Nov 7, 2007

Writing Tablet (Aide-Mémoire)

Writing Tablet (Aide-Mémoire)

c. 1760–70

Gold, agate, gold-mounted pencils, ivory writing tablets, mirror, manicure set

Overall: 9.5 x 1.3 x 5.7 cm (3 3/4 x 1/2 x 2 1/4 in.)

Gift of Howard F. Stirn 2009.59

Did you know?

During the 1700s, many wealthy women wrote personal notes on little thin sheets of polished ivory like this one and later wiped the tablet clean with a damp cloth.


Luxurious personal objects were an essential part of a privileged wardrobe during the 1700s and early 1800s, emphasizing their owner’s refinement and wealth. Jewelry, miniatures, and writing tablets were often given as intimate gifts, intended to be seen and admired. Their glittering surfaces, however, disguised a system based on the labor and suffering of enslaved people and the decimation of elephant populations across Africa. Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, the ivory and slave trades were closely intertwined, as indigenous people and elephant tusks were transported and sold along the same routes. Slavery was not abolished in much of the British Empire until 1833. Britain and other European nations continued to pursue colonialism with a sense of superiority that found its way into all aspects of life, including decorative objects glorifying their conquests.

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