Writing on glass
November 10, 2016 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Librarians, curators, history and literature nerds - can you help? My JSTOR and googlefu is failing me. I'm trying to find out whether anyone has researched the phenomenon of writing inscriptions on glass with a diamond which was trendy in the late 18th/early 19th century.

I've got plenty of material on the poet Robert Burns and his habit of writing on windows, and have the article about it from the Burns Chronicle, and I know there are earlier examples - eg. in the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth is noted as having written a poem on a window and I've found a 19th century article on the phenomenon called 'Poetry on Panes', but surely someone else has written about this habit which seemed to peak with travelers/literary graffitists visiting inns in the late 18th/ early 19th century? Has anyone come across any scholarly writing about this?
posted by Flitcraft to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how scholarly it is, but Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife did this at The Old Manse. Many brides in the Hill/Carter family added their names at Shirley Plantation.

The Merry Thought, or the Glass-Window and Bog-House Miscellany was published in the 1730s--a collection of graffiti from English outhouses, walls, tavern windows and glasses.
You can find it online at Project Gutenberg.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:15 PM on November 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would be dropping a note to the National Early American Glass Club. I'm sure there is someone there who has been dying to be asked this question. Specifically from 1982 someone there was looking for graffiti on old window panes, (No. 8, Apr. 1982). That guy is THIS guy and his papers are at the Smithsonian. His wife who is listed as the contact, passed away earlier this year. He was mostly a painter, so maybe a dead end but maybe not.
posted by jessamyn at 1:55 PM on November 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

OH WAIT SORRY. I tagged out before I found this window glass tagged by John Wilkes Booth basically predicting the death of President Lincoln.
posted by jessamyn at 1:58 PM on November 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is the book Ideefixe mentioned -- the first of a three-volume collection of window etchings originally published in 1731, with a 1982 introduction by George R. Guffey.
posted by Francolin at 2:07 PM on November 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Juliet Fleming writes about window writing in Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England (2001). Christina Lupton also discusses it in Knowing Books: The Consciousness of Mediation in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2011):
'Diamond-scribbling' seems to have taken off in new ways with expanding road travel, and was especially popular at the inns along the major road between London and Edinburgh. By the 1750s, complaints against graffiti on windows suggest how common the practice had become. 'Every man who is in possession of a diamond,' writes David Dalrymple in The World in 1755, 'arrogates to himself this privilege of instructing others: hence it is that the panes of windows in all places of public resort, are so amply furnished with miscellaneous observations by various authors.'
The most famous example is the Birthplace Window now in the museum of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. 'Early visitors to the Birthplace were encouraged to leave their name on the window and there are stories that Mary Hornby, the last resident of the property until 1820, charged money for this privilege. Many famous names appear etched on the glass including Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Thomas Carlyle and Walter Scott.'
posted by verstegan at 2:16 PM on November 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Ah that's exactly what I wanted! Thank you. Love the Wilkes Booth window and the Bog-House Miscellany too. Thank you all so much.
posted by Flitcraft at 2:44 PM on November 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love this question. The writing-on-a-window-with-a-diamond made a huge impression on me during our field trip to Concord and The Old Manse in 8th grade. Of course, I remembered it as Ralph Waldo Emerson's wife.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:54 PM on November 10, 2016

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