Letter case

Text by Alex Flinn, former Site Manager at Jane Austen's House

During the Regency era, writing and reading letters was an essential part of social life. Letters served a range of social and personal needs, the written message from one person to another brought friends and relatives closer together, enriching relationships by sharing news, information and opinion.

Letter writing was considered to be an important social obligation and a person would be very careful to keep track of the letters that they received and to whom they had to reply. Letter writing was also considered to be an art form and a person may be judged on the quality of their written letter and the eloquence of their turn of phrase.

Writing a letter was quite an undertaking compared to the rapid sending of a text message or email today. Often the paper had to be prepared before it could be written on, quills trimmed, ink prepared and time set aside to craft the right words; therefore letters and writing materials were seen to be very precious and needed to be cared for and protected. Letters were often locked away in secure boxes and writing cases were commonly used to keep paper, blotters and quills safe.

The letter case carved by Jane Austen’s brother, Francis is a beautiful object and it is thought that he carved the case for Jane shortly before her death. The front panel is relief carved with ornate strap work and foliate motifs that surround the Austen Family Arms and the initials “JA”. The rear panel is carved with lilies set within an ornate border. The boards are mounted on to card bound with leather which has been decoratively gilded. The case interior incorporates a pocket big enough to keep folded papers or finished letters. Great care was taken whilst making the case and the ornateness of the object may describe quite eloquently how Francis felt about his sister.