A Cherry Red Signature

Ever since I was younger, music has been one of things that I have enjoyed the most and is something that I’ve tried to make a big part of my life. My first introduction to music most likely occurred from a very young age with music played by my parents, however the first time it actually was of great interest to me occurred in 4th grade when it was time to choose an instrument to play in the elementary school band. While I was really interested in learning the alto saxophone or the trumpet, I was assigned the clarinet, which of course led to the obligatory jokes referencing Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants. Being assigned the clarinet kickstarted my interest in learning instruments, and I went on to learn the alto saxophone, viola, piano, guitar, drums, and the ukulele. While I enjoy all of these instruments, one of my favorites is the cherry red Fender Telecaster (Image 1) that I received from my cousin after her father died. Even though my uncle was a psychiatrist, he managed to collect many electric guitars, amps, and records with the purpose of learning how to use them once he retired, which he unfortunately was never able to do before his death. His collection consisted of many different types of guitars, from electric to steel and from well known guitar brands like Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, and other, as well as the associated amps.

While the cherry red Fender Telecaster was given to me by my cousin after she finished cataloging my late Uncle’s guitar collection, my uncle most likely purchased the guitar from a music/guitar store like Guitar Center or directly from Fender itself. When the guitar was purchased by him is most likely information that I will, unfortunately, never be able to find out since my uncle isn’t around to tell me, what I do know is that the guitar was made in Mexico (Image 2), which can allow me to learn more about its manufacturing process.

Image 1: My cherry red Fender Telecaster

One of the first steps to learning more about my Telecaster involves determining when it was manufactured, which should be a little easier since I already know the “where.” According to reverb.com, most Fenders can be dated by looking at the neck and body of the guitar. For most of Fender’s production history, the date that the guitar was manufactured is provided. However, finding this date requires the guitar to actually be physically taken apart, which is something that I am not comfortable doing, nor is it something that I currently have the time to do. In the future maybe I will “take the leap” regarding finding out this information, but right now doing so seems unnecessary. Neck and body dates are also somewhat unreliable when trying to determine when a guitar was made. The other, and much simpler and more appealing, option is to use the serial number on the guitar. My guitar’s serial number is located at the top of my guitar’s neck by where the tuning pegs are located, and it reads “MSN607475” (Image 2). 

On the same website where I learned where to locate the manufacturing date of a Fender guitar, I also found a series of different serial numbers and the dates associated with them. However, when I went through these my serial number was not found. I then decided to make up for this by making a quick google search of the first couple of letters of the serial number, “MSN”, which led me to a website that only provided the serial numbers of Fender guitars made in Mexico. This discovery led me to learn that my Fender Telecaster was likely a part of one of Fender’s signature series, which I then learned was indicated by the “S” in the serial number, where guitars were part of different collections “curated” by different well known guitarists, one of which being Jimmy Vaughn. I also learned that the “MSN6” in the serial number meant that my guitar was made between 1996 and 1997. 

Image 2: Serial Number and Made in Mexico label

Upon closer inspection of my guitar I noticed a signature on the top of its neck that I hadn’t noticed previously (Image 3), and my new knowledge that my guitar was part of a Fender Signature Series made me believe that this signature likely belonged to the guitarist that my guitar was associated with in its series. To determine who this signature belonged to, I decided to make another google search, but this time I decided to focus on the Fender Signature Series itself and decided to look up Fender’s Signature Series from 1996. One of the results from this search was a guitar listing on reverb.com for a guitar that looked exactly like mine from 1996 that belonged to the 1996 Fender James Burton Signature Collection. Immediately I was led to believe that I had discovered which signature collection my Fender Telecaster was a part of. To confirm that this theory was actually true, I decided to look at the look-a-like guitar’s serial number, and was glad to see that the first few characters of the serial number were the same as my guitar, “MSN6.” I also decided to take another look at the signature on my guitar’s neck, and the signature was a match to James Burton. 

Despite the fact that all of my questions regarding my guitar’s origins had been answered, I knew that it had been made in Mexico and was most likely manufactured in 1996, I decided to look into James Burton and find out more about him. So, I made another google search. This Google search was much easier than the other ones that I had made, and my questions were immediately answered rather than me having to search through multiple different webpages to find the information that I was looking for. This search allowed me to learn that James Burton was a guitarist who has been a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2001. However, my search didn’t just end there, I also learned that James Burton was Elvis Presley’s guitarist until 1977, a member in Ricky Nelson’s band, and that he has also been featured in a number of different recordings from well known artists, like Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash.

While my guitar definitely did not belong James Burton himself, it was a part of the Fender Signature Series that he had been associated to. Information located on the guitar itself, like the “Made In Mexico” and serial number written on the back of its neck, allowed me to make further searches to eventually learn the year that the guitar was made in. 

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757066866/elvis-guitarist-james-burton-i-went-professional-when-i-was-14

https://reverb.com/item/8231135-fender-telecaster-james-burton-signature-model-1996-candy-apple

Experience with a Quiet De Luxe Typewriter

It’s strange to think that for over one-hundred years—from the late 1860s to the 1970s—typewriters were the fastest, most efficient way to write. The invention of the QWERTY keyboard and conversion of printing press technologies into a single machine eliminated the need for legible handwriting and allowed for an entire letter to be written with one push. Yet, the sudden decline in usage after the invention of computer typing makes the typewriter seem like an ancient technology to us today. I’ve always found this rapid decline in the technology’s use interesting, after all it is not like handwriting has gone out of style. There are a few obvious reasons for why computers so easily eclipsed typewriters, but I wanted to try one for myself to get a real feel for the differences. 

To this end I tested out the Quiet De Luxe typewriter in the Honors Center. The very first thing I noticed about it was its case. The actual machine is ensconced in a hard plastic case with trimmed metal edges. A rather unintuitive latch holds the case closed for transportation. Once unlatched, the case fall opens with a satisfying weight. Contained within the sturdy frame are four rows and thirteen columns of splayed out keys connected to a semicircle of metal tines. A vast collection of carved symbols sit on the end of each rod, each one ready to be inked after long years of disuse. The cool mint color of the body gives the apparatus a gentle charm, the perfect color to envelope one’s vision while writing a heartfelt letter or a lovesick poem. 

As I moved closer to touch the keyboard, I was struck the nostalgic smell of musty old books. My fingers stretched out to cover the plastic of the keys and found them to be slightly cool to the touch. I pressed down. The corresponding metal limb rose up just above it’s peers, nowhere near high enough to hit the black cylinder at the back of device. I pushed harder, forcing the tine up and into place. To quick, I went to press another key and the two limbs collided as they tried to force their way past one another. I let go of both and they sunk back into place. I tried typing again as if I were using it for real. I pretend to write out something like “this is harder than I thought.” The writing was awkward, clunky, slow. The completeness of a press needed to successfully input on the typewriter was so alien to hands use to touch typing on a computer keyboard. Certainly, today’s keyboards were a marked improvement on this design.

I sat back and jotted down my notes. Midway through critiquing the physical commitment that it took to get a single letter on the page, I realized that perhaps the difficulty was a feature not a bug. Probably the single biggest difference between typing on a computer and typing on a typewriter is that on a computer one can easily edit their work with zero consequence and therefore mispressed keys or hastily spelled words present no significant problem. A typewriter by contrast puts real ink on real paper and the errors must be overwritten in post. The deliberateness of pressing each key matches the deliberateness one needs to have when typing something that cannot easily be edited. The space bar especially has a delightful weighty pop to it. The wait of the key matches the weight of finishing a word that you hope is and will remain the correct one. 

Gripped to the ceiling of the case by a thin metal clamp is an advertisement for the Quiet De Luxe. The ad features an archetypical 50s housewife using the machine with the words “your new ROYAL portable” written next to them. This particular seems to be one of the many amenities that single income family households could afford after the war. The ad recalls memories of learning about the demotion of typewriting as an occupation once women were allowed into the profession. Once women were let into—or forced into—the workforce, most recording and secretary jobs were given to them and such occupations receive a sharp decrease in pay and prestige. 

After attempting to use this older technology, I am extremely grateful for what we have today. As someone who needs to see a sentence written out on paper to determine its quality and edits constantly, I would waste trees worth of paper for each page trying to come up with a way to express my thoughts. At the same time, being in front of a typewriter is several leagues less distracting than being in front of a screen that can display the bottomless multitudes of the internet with a single click. As someone who is easily in these vast digital caverns, I might try to actually write something on a typewriter one of these day. Maybe I’d even finish that book…

A letter to a friend

For the analog experiment, I decided to write a letter to a friend. When I communicate with people who I don’t see all the time, I usually call or text them. However, one of my good friends, Anthony, I don’t regularly communicate with other than through Snapchats and a text now and then. We never have long conversations on the phone, although we used to. And we see each other maybe a few times a year. Yet, when we do finally see each other after long periods of time, it’s like we pick up right where we left off. It doesn’t feel as though however many months has passed since we last saw each other. We’ve known each other since we were both six years old through summer camp, went to middle school together, and then remained close friends through high school and I still consider him one of my closest friends. He is a senior at Princeton University in New Jersey and we both lead busy lives making it harder to talk regularly.

           Once I decided to write the letter, I almost immediately thought of Anthony because we hadn’t talked in so long. We’ve communicated but we hadn’t really talked. Although I rarely write letters, despite the fact that I think sending and receiving them is such a wholesome and intimate feeling, I always have everything needed to mail one out. Since my summer sleepaway camp days of 2011-2013, I’ve kept all the stationary, (the paper and envelope sets) that my grandma gave to me to write letters to her and my parents. The reason it’s lasted so long is because apart from my digital technology-less summer camp experience, I can only think of maybe one or two occasions in which I actually sent letters to people. This doesn’t include postcards, which I’ve sent a few of during my travels.

            I also always have stamps and extra envelopes on hand in my desk. I think of them as one of those things that is necessary to have, like matches or band-aids, because I never know when I might need it. The particular collection I currently have I got from the post office a year or so ago, because I needed new stamps. The post office has seasonal or specialty Forever stamp sheets, and the ones I have are inspired by the artwork of the sculptor, Ruth Asawa. I saw the stamps and had to have them because of how unique and mesmerizing they were.

The sheet of stamps inspired by the sculptures of Ruth Asawa, along with the stationary I used for the letter

The letter that I ended up writing wasn’t particularly long or intense. It filled up the stationary card and once I finished, it felt complete. After rereading the letter, I felt that the content of what I was saying to Anthony would’ve taken on a different context if I had said it in a text message. It wasn’t a particularly sentimental letter, but I think the fact that it was handwritten adds another dimension of thought and effort. Even the small aspects, like taking the time to write out his name and address on the envelope and writing my return address, deciding which stamp to use, and walking to the USPS mailbox, are all extra steps that add to the experience. Also, because snail mail is so much less commonplace nowadays, receiving a letter from someone is more special than receiving a text message. I can send a text to someone I just met and it won’t really hold much weight. But I rarely write letters so if I do write to someone, that means they are someone I really care about.

            My letter was light-hearted and simple, and that was my intention. I just wanted to say hello, give him a quick rundown on my life, tell him that I’m thinking of him, and tell him that I’m interested to hear about his life and how he’s doing. I told him that I expected a letter back from him, only half-jokingly, and I’m sure he will send me one. Hopefully this begins a new tradition between us.

            This exercise was honestly really pleasant and enjoyable. Writing a letter to my friend made me feel more connected to him in my heart. There was also something so aesthetically pleasing about placing the stamp in the corner, sealing it up and placing it in the mailbox. It filled me with a sense of completion. It’s also a simple task to complete. It’s not as simple as sending a text or calling someone on the phone, but it wasn’t that much more time-consuming in comparison. All of the additional aspects of sending a letter were the aspects of the task that made it enjoyable to me. I plan to write more letters to people I love and care about, because it’s a simple and thoughtful way to let people know how much you care.

Aluminum Production: from bauxite mining to chemical processing

I have always been interested in metalworking and crafting, and one of the more prominent experiences I have had with this line of work was when I created an aluminum ingot in high school. The process in which this ingot was made involved the use of a homemade, charcoal-powered furnace. The process of constructing the furnace consisted of filling a bucket with a mixture of plaster, sand, and silica powder; these are all highly heat resistant materials and can withstand high temperatures. An indentation was made with a smaller vessel and left until the filling hardened somewhat. Afterward, a hole was drilled in the side, and once it was fully hardened, a metal tube with an air outtake was placed through the hole. Our crucible was essentially just a fire extinguisher cut in half; just a sturdy steel cup to hold the metal. We put charcoal at the bottom and used the air outtake to heat up the hot coals and bring the crucible to temperature and we put cans in until they melted. Once the metal was all liquid, we poured it into an ingot mold to cool. This was a simple process that some Highschool kids were able to complete, and It made me think of the larger process that goes into creating aluminum ingots on an industrial scale, and all of the uses it has.

My ingot was made of aluminum beer and soda cans that I found in the forest behind my home. When people think of aluminum, this is probably one of the first things that come to mind, and they are probably seen as nothing more than a commonplace object. Soda cans, “tin” foil, kitchen utensils, smartphone bodies, laptop frames, are all common uses for aluminum. 

The next question we can ask is, why aluminum? It really comes down to a matter of both chemistry and economics. Aluminum is famous for being extraordinarily lightweight, while also possessing a high tensile strength; “Aluminum has a tensile strength of 276 MPa and a density of 2.81g cm3.” while “Stainless steel has a tensile strength of 505 MPa and a density of 8 g cm-3” (Aluminum vs Stainless Steel). Going back to the example of a simple soda can, we can see that the structural ingenuity of these cans is quite a marvel. A room temperature soda can typically hold a pressure of around 50-60 psi and is rated for pressures of up to 90 psi, a pressure that is almost 6 times that of standard conditions. This is all possible despite the fact that an aluminum can is usually only a millimeter in thickness. A scuba tank shows us a similar example, these tanks are usually only around 15 millimeters in thickness but hold almost 3,000 psi of pressure. 

Aluminum’s lightweight nature has led it to be the favored material in airplanes, trains, and even space crafts for many decades. 

“Aluminum is also known as the ‘winged metal’ because it is ideal for aircraft; again, due to being light, strong and flexible. In fact, aluminum was used in the frames of Zeppelin airships before airplanes had even been invented. Today, modern aircraft use aluminum alloys throughout, from the fuselage to the cockpit instruments. Even spacecraft, such as space shuttles, contain 50% to 90% of aluminum alloys in their parts.” (Metal supermarkets)

This being said, there is one large exception to this trend, automobiles. Automobiles have traditionally used steel in their construction, and still do to this day. However, “experts predict that the average aluminum content in a car will increase by 60% by 2025” (Metal supermarkets), due to its cheapness and structural benefits. 

All of the previously mentioned examples show the physical and tensile properties of aluminum on a large scale. However, if we look at some of aluminum’s lesser-known uses, we can see that the chemical properties of this metal play a big role in its widespread use. Many metals are known to be “ductile”, that is to say, that they have the ability to be molded and shaped without being subject to brittle deformation. This is typically important when concerning the production of cables and wires. Most metals are highly conductive, and aluminum is no exception. While the ideal conductors used in electronics typically tend to be copper, silver, and gold, aluminum holds its own with its specific niche, cheapness. At the time of writing, the market price of gold is 1,791 dollars per ounce, silver is 23.27 dollars per ounce, copper is 27 cents per ounce, while aluminum is only 8 cents per ounce (Daily Metal Spot Prices). Silver is technically the best conductor of electricity, however, it is extremely prone to oxidation and tarnishes, making it unsuitable for typical electronics. Gold is highly resilient but is very expensive to use in large quantities. Copper is the prime choice for most electronics, but it too is susceptible to oxidation. Aluminum, while a worse conductor than copper, outshines it in the context of the conductivity to weight ratio. It is also very resistant to typical means of corrosion, this is due to the fact that aluminum forms a thin layer of oxide on its surface that keeps the corrosion from penetrating any deeper than the skin. Most electrical transmission cables are aluminum, as they are typically situated outside, and need to be able to deal with changing weather conditions (Why Are Power Lines so Dangerous?). Given all of this, it is easy to see why aluminum has become the dominant choice of material for many purposes, both industrial, and commonplace. 

Mining and Manufacture

The presence of aluminum is something that most people likely take for granted, after all, it is a clean metal that poses no health issues like lead or zinc. Most people likely have some idea as to the production process of aluminum, let alone any metal. A simplified explanation for the processing of most metals involves a few steps: location sampling, raw ore mining, and finally purification and smelting. However, like most things, the process is a little more complicated than it first seems.

Starting with the process of mining, we need to look at the locations from which aluminum ore is primarily sourced as well as the nature of the ore itself. The primary ore of aluminum is a rock called Bauxite.

Bauxite is a sedimentary rock, rather unremarkable in appearance, with a rusty red to brown color; this red hue comes from iron ores mixed in with the aluminum. The most prominent feature of it is the “nodules” of aluminum minerals found inside. Bauxite as a whole is composed of many minerals, the main constituents are Iron and Aluminum Oxides, but there are a few notable trace elements like lead, titanium, mercury, etc.

 The 5 largest producers of Bauxite in the world are, Australia, China, Guinea, Brazil, and India; of these countries, Guinea has the largest reserves at almost seven million, thousand tonnes (Bauxite and Alumina). That being said, the prime minister of Vietnam claims that they have nearly 11,000 megatons of bauxite ore, making it, possibly, the largest untapped reserve of bauxite in the world.

Fig 1b. Bauxite ore and Bauxite compositions (Review of Bauxite Residue)

Bauxite is mined through fairly conventional means, primarily strip mining. Strip mining is a blanket term for any mining that involves a “full” excavation of the soil and whatever lies underneath. Most ore is found near the surface, so it is simply removed from the ground through diggers and trucked off to a processing facility.

Fig. 2: Bauxite mine in Guinea (Alufer Mining, Bel Air mine)

It is at this stage where we start to see the beginnings of controversy. Bauxite mining is done primarily in underdeveloped countries, and as such are highly subject to corporate exploitation and exploitation, and endangerment of the community as a whole. 

We can take a look at one particular instance of mining to get a good picture of some of the negative effects that come from bauxite mining. A study done in 2016 by doctor Noor Hisham Abdullah looks at the “Potential Health Impacts of Bauxite Mining in Kuantan”. This study was conducted in Malaysia, a country not typically known for high bauxite production, but still a third-world country in many regards. Bauxite mining, like many other forms of resource acquisition, is a highly profitable business, so it is easy to see why companies would flock to pursue such an endeavor. 

“Bauxite mining in Kuantan offers some exciting economic opportunities for various parties including individual landowners. Nevertheless, the “bauxite boom”; the extensive and uncontrolled mining activities have great potential to cause adverse impacts on the environment, health and quality of life of the people living in the affected areas.” (Abdullah)

This study observed a few key points, but the ones of interest are its impact as a pollutant, and subsequently its impact on health.

Pollution is something that must always be considered when undertaking any sort of mining project. In the United States, most mines are far from the public eye, and they would face harsh legal and social repercussions if they were not. However, this is not the case in these third-world countries.

Fig. 3 “Mining activities occurring close to school area” (Abdullah)

Fig. 4 “Dust deposited on floor of the school” (Abdullah)

In these two photos, the direct impact of Bauxite mining pollution is undeniably clear. The local school is right next to some of the mining operations, and it is clear that large amounts of dust, and silt are accumulating within the building itself. This brings up the question of toxicity and potential harm. Abdullah states:

“The processes of excavating, removal of topsoil and vegetation, transportation of bauxite and unwanted elements and stockpiling of bauxite cause degradation of air quality mainly related to dust pollution. Dust is a solid particulate matter, in the size range of 1 to 75 microns in diameter. Dust smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, known as particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 are of great health concern because it can be inhaled deep into the respiratory system” (Abdullah)

These small particles are often unseen by the human eye; the visible particles are seen mostly as a nuisance as they coat nearly everything in an orange-brown skin. This is far more prominent when looking at the water supply:

Fig. 5: “Bauxite washing pond showing red water” (Abdullah)

The health impact of heavy metals in water is extremely well documented and this case is no exception, 

“Because of its composition, aluminum and iron are the main contaminants that pollute the water resources but depending on the geological characteristics of the land and surrounding land use activities, other toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead, nickel, and manganese may also contaminate drinking water resources when the natural ecosystem is aggressively removed and excavated. Chronic exposure to toxic metals may cause multiple organ toxicity and increase cancer risk. Whereas, high-level exposure to aluminum in the stomach prevents the absorption of phosphate, a chemical compound required for healthy bones and may cause bone diseases in children.” (Abdullah) 

This is but one documented case of Bauxite mining and its potentially life-threatening consequences. The study looked mainly at society as a whole, but it is clear that individuals directly involved in these processes, such as miners and workers, suffer far more from these negative effects. It is true that many of these workers make their living from their work in the mines, but the potential health risks may quickly overturn any “profit” there is to be made. Governments in these countries are often more concerned with their own revenue and production than the safety of their workers and people. In the country of Guinea, it is clear that “the government’s focus on growing the bauxite sector has at times appeared to take priority over social and environmental protections” (What Do We Get out of It). 

The unfortunate reality is that these mining operations are likely to continue into the far future. Aluminum is too precious of a commodity for it to ever go out of demand, and even if we are able to stop, or regulate mining in countries like Australia, countries like Guinea and China will have no qualms about continuing their mining spree. In a way, our demand for almost any inorganic product fuels this process: cars, phones, planes, trains, computers, electrical wires, construction materials, these are all arguably essential in our modern lives, and there will never cease to be a demand for these products.

One thing to consider with the production of aluminum is the economic viability of these mining operations. Bauxite ore falls in the price range of about 50$ per metric ton, and Guinnea exported around 88 million tons of ore last year bringing the total price to more than four billion dollars (Bauxite prices). When looking at the processing end of things, most figures show that it takes “approximately 4 to 5 tonnes of bauxite ore to produce 2 tonnes of alumina. In turn, it takes approximately 2 tonnes of alumina to produce 1 tonne of aluminum” (Aluminum facts). The highest demand for aluminum actually comes from Asia, mainly China. China alone makes up more than 56% of the world’s aluminum demand. This is reasonable given the large amount of industrial activity that China promotes. We have seen the exploitative measures that are taken in the mining industry, and it is clear that a similar process is occurring in the manufacturing side of things as well.

Even if we can reduce our consumption of these goods, the very structure of our society depends on aluminum and bauxite resources. That being said, there it is important to recognize all aspects of production and consumption, mining is simply one step of the process. Processing and manufacturing is an entirely different sequence that must be considered, and perhaps through this, we can evaluate the process as a whole.

Processing and Production:

We have seen the process of mining up to this point, but that is but one part of the sequence. Next, we can look at the actual process of the production of aluminum. At this point, we have a large amount of raw Bauxite, and there are a few steps that must be taken to reach the purified metal. First, the bauxite must be crushed and washed, then any excess silica is removed. At this point, the ore is mixed with a soda solution and heated in a pressure tank. The following processes are quite complex and an explanation of the entire chemical process is unnecessary in this context. A short description of the chemical processes involved is shown here:

Al2O3 + 2 NaOH > 2 NaAlO2 + H2O (This is the process of dissolution with the soda)

Once this reaction has occurred, bauxite residue can be separated from the solution through a sedimentation process.

The alumina can then be crystallized from the solution via a precipitation process which carries out the following reaction:

Al(OH)4– + Na+ → Al(OH)3 + Na+ + OH–

Coarse crystals are then removed through classification, and processed in a calciner or rotary kiln to remove bound moisture and yield alumina in the following reaction:

2Al(OH)3 → Al2O3 + 3H2O (Feeco)

The resulting aluminum is pure enough to be melted and cast into whatever shape is required. This process is the standard procedure for aluminum production and it is known as the Bayer Process, but it too has its downsides, “For every ton of metallic aluminum produced, around two tons of red mud are also produced, with annual production at around 30 million tons per year” (Feeco). This so-called “red mud” is a highly alkaline slurry of various oxides and is quite toxic to most organic life. This red mud can be dealt with in a couple different ways but the most traditional method is simply to keep it in a large vat or holding area. These areas were often the remnants of other mines, or ponds and lakes. Before 2016, large quantities of red mud were simply discharged into estuaries or directly, but this was put to a stop due to the environmental repercussions. 

Fig 6. Red Mud Pit in Germany 

At the current moment, there is not much use for this red mud, and it has become a major environmental problem. There is a great deal of ongoing research to try to find a use for red mud, such as element recovery, or use in cement, and ceramics, but for the most part, red mud remains a massive environmental concern. 

Production and Manufacturing

Aluminum manufacturing is fairly simple, it is a metal with a low melting point and can be molded and cast into whatever shape is necessary. That being said, many aluminum products are actually made of alloys, mixtures of metals. Various alloys are used for different needs; alloys are classified with a 4 digit number, the first digit indicates their general use cases. For example alloys with the numbering of 2, 3, 4, or 7 are suitable for general purpose castings: “Aluminium ingots are produced in various shapes and sizes depending on their end-use. They may be rolled into plates, sheets, foil, bars, or rods. They may be drawn into the wire which is stranded into the cable for electrical transmission lines. Presses extrude the ingots into hundreds of different useful and decorative forms or fabricating plants may convert them into large structural shapes.” (Aluminum Association). These ingots are shipped to factories around the world and molded into the many products that are sold to both industry and consumers. 

Overall, the importance of aluminum as a resource is something that may be apparent at first glance. There are many debates in our current day over switching to “green” alternatives when considering things like energy. In the case of clean energy, one can argue that there are acceptable, theoretically practical, alternatives. Solar and wind power may not be the best choice at the current moment, that being said, further development of these technologies may produce a viable alternative. But with the case of mining products, such as aluminum, there is no alternative. These resources will always be in demand, and while we may find ways to make the process more “eco-friendly”, it is unlikely to counteract the exponential increase in demand for these resources. Aluminum is one of the backbones of our society, and it likely isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. 

Tea in the 19th Century (Final Draft)

Tea has always been an important commodity in the United States. It is valuable import, and even contributed to the fight for independence from the British in the 18th century. Perhaps it was their English descent, but Americans still had a demand for tea, even after declaring independence. While it did not provide a caffeine boost like coffee, tea lasted longer. One pound of tea can pour 180 six-ounce cups, while a pound of coffee can only pour 50. With the widespread enjoyment of tea in the United States, ultimately came the phenomenon of “taking tea”.  

Tea was typically consumed with snacks as a smaller, fourth meal of the day after dinner. However, tea in America, like in Europe, was mostly consumed by the upper-class. Aristocratic women enjoyed entertaining guests with elegant parties, accompanied by elaborate tea sets and refined manners. Hosting and serving tea at these gatherings were some of the only tasks upper-class women did not delegate to servants. It soon became a symbol of femininity and domesticity to properly prepare tea to entertain guests.  

A receipt dated March 25th, 1858, of cutlery purchases made by Mrs. Abraham Deyo in Poughkeepsie, NY, indicates her purchase of a tea set. There is no indication of who made the set, or what it is made of, but it is the most expensive item on the receipt, costing $3.50. Today, that would be $118.06. Mrs. Abraham Deyo’s name was Margaret T. Deyo, she married her her first cousin in 1812, and they had four children. Together, they lived in New Paltz, until Abraham relocated them to Plattekill, NY, where he served as supervisor. He later went on to serve in the Senate, and upon his death, he left their house in New Paltz to his son, Abraham Jr. Compared to the average family at this time, the Deyos were fairly wealthy. This can be inferred from the fact that an oil painting was created of Margaret in 1844, about 15 years before the date on the receipt. In the painting, she is wearing an elegant headpiece and large earrings. It is entirely possible that Margaret had the time and the financial means to entertain guests with tea parties.

Portrait painting of Margaret T. Deyo, Creator unknown

At this time, tea sets expanded beyond teapots, cups and saucers. A typical tea set in the 19th century included other items like spoon holders, cream pitchers, slop bowls, and sugar bowls. Each of these pieces served a distinct purpose and helps to enrich the experience of drinking tea.  

Obviously, the central component of a tea set is the teapot. Tea sets were originally made from porcelain, but as time passed, silver teapots became more common. The metal allowed the water inside the teapot to stay hot longer, so they were praised by tea drinkers. They were much easier to manufacture in the United States, as porcelain crafts were most refined in Asia during this time. When they were first used in Europe and the United States, teapots were small, but by the middle of the 18th century, teapots could hold dozens of cups of tea. 

Another important part of tea sets is saucers. The idea of saucers originated in China, when the daughter of a military officer found her cups of tea to be too hot to place on a table, so she asked a local potter to create a plate small enough for the cup to sit on. Another part of the tea set that most people do not recognize is the slop bowl. Slop bowls held the water used to brew tea, and for drinkers to pour cold tea in before refilling their cup with fresh, hot tea. They also held the remains at the bottom of the teacup, so they would not affect the next cup. 

As an important part of aristocratic life in the 19th century, tea sets included numerous different pieces, each of which provides a simple function. However, without one of these pieces, teatime would not be the same. Women in the 19th century enjoyed using these sets to entertain guests and friends, and without a single one of these pieces, it would be impossible for the set to act as a whole.

Plated hollow ware from A Source Book of Antiques and Jewelry Design
More silver plated hollow ware from A Source Book of Antiques and Jewelry Design

Sources:

http://museumblog.winterthur.org/2017/08/11/the-brew-of-american-independence-tea-and-coffee-after-the-revolution/ 

Hornung, Clarence Pearson. A Source Book of Antiques and Jewelry Designs, Containing over 3800 Engravings of Victorian Americana, Including Jewelry, Silverware, Clocks, Cutlery, Glassware, Musical Instruments, Etc., Etc., Etc., by Clarence P. Hornung. G. Braziller, 1968. 

https://time.com/4640082/teatime-history/

https://www.officialdata.org/us/inflation/1858?amount=3.50

https://www.geriwalton.com/tea-ware-tea-sets-and-tea-equipage/

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/elting/id/375

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/hhs/id/1934/rec/1

Tea & Tea Chests in the 18th Century

Much can be learned about a piece of history from listed accounts of possessions of people, both as individuals and as members of a society. I transcribed part of  “The Estate Inventory of Corenlius Dubois, 1816”. While transcribing, I found on the second page—buried in a list of kegs, tubs, and casks of various meats—that Cornelius Dubois Jr. owned a tea chest worth about twelve pounds. Tea, of course, is an important part of the founding mythology of the United States and presence of such a chest sparked my curiosity. Tea now plays second fiddle to coffee in American culture, we hardly give consideration to it’s production or how it arrives to the supermarkets where we purchase it. However, during the life of Cornelius Dubois Jr. (1750-1816) the movement of tea from its sources to its customers in North America was a much more arduous process that made the cost of tea significantly higher than anything we would consider reasonable today. The fact that Cornelius Dubois Jr. had a chest to store such a luxury illustrates his position and relative wealth in the colonial Hudson Valley. 

Tea originates in Yunnan Region of Southern China and its first recorded use was as a medicinal herb during the Shang Dynasty. Tea became a substance of immense cultural significance throughout East Asia in the following centuries with various cultures creating rituals around the drink. In Japan the Tea Ceremony or Chadō has evolved its own specific aesthetic and practices over centuries that people spend their entire lives trying to perfect. The fixation of the herb likely stems from its health benefits as an immune system booster which in combination with boiled water helped people recover from illness. 

The first Europeans to bring tea back to the West were Portuguese merchants and missionaries after they reached China in the 16th Century. Although throughout most of Europe tea never became nearly as popular as coffee it caught on in the British Isles and the demand for tea exploded. Due to China’s virtual monopoly on tea trade and production, the price to import it back to Europe was ruinously expensive. The price decreased gradually over the course of the century, as more Dutch and British merchants brought tea back from China. Even with this increase in trade, the drink remained a luxury because of China’s unwillingness to accept anything but silver spiecie in return for Chinese goods. Thus a search to break the Chinese monopoly was on. In the 1820s, as the British East India Company began to conquer India, they introduced the plant to the northwestern Assam region which proved to be the perfect climate for its mass production. Under British rule India became the largest producer of tea in world, much of which was exported very cheaply to Britain itself.

However, this development—which allowed even the British working class to easily afford tea—didn’t occur until several years after the death Cornelius Dubois. To me this is just further evidence of Dubois’s wealth as a pound of tea could be as expensive as twenty shillings. Perhaps, he was a lover of tea or simply displayed the tea chest as a symbol of his wealth and status within the New Paltz community. 

The tea chests themselves—much like tea—were initially imported from the East as well. Chinese tea chests or caddies were designed to hold approximately a pound of tea at a time. Though often made of wood, these caddies were sometimes made of pewter and even ivory or tortoise shell. The containers came in various shapes depending on their origin and typically had intricate designs fashioned from silver, brass, copper or gold. They could also come in a variety of shapes though the most common were rectangular and octagonal.

Fig. 3

However, the entry on the inventory reads “tea chest” instead of “tea caddy” inclining me to believe that Cornelius Dubois had a larger container more befitting of the title “chest”. Tea chests made in England began development soon after tea’s arrival. These containers tended to lack the opulence of the Eastern chests and were typically much larger than the caddies. Chests were frequently designed to be able to store multiple tea caddies that could in turn hold several different kinds of tea. Unfortunately, the design and detail of the box in question is unknown to us and could feasibly vary widely. Though Fig.3 and Fig.4 can give us an idea of how it might have looked. We do know however, that the chest itself was valued at twelve pounds, indicating it was likely on the nicer side of things. That and the fact that no tea caddies are listed in the inventory leads me to believe that Dubois’ chest was a small, but finely made piece for craftsmanship.

Fig. 4

The Eltinges Legacy in New Paltz

Just around a mile outside of SUNY New Paltz’s campus borders sits one of the most influential pieces of land in New Paltz history. 160 Plains Rd or “The Locusts” as it is formally known, is home to one of our local historic sites. According to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, this large stone estate dating back to 1826, once belonging to Peter Eltinge, mimics the same style and structure as the houses that line historic Huguenot street today. The Eltinges beautiful stone estate is not only what attracts tourists and historians alike, for the property it resides on is part of one of the most significant property transactions in New Paltz history to date. 

The Deed of Noah Eltinge describes the land transaction between Noah Eltinge, a well-known resident in New Paltz, and a gentleman by Benjamin Doyo. The Eltinge’s have a long-standing history in New Paltz, most well known nowadays for the Elting Library located in the heart of Main Street. However, the deed that was transcribed described a very different terrain and surrounding landscape that the Library dedicated to the Eltinge family resides on. Upon this discovery, it was time to dive deeper into the Eltinge family and their history in New Paltz to see where else they may have lived and where a-bouts this piece of land that was described in the document was located today. 

According to New Paltz’s Historical and Natural District Inventory, the piece of land described in the deed is still in the Eltinge family’s name. Before Roelif Eltinge even purchased it in 1727, it belonged to the DuBois family. The DuBois Family, another local name familiar to the area, was one of the original New Paltz’s Pantees. According to documents, Roelif Eltinge married one of the DuBois daughters, which helped secure this significant land transaction. Noah Eltinge, born in 1721, inherited the land through his father Roelif and maintained it through the years.

This transaction described in the deed is perhaps the most famous one to date involving the Eltinges. It helped make Noah Eltinge one of the wealthiest men in New Paltz at that time. This piece of land was sold to Benjamin Doyo in 1765 and went for nearly 45 shillings. It is unclear which portion of land and where exactly it was located on the Eltinge’s estate, for their property was so expansive, and so many changes had been made to the maps and charts of the area. This transaction of land and mainly the profits they made from it genuinely shaped the legacy of the Eltinge family in New Paltz and made them who they are today.

            The family expanded on the property through the years with a large estate, barns, and other amenities added well through 1821 when they did major renovations. To this day, their property extends and includes the mill and the pond located on Rt.208 as you are entering New Paltz on the east side. Peter Eltinge, the grandson of Roelif Eltinge, who initially purchased the land, built the large stone estate formerly known as “The Locusts.” Located on what is now known as Plains Road, it is one of the oldest landmark houses besides Huguenot street. Built-in 1826 by Peter Eltinge himself, this house mimics that same style found on Huguenot street, with the original stonework still present and evident in its structure today. The property is still owned by the Eltinge’s as it has been for nearly three centuries.  

Google Earth Image of the property and its location to SUNY New Paltz campus
Peter Eltinges House on Plains Rd.

The History and Significance of Slave Ownership within The Dubois Estate and its relevance to the Dubois family

In 2019, the SUNY New Paltz campus had just changed the names of many of the buildings on campus, I remember that my student advisor and many of the upperclassmen made comments on the shift. However, I only heard bits and pieces about the reasoning behind the renaming; I had a vague concept that the renaming was done due to the halls being named after historical figures in the community, figures who in recent times were “discovered” to have been slave owners. I as a student, and as an individual, have almost no knowledge of the identity of the namesakes of these buildings, and as such did not even associate them with the deeper history of the town of New Paltz, let alone slavery. As such, when I learned a little more about the history of the town I was very interested in its key founders and their connection to slavery. 

When I began my transcription of the Estate inventory of Cornelius Debois, I was not surprised that he owned slaves, given the context and time period. It was listed almost casually on a list of his belongings, simply sandwiched between “19 Moldbreakers” and “2 Milk cows”.

This, perhaps was the most unsettling part of the document; the use of slaves was so commonplace they elicited no special treatment, even when compared to mundane objects and farm animals. The slaves listed in the ledger are as follows: “1 young negro man slave named catoe”, “1 young negro woman slave named Susan”, “1 old wench Jine”, and “1 Black Girl about 4 years old named (Nan)”. There is no indicator of age given to the man, woman, or “wench”, however the child, “Nan” was an interesting case. This document was written in April of 1816, given the fact that Nan is around 4 years old, we can assume that she must have been born around 1814. In my research I came across a very interesting document, the “New Paltz Register of Slaves” dated from 1799 to 1825. This 45-page document 

“was kept by the Town Clerk of New Paltz as a requirement of the New York State Manumission Act of 1799. In keeping the slave register, the town clerk recorded the births of children born to slaves owned by the town’s inhabitants. Each entry includes the owner’s name, the slave’s name, sex, and date of birth” (New Paltz Register of Slaves)

This document seems to record the births and release of many slaves within the township of New Paltz, as such I started my search for this “Nan” by looking at all of the records from 1805 onwards. 

After a while of combing through the document I found a potential match, on page 28 of the register: 

1812 March 24 Cornelius Dubois did deliver a Note in Writing the purport of it was that he had a Negro Female Child born of his Wench on the twelfth [sic] of January Last and Called her Name [Nam].

The date seemed to match up, and the document clearly states that the owner was Cornelius Dubois. Despite having found my target of interest, I continued onward with the document, hoping to find any additional information. What I found quite intriguing was that on the next page, the names “J(onathan) Dubois” and “Elish Lister” are listed as the “Overseers of the Poor of the Town of New Paltz”. This is listed again on the next page under a legal statement that is documenting the freeing of a slave named “Ceser”. 

The final section of the document deals with the “abandonment” or freeing of slave children in accordance with an act passed in 1799. Within this section we can see that Cornelius Dubois released a slave by the name of “Betty” on October 19th, 1802, as well as one named “Peg” on July 14th, 1804; Betty’s birth is cataloged on page 6, and Peg’s on page 16.

In hoping to find the origin of 1 slave girl, I was able to trace at least seven births within the slaves that Cornelius Debois owned, of these seven only the two above are listed as “abandoned”. 

Looking closer at this, “New Paltz association of the poor”, I was suggested to take a look at a document titled: “White welfare and Black Strategies: The Dynamics of Race and Poor Relief in Early New York, 1700-1825”; this document discusses some of the charity and relief organizations that existed in the 1700s. The piece documents some of the welfare records from New York, and an interesting part of this involves the “treatment” of beggar slaves. It seems that it was the full responsibility of the owner to prevent any such actions of their slaves and that they would be fined if slaves were found begging. Moving into the 1800s, a more relevant time period, it can be seen that the ratio of black paupers to white paupers decreased significantly, which is “all the more remarkable given the poverty of most blacks” (Cray, 281). The poorhouses and the almshouses were seemingly avoided by many blacks at this time. They instead chose to receive aid from more “black benevolent societies, organizations such as the Wilberforce Philanthropic Society and the New York African society” (Cray, 281). The overall trend seems to show that as blacks were being released from slavery, they had to turn to organizations such as these for help; “free blacks, therefore, rarely became middle-class property holders” (Cray, 283). The document makes mention of the “Overseers of the Poor”, and also of the ledgers that they held, The previously mentioned documents may very well be one of these ledgers. What is interesting to see is the treatment of the impoverished, both black and white:

“While the poor seldom speak in these documents except to petition for charity, the records indicate that blacks and whites were treated similarly, perhaps almost identically, with no evidence to reveal a separate welfare mechanism for blacks… age, injury, or illness rather than race, was the prime concern of potential keepers.” (Cray, 284)

The text also makes mention of a freed man by the name of “Nero” who is actually mentioned in the ledger, giving some credence to this evidence. 

Overall I was intrigued by this deep history of slavery within the context of the Dubois family. It seems that Cornelius Dubois was an active slave owner, but freed the slaves he had held in accordance with the established law. Jonathan Dubois on the other hand seemed to be a member of the New Paltz association of the poor. While it is easy to simply assign a single role to the family as a whole, this history seems to reveal that there is a much more intricate history of the Dubois family and their relation to slavery.

References:

Historic Huguenot street Collection, Historic Huguenot Street. “New Paltz Register of Slaves”.New York Heritage Digital Collections. 1779-1825. https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/hhs/id/393/rec/3

Historic Huguenot street Collection, Historic Huguenot Street. “The New Paltz Register of Slaves (1799-1825) Explanation”.New York Heritage Digital Collections. 1779-1825. 

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/hhs/id/718/rec/2

Historic Huguenot street Collection, Historic Huguenot Street. “Will of Cornelius DuBois, 1803”.New York Heritage Digital Collections. 1779-1825. 

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/hhs/id/350/rec/6

Robert E. Cray Jr. “Slavery & abolition.: White welfare and black strategies: The dynamics of race and poor relief in early” New York, 1700–1825

 

Medicine in 18th Century United States

On April 5, 1797, Elizabeth DeWitt penned a letter to her father, presumably located in Europe at the time. In this letter, she referenced “the ill state of health of [her] friends” and let her father know that in the states, “a great many people die of different disorders the most common [being] pleurisy…” (“Letter from Elizabeth DeWitt to her father”). Pleurisy is defined as “a condition in which the pleura – two large, thin layers of tissue that separate your lungs from your chest wall – becomes inflamed” (“Pleurisy”). This condition causes difficulty breathing and chest pain, but in the modern era, it is not life-threatening with timely diagnosis and proper treatment. Pleurisy is a condition caused by underlying disorders, most often an infection of some sort. According to Mayo Clinic’s entry on “Pleurisy,” the condition can be caused by “viral infection, such as the flu (influenza); bacterial infection, such as pneumonia… [and] Tuberculosis (TB),” to name a few. So, why is it that during the 18th century, people were commonly dying from this secondary disorder? To answer that question, one must first understand the medicinal beliefs and practices of the 18th century.

Letter from Elizabeth DeWitt to her father

Prior to the 18th century, the prevailing theory on how disease was contracted and spread was based on a miasmic, humoral model: “traditional theory held that disease was caused by bad air, a miasma that upset the balance of humors” (Breslaw 29). It was not until 1721 that this theory was challenged by a Cotton Mather, who believed that “’little animals’ that existed in pus from smallpox victims had something to do with causing the contagion” (29). Mather was a revolutionary thinker in this regard, as he took his theory further and “also suggested that the eggs from that ‘animicular’ matter could invade the body through the pores or the mouth” (29). In the present-day, we can recognize that Mather was referring to microscopic organisms called viruses spreading through droplets in the air. While Mather was taking a different approach to the causes and treatment of illness, other diseases were still being treated with outdated methods. When measles epidemics affected communities, “doctors followed the usual regime of bleeding, vomiting, and purging, which probably increased the danger of death” (39). Methods of purging could involve “laxatives… [which] could leach nutrients and electrolytes from the body,” or “calomel (a combination of mercury and chloride)” which is now an ingredient in “insecticide and fungicide” (46). While bloodletting could have had medicinal properties – “by lowering the availability of iron in the blood, some pathogens lose their ability to grow and multiply” – such a practice hardly helped treat the disorders it was typically used for, such as “smallpox, yellow fever, [or] pneumonia” (46-47). Moreover, physicians relied more on their perceived ability than any other tool they might have had at their disposal. Even if a physician’s methods caused 80% of his patients to become seriously injured or to die, “the doctor was considered successful if he seemingly cured one person” (47). This way of practicing medicine is harmful to patients at any time. If a doctor is unwilling to explore other options when their treatment methods are outdated, harmful, or outright dangerous, then patients cannot get adequate and informed care. Physicians were put on a pedestal, patients “[endowing] their medical practitioners with enormous authority” (47). Additionally, it was much more difficult to diagnose illness in the 18th century than it is now. Typically:

Diagnoses were generally based on symptoms as described by the patient. The doctor seldom touched the patient except to take a pulse or check for fever and thus was dependent on how individuals described their pains or discomforts. He would then diagnose a flux as anything from simple diarrhea, to dysentery, typhoid, or typhus… A pleurisy referred to respiratory or lung diseases such [as] influenza or pneumonia. (45-46)

This is a significant contrast to methods of diagnosing illnesses and disorders today. According to Noah Webster’s “A Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases…” published in 1799, “in periods when plague and other mortal epidemics rage in summer, the diseases of winter assume new symptoms. The pleurisy, at such times, has often become epidemic and even infectious” (331). Based on the methods of diagnosis during this time, it can be presumed that the “epidemic” or “infectious” pleurisy being referenced was a respiratory disease, such as influenza. It is possible misdiagnoses or missed diagnoses were more common during the 18th century due first to a misunderstanding of illness, which was then compounded by the lack of reliable diagnostic tools. Physicians during this time did not believe, and often rejected, notions that “science [or] technology had any application to medicine” (47). For example, even though a “very primitive form” of the thermometer was available during the 18th century, physicians did not use them until “at least… the middle of the nineteenth century” (47). Diagnosing “pleurisy” or any other respiratory illness would not have been able to be done accurately during the 18th century, undoubtedly resulting in the deaths of “a great many people” Elizabeth DeWitt would come to write about in the letter to her father.

In the present-day United States, “we have antibiotics to cure contagious diseases and vaccines to prevent them” (Breslaw 1). In the 18th century, this was most certainly not the case. Elizabeth DeWitt lived in the states at a time that medicine was not making many strides. Outdated thinking and a refusal to be open to new or improved methods of treatment prevented advancement. Doctors not having reliable and consistent methods of treatment meant that they believed “diseases were peculiar to individuals; each individual required different medications or combinations and depended on the physician’s special understanding of illness” (48). Rather than recognizing that a standard approach would probably be best for the patient, physicians rejected newer ideas or modes of treatment “in favor of established practices” (44). People were exposed to illnesses and diseases that they had no experience with in their homeland, they then relied on the authority of physicians who were not open to new ideas – even if those new ideas could prevent injury or death – and, due to a lack of understanding by the general public, patients took their doctors at their word and did not question their diagnoses or treatment methods. When one takes these facts into consideration, it is not difficult to understand why people were dying due to secondary disorders such as pleurisy. It is possible that these people were afflicted with such infections as influenza, pneumonia, or tuberculosis, but received improper or incorrect treatment, leading to the development of the aforementioned condition. However, it is also possible that when Elizabeth DeWitt mentioned “pleurisy,” she was not referring to the inflammation of tissues within the lungs at all but was rather referring to an epidemic caused by influenza, the measles, or any of the other contagious respiratory diseases that afflicted communities. Thinking about the medicinal practices of the 18thcentury can help us to understand the conditions of individuals living during these times.

Works Cited
Breslaw, Elaine G. Lotions, Potions, Pills, and Magic Health Care in Early America. New York Univ. Press, 2014.
“Letter from Elizabeth DeWitt to her father,” Hudson River Valley Heritage Exhibits, accessed November 22, 2021, https://omeka.hrvh.org/items/show/2908.
“Pleurisy.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Jan. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pleurisy/symptoms-causes/syc-20351863.
Webster, Noah. A Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases: With the Principal Phenomena of the Physical World, which Precede and Accompany Them, and Observations Deduced from the Facts Stated …. United States, Hudson & Goodwin, 1799.

Feather Pen Experience

When I told my sister, Steph, that I had to have an analog experience for class, she very excitedly said, “Write me a letter!” I didn’t consider it as I speak to her for hours on the phone nearly every day. I didn’t even know what I would write to her in a letter. However, I remembered the feather pen set she had given to me months ago. Calligraphy was one of those hobbies she almost got into, but eventually gave up on. I don’t know if she opened this pen set, honestly. So, I thought I could try my hand at calligraphy in the letter I was already writing for her birthday. I thought that it would be simple enough as I have experience in typography already. I swiftly learned that this process was not going to be simple or easy. It was also nothing like typography to me. 

I first had to pick between eight complicated looking writing tips for the feather pen. I chose what appeared to be the most simple of these tips, thinking that this would be a good starting point. I can’t say I ever got a full grasp on the angle that the tip of the pen should hit the paper. Times where I thought I was writing smoothly would quickly shift into the pen not writing at all despite not shifting its placement and assuring that it is still holding ink. My furiously dipping the feather pen in ink would of course lead to ink pooling where my letters should have been. I know I could have looked up a tutorial on how to write with a feather pen, but I wanted to approach this experience without any previous help knowledge.

 I had to restart my letter to my sister four times before I finally settled on the final version. At this point I had also spilled the black ink three times. I should say, hand sanitizer was the most effective in removing the ink stain from my desk and belongings. My starts were often ruined with misspellings, using too much ink, or even breaking through the paper with the tip of the pen. 

Even in the finalized letter, I had not realized my writing was so slanted until I was already nearly done, but at that point there was nothing I could do about it. However, I think this is more of an issue of me not liking to write on unlined paper as opposed to my low calligraphy skill. 

One enjoyable aspect of writing with the feather pen was the ability to play with line thickness. I wrote in the same style I usually write in when taking notes, which is a mix between cursive and normal print, but the pen allowed for different line thicknesses in the shifts between letters. While I didn’t completely harness this aspect, with more practice I think this control over line quality would be very visually effective in developing nice handwriting with this medium. I found that this aspect would not show up in my writing when I would accidentally use too much ink. It was a delicate balance of having to constantly dip my pen, but also not do it too much.

What I found interesting when I had completed the letter was the texture of the words. When I run my hand over the page, I can feel the roughness of the words where I dug into the paper with the sharp point of the feather pen. It could also be caused by the build up of ink as there is a roughness to the letters that I accidentally used too much ink on. 

The letter I wrote is simple and reflects the same message I usually would write in a birthday card to my sister. The process of writing it with a feather pen and ink made something that I always found so simple, quite frustrating. I never felt comfortable using the feather pen, as I struggled to write smoothly. I also found myself thinking a lot about what I was actually writing because the process was so much slower than typing or writing with a normal pen. Five messy spills and an ink ruined manicure later, I still think I would give calligraphy with a feather pen a chance again, but it is something that requires a lot more practice and patience. 

Just in case anyone was curious about the gifts I mentioned in the letter, one was this enamel pin that is a cat in a cowboy hat that I thought was pretty great. We both love cats and I am proudly the person that got her to also become obsessed with Red Dead Redemption, so its kind of the perfect gift for her.