Readers provide background for mystery item

Page 3 of our Aug. 29 issue featured a photograph of a fan-shaped item that appeared to be a Victorian-era date book. We asked for input from readers, and the response was immediate and enthusiastic.

First, Antique Trader’s editor-at-large Kyle Husfloen weighed in: “I am pretty sure this was a pocket-size memo pad made of celluloid in the late 19th century. Each page indicates a day of the week where appointments could be noted, probably using a soft lead pencil that could easily erased. It’s something either a lady or gentleman could have carried.”

aidememoire.JPGTerry Herrick of Greencastle, Pa., wrote: “This is a date book, of sorts. This was worn on a woman’s work chatelaine (as opposed to a dress-up chatelaine used at social events). She had this with all of her household management tools, like a pencil, scissors, etc. She wrote her schedule for the week on it with a pencil.

“I believe this is probably ivory, since pencil marks could be erased from it to start a new list at the beginning of the next week. This kept her household running on schedule, which was a wife’s job in the 1800s. The hole at the top was for the chatelaine hook to pass through. These are eagerly sought after by people who dress in period-appropriate clothing, such as civilian Civil War re-enactors. I hope this helps.”

Anne Woodhouse, Shoenberg Curator for the Missouri Historical Society, had a practical view: “It appears to be an early planner. You wrote on the (ivory?) leaves and then erased them to use again. What a great recycling item. Bring it back!”

Cynthia Fendel, author of Novelty Hand Fans, Fashionable Functional Fun Accessories of the Past, wrote: “The date book in the shape of a fan is called an ‘aide memoire,’ a memory aid. Usually made of ivory decorated with unmarked silver, these small French Victorian fans were usually made as dance cards. They are made with a sleeve or place for a pencil or stylus to make notes on the thin ivory pages. They are often sought after by fan collectors since they appear as small fans, as well as those who collect ivory, silver and Victorian items.

Finally, Mary Kwas of Fayetteville, Ark, had this historical perspective: “Thomas Jefferson used a very similar-looking ‘ivory pocket notebook’ to record observations and purchases. He could then erase his entries after transferring his notes to a permanent record book. Jefferson’s notebook is pictured in Thomas Jefferson on Wine, by Jon Hailman, The University Press of Mississippi, 2006.

Thanks to all for sharing your knowledge.