The Dark Arts of Letter Locking

Wax sealed letter lying on table
If you're into fountain pens, the chances of you also being into wax seals is pretty high.

Not only are wax seals decorative, but they have a security element too: No nosy house-keeper could peek in to your written missives without breaking your wax seal.

But a paltry little red wax seal on the back of an envelope is not touching the sides of what security elements can be put in place with wax and paper.  Friends, I have stumbled into another world; the world of letter locking and if you have not heard of it, you are going to LOVE IT SICK. Read on ....

Picture the scene: Mary Queen of Scots knows that she is in trouble and sends one final urgent and pleading letter to her brother in law - the King of France.  No wee piddly bit of sealing wax is going to be secure enough for this missive .... she secures it with a Butterfly Lock, demonstrated here for your delight and delectation.




BTW - these videos are a pure delight if you are also ASMR inclined .....

National Gallery: Thomas de keyser - Constantijn Huygens and his clerk
With a dagger-trapped letter


Dagger Trap letters did not contain real daggers, but you would, without a doubt, found yourself at the pointy end of some cold steel if you interfered with the intel on important troop manoeuvres and accidentally sprang the cunning trap of paper and wax therein ... 



Simeon Fox, the 'intelligencer' who used this technique to secure his letters back to Blighty was actually a physician.  Indeed, his Wiki page only refers to his doctorly deeds and makes no reference to any intelligence that he sent back to Sir Robert Cecil.  Which he most definitely did.  The naughty man.

This makes cunning use of slits, paper daggers, wax and threads.  And probably takes about as long to carry out as write the letter in the first place.  But the end result is a very innocent looking missive ... who would suspect such a thing?! 

Subscribe to their fascinating youtube channel  and read more about the MIT team behind all the research here, in Atlas Obscura.  More links to articles can be found at the MIT Libraries page.

Sending (and receiving!) Christmas cards this year is going to be veeerrrrry interesting! 

Nick Stewart | Ink

Alrighty, I confess to enjoying a bit of a dabble at anything arty.  Not saying that I rate my own work, but it gives me pleasure to sit for a couple of hours doodling at leaves and acorns and whatnot while all around me all is chaos.

Well, maybe not chaos, but certainly a lot of housework goes on around me these days, now that hubby is not working.  It used to make me very defensive; as though the defiant banging of the hoover against my chair legs was a reminder of my failings in the house-wifely department.

Manuscript | Lettering Pencil Set

I'm a fan of pencils, so when the option to review the Manuscript Lettering Pencil set arose, my little paw was in the air.

So, this is what it looks like: a plastic pack with a lead-holder, a sharpener and five colours of 'core' to slot into the holder. 



Way to go me, I cut the top off the actual lead holder in the photo *sigh*

Inside the kit you get an instruction sheet on how to use the sharpener (like emery board) and two different kinds of lead core - for each colour, a round one like you'd find in any pencil and two squared off ones.  Except for the graphite where you get an extra round core actually in the little lead holder when delivered.

The lead holder with rounded core in graphite inserted
To change the leads out is very easy, just press that metal button on the end and the front of the pencil opens up like the front of a space ship!

Spaceship opening - or just a vivid imagination? 
And you slide out the old lead and slot in the new one.

Turquoise.  Purty.

I have had a rotten cold for a week *coughs pathetically, looking for sympathy* and so took myself out to the shed with a coffee and a couple of bits of paper and set the pencils to work.

I used two different types of paper - one a very smooth piece and the other, the rough side of a piece of water colour paper.

Oh reader, please believe me when I say that I wanted to love this very much!


The graphite worked quite well; it's soft enough to get light and dark as well as thin and thick from the round core.  However, when I switched to the red square core, I had to lean quite heavily to get the marks made on the paper and within a moment or two I snapped the lead (probably my fault for having too much lead exposed, I think).  Note:  even my little snapped off piece of lead slotted into the lead-holder, so no wastage, even if you snap!


The turquoise (on the far left of the terrible photo above) was too pale to be seen properly and the pale green and the gold were actually very similar.  I tried laying down the gold and putting the green on top, which resulted in a sort of bluey green, but the colour mixing wasn't too successful for me.  Besides, who's going to be colour mixing when doing calligraphy? 

I like calligraphy because of the clean lines and flourishes that can be achieved with a lightness of touch.  Here the pencil marks are attractive, but not very polished looking.  In the hands of a pro calligrapher, I think you could get a nice and unusual effect.

Another point to make is that one of the advantages of working with pencil is that you can rub out your mistakes, which you can't do with a pen (well, you can.  Some of them.  I digress).  I tried rubbing out some of the red lettering and it left a distinct trace.

The little sharpener works a treat, but sharpen over a bin as suddenly getting graphite fingers from coaxing shavings into the bin as an afterthought makes for messy calligraphy.

So, who would enjoy this?

I think that, as with most writing tools, a good calligrapher will be able to get a good turn out of this product to get an unusual shaded effect.  I also think that children would enjoy using it too because it's FUN.

The colours were very pale when on the paper, but that might just be down to my ineptitude with the tool.  And I guess that in making a lead hard, to slot into the handset, the amount of pigment must be offset by whatever makes the lead hard? 

I very much look forward to seeing it in the hands of an expert pen-wielder! 







Blackwing Pearl Pencil | A Review | A Convert!


OK - let's get the elephant in the corner out of the way first - I know this is a pencil and not a fountain pen, but I do love pencils and after buying a clutch from Nero's Notes, my friend Scribble sent me a beautiful Palomino Blackwing Pearl.

Pure Pens | Castell Coch

Any business who supports charity deserves a shout out and Pure Pens has stepped up to the plate with their Castell Coch ink.

It's pink!

And 10% of proceeds will go to Breast Cancer Care. 

This, coupled with Diamine's Hope Pink means that I've got two ink companies that are supporting cancer charities - are there any more?


Now, all I need to do is schmooze a sample from somewhere ... :D

How to open a book

Opening books is something that we have been doing since we were children and seems about as obvious as finding your nose.

However, lots of books, especially brick-thick paperbacks (I'm looking at you, J R R Tolkien) suffer cruelly at the hands of their careless readers.

You've seen victims of this bibliocrime - spines carelessly snapped and pages left clinging desperately to the bindings, or SELLOTAPED in place *crosses self*.  Others, whose backs are stronger, have their pages curled and twisted so that by the time you read the last pages in your massive book, it's like trying to read a beach ball.

Bumper Post | Pens! Inks!

I've been working like a dog writing Press Releases and scribbling hundreds of notes and the downside of all that is that sometimes the last thing you want to look at when you are chillaxing with a lager shandy in the Lady Cave is another pen.

BUT - today I took my writing ennui and gave it a good slap and threw myself into looking at a couple of new pens, new inks and a glorious pen roll.

Let's start with the pen roll - it was made for me by my newest fountain pen friend, Emmy Gregory.  Who is as funny as she is talented.  She asked me whether I like cactus or roses and I went for cactus - because who doesn't like cactus?

I'd very much like one of these please if anyone has got some spare cash.

Cartier Cactus Ring.  I wants it BAD.
Then this lovely confection of greyhounds, cactii and roses arrived in the post and I luff it sick.

Nero (the black, overly hot-dog pictured) approves

Greyhounds and Cacti on the outside


Greyhounds and roses on the inside.
Where does she find this material because I WOULD WEAR THIS EVERY DAY IF IT WAS CLOTHING.

I digress - it's a fantastic little pen-holder and I shall treasure it for always.

So I bought myself a Deacon's Doodle with a Cursive Nib from Mr Pens.  Today was Try Out Day.

I also had a Jinhao 159 kicking around that I hadn't tried, so it got roped into today's mega bumper post too.

The inks tried out were:

Krishna Black Rose
Krishna Jungle Volcano
Organics Walden Pond (sample from Emmy - thank you!)


What a lovely grown up colour of ink.  The sort of thing a love-sick vampire might use to write his poetry with.


Quietly pleased with the cursive nib from Mr Pens too - I will need to spend more time with it when I am more interested in making the pen work beautifully than I am in watching the colour unfold beneath my nib!

Next up is Krishna Inks Jungle Inferno.  I confess that as I started writing I thought 'very red brown.  I don't like it.'  Then as it started to dry, wowzers! Did I change my tune, look at this!






God in heaven - it's such a lot of fun! Not only does it change colour, but the green shading has the loveliest SHEEN to it!

The Jinhao 159 was wheeled out for this one as a dipping pen and it's perfect for this ink - good-sized nib and nice and wet writer.  Perfect combination!

Sheen!! Look at the sheen!

I'll level with you, I was looking at the Walden Pond and thinking that it was going to be such an anticlimax after the Jungle Volcano .....

Extra large photo to show off the sheen.

I used the Jinhao again and had a quick dip into the sample phial.  It laid down as a beautiful blue green. So far so pretty.  But then, around the edges of the letters I started to see a tiny pink red outline.  What alchemy is THIS?!

I continued to scribble, but the genie had left the bottle.  Or rather, the genie was sitting inside the phial begging me to shake it properly.  Which I did.  And LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCE.  You can definitely see the pink sheen on this ink now! 

What a day! I am no longer ennuied! I am revitalised and firing on all cylinders to be using these pens and inks.

Have you tried any of these? What do you think of them?!