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Letter Box

Marker: American
Material: tooled leather over white pine with decorative brass
Year: Ca. 1855
Provenance: Adelicia Acklen, to her daughter Pauline Acklen Lockett, to her niece Pauline Acklen Landis, to her son Robert Landis, to his daughter Elsie Landis Quigley, gifted to Belmont Mansion Association in 2013.
2013.05.01 Gift of Elsie Quigley

Adelicia’s letterbox is of American origin dating from the mid-1850’s. A tooled leather surface has been applied to a white pine base, accented with decorative brass strap work in the English Renaissance style. A brass shield monogramed with the letters “AA” is located in the center of the lid. This unusual shaped shield is of German origin dating from the time of the renaissance. The box opens to reveal a slanted writing surface, a compartment for paper, ink pens, envelopes, and two holes for ink wells.

Such letterboxes were designed to be stationery on a desk or tabletop. They were not intended for travel. Ladies often preferred such letterboxes, since writing often proved be a messy endeavor. This particular box shows moderate wear. Adelicia, who was prolific in her communications to friends and family would have utilized her letterbox frequently. She also encouraged this activity in her children—in a surviving letter, son William writes about his “ink stained fingers.”

Acklen relatives, both Joseph’s and Adelicia’s, were spread across an expanding nation. Copious letter writing in the 19th century was the primary way of maintaining family ties. In 1808 Adelicia’s father relocated from Massachusetts to Tennessee. Adelicia sustained close ties with her New England relatives throughout her life. Southerners of wealth frequently traveled to New Orleans for the winter season. Summer found these same people headed north to both Saratoga for the races, and Newport for the waters. Social connections made in these locales were often maintained through correspondence, making the frequent use of such a letterbox necessary.

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