Wax Tablet and Stylus

Waxed tablets have been used from antiquity through the middle ages. A small, thin frame was filled with wax, which could be written on with a stylus.

Extant examples show us tablets were often used in multiples. Tablets could be fixed one to another by means of strips, strings, pieces of leather or a band of parchment The two outer leaves had wax only on the inside, while the interior leaves were double sided. Sometimes, three, four, five or six tablets were inserted between the cover tablets, forming a kind of "book" consisting of several pages. The ‘book’ was carried in and protected by a leather cover.

While these tablets were probably used prolifically in the middle ages, few survive. One of the oldest examples comes from Pompeii c. 57AD, and is part of the collection of the Museo Nazionale in Naples. It is a booklet of 3 leaves, and -astonishingly- contains script in Old Roman cursive.

The Royal Library of Belgium displays a set of six carved ivory tablets in a leather holder (KBR, ms. IV 1278 ) and another carved ivory tablet (KBR, ms. IV 1277) from France. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has quite a collection of waxed tablets and tablet books, ranging from simple wooden Coptic examples (14.2.4a-d) to elaborately carved ivory tablets of the medieval period (38.108, 2003.131.3a, b, et al).

Miniatures in manuscripts occasionally show scribes writing on what appear to be waxed tablets. St John the Evangelist is shown writing in a miniature in the 9th century Evangulary of Lothaire (Biblioth?®que nationale de France). He is probably writing in a waxed tablet, as he does not have the knife and ink pot that go with a pen and parchment.

In the early 14th century Manesse Liederhandschrift (Codex Manessa), Meister Gottfried von Strassburg’s scribe is apparently writing down poetry from an oral performance, using a waxed tablet diptych and stylus.

A few very elaborate examples of tablet books have been preserved thru the ages. Most of these are carved with beautiful images in relief, with either secular, courtly scenes or religious motifs on the outer leaves, and most of the extant examples are made of ivory.

Waxed tablets are tangible evidence of the spread and importance of lay literacy, and richly carved ivory tablets speak to the increasing social significance of writing. Notes, preliminary drafts, dictation and all manner of jottings may have passed through this medium before being committed to the more expensive and durable medium of parchment.

Our tablet is a simple ‘book’ of 2 undecorated blond wood leaves laced together with leather cord. The wax has been coloured black with soot. Included is a bone stylus. To use the tablet, gently write on the wax with the sharp end of the stylus, making an impression in the wax. Use the flat end of the stylus to ‘erase’ the writing.

Size- Tablet book is 16.5cm x 9.5cm x 2.2cm.

Stylus is 18.4cm x 3.2cm at the wide end.

Due to the handcrafted nature of this product all dimensions are approximate and will vary from piece to piece.

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