving it in place as it appears to still function. The board is opened by grasping the divider between the inkwell and stamp compartment and pulling up. There are two cracks one in the top and one in the bottom. I plan to leave these alone as they don't appear to be large enough to allow anything to fall out.
 
Slope did come with an inkwell please see the photo below. The original inkwell that came with the slope is on the left, the right is a reproduction inkwell that I purchased off of eBay. The original inkwell did not have any lip and there are no screw threads on it so I assume it was closed with a cork. Also shown below is the key that I found to lock the box.
 
The writing surfaces are in good shape except where the surfaces are joined. I'm not sure what happened to degrade the material in the center where the joints are except possibly environmental damage and use. The material does appear to be baize and not felt. Very faintly seen is a pattern going around the outside of the material.
 

Since the box seems to be in fairly good condition and all the hinges and metal parts appear to be in good shape as well as the veneer seems to be in good shape, I plan to leave it alone in those areas. I will probably slowly start to work keyhole in the cartouche. Once I have that done I will consider how to fix this newly fashioned escutcheon. I have considered taking a clear epoxy and mixing either a colorant or wood dust of an appropriate color and using this to include the escutcheon as well as fill in the gaps around. Any thoughts on this?
I've considered putting in a new writing surface (I believe it's called a skiver if it's leather?). I would like to put in a baize of approximately the same color however I've been unable to find anything that also has the light impressions around it. I have found one person on eBay that sells leather skiver that I could fit. I would probably use wallpaper paste to glue it, I believe in the old days they used a flour water mixture as a glue can anyone confirm this?


Another option that I've considered would be to affix a fabric strap to the hinge area and simply glue the remnants of the original down to this strip. I do like the material that is used for the writing surface and don't want to just willy-nilly scrape it off and throw it away if possible. I would appreciate input on whether I should replace the writing surface or try to patch it and leave most of the surface alone.


All in all, I am quite pleased with this box and consider it a family heirloom. I will need to look for some dip pens that are appropriate style to place with the slope as well as obtaining some appropriate style paper.


I appreciate any and all ideas that might help me restore this.


 

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  • Graywolf503

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JayHomeBody

I am EXTREMELY looking forward  to your restoration, and I cant wait to see pics as you progress. From what you wrote, I had envisioned a bit more damage, but it looks in overall decent shape! Have fun!

I am the tarot reading, bookworm, whiskey drinking, witchcraft practicing, old fashioned writing, aunt Beasty in my family and I love it. Tarot readings for sale or trade, especially ink as I've lost all of my pen stuff from a bad burglary last year. And I need penpals! Anyone interested, please PM me!

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CursivesFoiledAgain

Beautiful find. I also found one for about the same price a few years ago - only ebonized with some nice (slightly damaged) boullle inlay. I'd like to believe it is French. The writing surface had been replaced in recent times with some well-cemented hot pink felt. I was able to remove it and scrape/sand the glue off, and was also thinking of replacing it in leather with embossed edging. In the end, I felt it would look too new.  I secured a nice piece of very short-napped antique cotton velvet that worked very well and came suitably "aged" to blend. A very light application of watered-down craft glue gave me no problems. I've read that you can "stamp" velvet with heat (think Daguerreotype cases) and toyed with the idea, but didn't . 

 

Flour and water may have been the mode for applying your original baize (it worked for wallpaper), but I wouldn't be surprised if it may have been animal glue. You'll know when you pull it up. If you go with the baize, you might try using powdered wallpaper paste ("wheat paste"...do they still sell it?!) vs. trying to figure out the flour-to-water ratio. Just be careful about  saturating the porous material too much. 

 

Please share your results! 

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Graywolf503

JayHomeBody - Thank you for your kind comments. I will try and post updates as I get new information.

 

Beechwood - at the time I look at the writing slope, I felt that it had secret compartments but I was unable to figure out how to activate them. After some study on the Internet I discovered these compartments, Unfortunately they were empty.

 

CursivesFoiledAgain - Thank you for pointing out that animal glues may have been used. I cannot make up my mind whether to use a leather or fabric writing surface. The best baize comes from the United Kingdom, and I will probably order some samples to see how they might work. My biggest concern is to use something that enhances the piece. I also would like to select a glue that would not be very difficult to remove if someone else needed to restore it in the future. I don't want to do something to the piece that would make it difficult to restore.

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CursivesFoiledAgain

Graywolf503 - I agree! And that is smart (and sensitive) of you. :) I wonder if the purveyors of the UK baize would have suggestions on laying it down. I did a quick interwebs search, and found this: 


"I would first shellac the surface of the panel, to make future removal easier, then use a very thin hide glue to attach the fabric. If the glue is too thick, it will make the fabric too stiff." 

 

Check out this search results page...looks like there may be some answers to glean here - and advice on leather vs. baize.

https://www.google.com/search?q=How+to+apply+baize+to+a+writing+surface&oq=How+to+apply+baize+to+a+writing+surface&aqs=chrome..69i57j33i160.8776j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 

 

Good Luck! 

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Graywolf503

Thank you CursivesFoiledAgain!  I tend to follow the physician's motto of "first do no harm." I did peek underneath the material, and the wood surface does appear to be  finished with I assume shellac.  The material itself does have a very fine weave and a very fine pile on it. I'm wondering now if it truly is baize or if it is short pile velvet or velveteen. I've sent off an inquiry to a British firm that produces baize to see if they can help me sort this out.  The company, Baize and Wool Fabrics is a subsidiary of another company that produces accessories for game tables.  Baize and Wool Fabrics produce the fabrics which can be used to make clothing as well as the lining on tables. I will post results once I heard back from them.

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That is a fine looking box you have there There are many places where you can get replacement skivers John Hubbard Restorations is one of the better ones.

The writing surface looks like it could well have been stuck down with animal or hide glue, which I am afraid you will have to remove before you can fit your replacement surface. I usually use steam but I have done it once or twice before a cotton bud or similar with warm water will work for small areas or to test. 

Titebond make a glue similar to hide glue if you want to use something like the original.

Your sharp edge on your spring is not unusual people often force them open when they cannot find the release.

It will be made from spring steel dont introduce heat to it grinder or similar. Try a file but it will be hard. To be honest I would leave it alone. 

If you would like to replace the escutcheon I fill the hole with tape and trim around the edges, Using a pin mark around the key hole when you transfer the shape to the brass draw around it and using a marker pen to mark through the pin holes to locate the keyhole.

 

 

 

For more details on my current projects please visit my blog.

 

https://my63leather.wixsite.com/my63

 

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CursivesFoiledAgain

I wonder, too, if the missing escutcheon wasn't originally ivory or bone . I have seen such on similar slopes - and tea caddies of the same vintage. Just a thought. Though the wood one looks very nice!  As you mentioned, the finish looks great. If there are areas that need attention (and you don't want it to look refinished), there are ways to sensitively renew the French Polish. I admit, I haven't tried them, so not sure that this is helpful advice ... 

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Graywolf503

Thank you for your kind words my63, I have greatly admired your work. I will investigate and send off queries to John Hubbard Restorations about writing surfaces. Do you have any tips about using steam to loosen the writing surface? I will continue to investigate glues and will look into Titebond.

I've included a photo of the spring. I would like to do something about it simply because the jagged edge is chewing into the wood. I do have some spring steel that I feel like it utilized to replace this, the alternatives would be to either put some tape over the end or filing down on the existing spring.  Please also note in the photo that the brass piece which works as a catch for the spring to hold the door in place has been nailed on. The nail goes slightly through the other side. I'm wondering if this was replaced at some time in the past.

Thank you for the tips about replacing the escutcheon. I've included a picture of the cartouche and replacement, they are not exactly the same but probably close enough. The front of the box has an area already cut out for the replacement, so I will use the replacement that I have after I've cut a keyhole into it. I appreciate your remarks about how to put in the keyhole.  Please note that the replacement is slightly smaller than the hole in the wood for it. I will need to consider about how to fill this in so it's less noticeable. At this time I'm considering a clear epoxy that has either wood sawdust or colorings added to it to make it less noticeable.  Another problem would be how to level the epoxy out so that it's not a rough surface that would draw attention to the repair.

CursivesFoiledAgain, you might be right about the original escutcheon. Note that the replacement is not the same design as the cartouche on the top of the box. The replacement is of brass and just needs to be polished some. I would be open to renew the French polish however I have no idea how to do this and would need to research it some.

I am continuing to inspect the box and do research on techniques to restore. I've got some postings to do about the fabric as I've gotten a response from Baize and Wool Fabrics which is favorable. They do have a material that would appear to match mine at least in color. I've been taking measurements with my caliper of the fabric for the writing surface as well as the depth of the area that the writing surface would go into. The fabric does appear to be about a millimeter thick and the depth of the area for the writing surfaces about a millimeter as well.. Baize and Wool Fabrics informed me that their fabrics typically are a millimeter or less in thickness. They also have a service where they can cut to my measurements. This would be good as their materials are quite costly. When I contact John Hubbard Restorations, I will see what they will be able to do for me.

More information and pictures tomorrow, again I am appreciative of any and all information that might be useful in restoring this writing slope.


 

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GrayIwolf503 I dont know your level of knowledge so I am sorry if I give to much detail.

The most important thing to understand about using steam, is that when the slope was made they would have had one glue which they would have used for everything. So if you are softening the glue that held the writing surface in place you could also be softening the glue that holds the wood together. As the panels are loose I put them on a board and fix pieces of wood around them, so if the joints soften they cant move. You can still buy glue crystals sometimes called Pearl glue which is applied hot.

 

If you have some spring steel that you can shape then go ahead and make a replacement. I have used a hacksaw blade in the past. The key thing to remember is it is hardened and does not like to bend, the original would have bee shaped and then hardened to give it the spring. One of the ways to test hardened steel is if a file will not work on it, The file will skip across the surface. A grinder (dremel type) will work but if it gets hot it will loose its temper (spring) so it is touch and cool.

This picture shows the shape of the spring The hole in the wood is contoured for the shape of the spring.

 

9654283334_7364c5914f_c.jpgIMG_4785 by my0771, on Flickr

 

Spring and holding plate, no nails just glue on the plate I am not sure what is holding the spring some sort of hand made nail. yours look quite new.

 

14311755861_bc993b54c7_c.jpgIMG_7558 by my0771, on Flickr

 

This is how I make replacement escutcheons push the tape into the hole and cut around. Blue tack or similar is good for finding the center of the key hole for the pin.

 

7515892704_2c689e08d8_c.jpgIMG_1505 by my0771, on Flickr

 

This is the finished escutcheon sorry it is a funny angle not sure why it was a while ago. This box was very similar to yours very English in shape

 

8188283365_860c9b9cce_c.jpgIMG_2821_1 by my0771, on Flickr

 

Before 

8057014855_8c1f75053b_c.jpgIMG_2279 by my0771, on Flickr

 

After

8168793921_1c1d306134_c.jpgIMG_2732 by my0771, on Flickr

 

Sorry for such a long post I hope this helps.

 

For more details on my current projects please visit my blog.

 

https://my63leather.wixsite.com/my63

 

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Hey Graywolf503 —

 

I enjoyed reading about your restoration challenges. However, after reading “Good afternoon gentlemen” I had to swallow hard before continuing😄

 

Big Jess

aka Jessica

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Graywolf503

BigJess - very sorry, will watch that in the future!  If I knew how to go back and edit my post I would change that.

 

Currently I'm concentrating on the actual writing surface. The first image shows the underside of the writing surface as well as the surface of the wooden support.  the writing surface appears to be a woven material making me think it's either baize or velvet. It does have a very very fine pile on it. You can see the glue that adheres to the wood surface.

 

 I believe the first writing surfaces were either baize or velvet. Later surfaces involved leather skivers.   I've been reading about this and determine that to skiver something means to shave off or thin.   I believe they used sheepskin is it was naturally thinner than leather from cows. I believe the early to writing slopes may have used the velvet or baize and then later writing slopes used leather skivers.

 

The second image shows a test area where I tried to clean the wooden surface. I simply used to Q-tip and cold water. Left it for probably 30 to 40 seconds and then using a plastic card gentle scraping of the material. It seems to come up quite easily. Currently I'm looking at the replacements and I'm leaning towards a silk velvet if I can find one, if not a baize.   I would like to select a replacement as close to the color of the existing writing surface.  As I've noted before the writing surface does have a imprint around the edges but I'm not sure that I can obtain material that has the imprinting on it or do imprinting after the material is glued on.

 

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Graywolf I think baise is your best bet, other than leather. One of the issues you may come across is glue being absorbed ito the cloth and causing hard areas on the top surface.  Baise is tightly woven and if you are careful will not absorb too much glue, this is why leather is ideal. I use pva glue lightly applied to both surfaces and allowed to almost fully dry it can be reactivated with a little gentle heat from an old iron.

BTW a skiver is the tanned upper layer of a piece of leather which has been split from a hide. To skive is indeed to pare leather to thin pieces before folding or joining.

With regard to your pictures I am going to stick my neck out and say that the woven type material under the velvet is usually only present for an inch or so either side to provide support for the moving joints of the writing surface. Bookbinders use it, they also use the heated tools used to make the paterns around the edges either with or without coloured foil.

I hope this information helps I try not to ramble on too much. :)

 

For more details on my current projects please visit my blog.

 

https://my63leather.wixsite.com/my63

 

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Graywolf503

Sorry I've not posted recently. I've come crossed a second writing slope for $25 and I'm looking at this slope as well. I may open a second thread once I've got more information on the second slope. I'm also dealing with some genealogy questions as well as trying to write and that all is keeping me busy as well. 

 

Thank you for your advice my63.  You always give excellent advice. My problem with the writing surface is I only have a millimeter depth to work with. If I try to place a leather skiver in as a writing surface I'm afraid that most of the leather skiver's I can procure would be too thick. I've seen a YouTube video where a gentleman went around and carved out some would along the edges for the leather to go into so that it would even out with the wood surface. I don't want to do this. I do have a manufacturer of baize that states his baize is anywhere from 0.8 to 1 mm thick.  He also has it in a similar color to the existing writing surface.

 

I started to peel up some of the writing surface. As can be seen from the picture they did place a reinforcement cloth over the joint. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to do some repair work on the wood before I can do more with the removal. The second picture shows that the wood support for the writing surface has a loose piece. If I removed the writing surface, this board would not be attached and would come free. I'm going to need to re-glue this wood before I continue removing the writing surface.  At present I am going to order titebond liquid hide glue and uses to glue the wood pieces together. I'm electing to use the liquid hide glue as I don't want to have to deal with pellets, water amounts, and heating for traditional hide glue.

 

Before I can order the writing surface I need to have exact measurements or be able to trim it down myself. Which brings up the question - how do I ensure that the upper and lower wood pieces are in good alignment and in a correct position prior to gluing the writing surface in place? The pieces will need to be in alignment from left to right and be in a correct position to not bind when you're lifting them up.  Has anyone glue down a writing surface, if so how did you ensure alignment of the wood pieces?

 

Will continue to post as I can.  Thank you for any information you can contribute and for reading.

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Once you have one it is a slippery slope (sorry)I had to put a one in one out rule in place as I have quite a few, not going to get into numbers.

If you are going to use baize then it might be worth using a spray adhesive trying to apply hide glue at 0.2 mm is going to be tricky. 

Skivers are made from goat skin I can buy it at 0.5mm off the shelf in the UK but would still buy it from John Hubbard.

Remember this is hand made writing slope, and is very old. There is a fair chance it is not square.

The first thing to do is strip and then repair the writing surface, I would suggest you add some small dowels into that long joint. I am willing to bet there will be a small tenon that used to join them together.

I prefer to strip everything before I put anything back together you can ensure everything is clean. 

When gluing panels back together I use a flat board usually MDF covered with cling film or similar this stops your panel sticking to the board.

When you have two clean and flat leaves put them in place. Using long pieces of masking tape following the inside edge of the writing area. Using high quality template card (cereal box) make a template for the skiver all four edges.

Using the sharpest blade you have cut around the edge of the panels do not remove any tape. then you can cut around the inside edge of the writing area and remove the inside tape.

This should leave you with pieces of tape that allow you to align the panels in the same place every time, you will also have edges you can line up for placing the skiver. (you will need them).

I dont have pictures as I have never shared this method before but it works.

When you come to glue the skiver in place position the panels and add tape to fix it in place.

Sorry for the long post let me know if I have missed anything

 

For more details on my current projects please visit my blog.

 

https://my63leather.wixsite.com/my63

 

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JayHomeBody
15 hours ago, Graywolf503 said:

I've come crossed a second writing slope for $25 and I'm looking at this slope as well. I may open a second thread once I've got more information on the second slope.

If you open a second thread, could you please post a link in this one to it? 💙

I am the tarot reading, bookworm, whiskey drinking, witchcraft practicing, old fashioned writing, aunt Beasty in my family and I love it. Tarot readings for sale or trade, especially ink as I've lost all of my pen stuff from a bad burglary last year. And I need penpals! Anyone interested, please PM me!

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Graywolf503

JayHomeBody, when I'm able, I will start a second thread on the new writing slope and we'll link to it from here.

 

My63, beautiful work that suede looks really wonderful.  I assume you used a reinforcing strip over the joint underneath the suede. It looks as though the wood has been painted black? Or is that the natural color that the slope was stained?

 

Luckily enough, I discovered today that I do have a bookbinder in my area. I've contacted him about imprinting on the writing surface if I decide to use velvet versus baize.

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I used to have different threads for writing slopes pen cases and boxes now everything I do goes in one thread :).

The wood that is black is ebony which I french polished before I fitted the suede. I have not cleaned the glue off yet I have had more hand issues over the last few weeks.  

There is no support under the suede it is strong enough. Your local bookbinder is a great find they will be a great help if friendly :). 

For more details on my current projects please visit my blog.

 

https://my63leather.wixsite.com/my63

 

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