Take Note

An exploration of note-taking in Harvard University Collections
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Interactive Exhibition

29. Writing tables with a kalender for xxiiii yeres

A reusable notebook


London, England, 1581

These Writing tables with a kalender for xxiiii yeres published in London in 1581 seem at first like a printed calendar, unusual only for its oblong format. But in the middle of the printed work there are ten special pages, thicker and stiffer than ordinary pages, and left blank. These are the "writing tables" designed for note-taking with the stylus which came tucked into the leather binding. The tablets were meant for temporary notes and regular re-use, since the stylus markings could be erased with a little moisture, as the entry in the calendar for December explains. These pages, treated with jesso and shellac, offered a firm surface for writing which could be useful for note-taking "on the go."

We cannot recapture the successive layers of notes that were taken on tablets like these, and see in these tablets only the last set of notes left in them from a later century--some distances, some sums, and some scribbles, ostensibly in graphite pencil. On the flyleaf a substraction of 1581 from 1813 (=232) suggests that someone was calculating the age of the book in 1813; perhaps the remaining notes date from around then.

We know of surviving tablets like these produced in England between 1577 and 1628. Similar tablets may have been produced elsewhere in Europe and at other periods, but items like these survive poorly. The calendar that accompanied the note pages was designed to last 23 years, but then would become outdated and useless. This was also a functional object that might be carried day after day in a pocket or purse and would thus wear out and be discarded. When tablets do survive, they might be cataloged as a printed book without mention of the pages for writing.

For more the study that brought this genre to scholarly attention, see Peter Stallybrass, Roger Chartier, J. Franklin Mowery, and Heather Wolfe. “Hamlet’s Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England,” Shakespeare Quarterly 55:4 (Winter 2004): 379-419.

. STC 26049.8.
HOLLIS Catalog: 007848287
media, tablet, calendar, blank books



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