Today marks 180 years since the birth of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To celebrate this occasion I thought I’d share with you a group of items from our museum collection invented by Lewis Carroll himself, namely, The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case and Carroll’s accompanying Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing booklet.
The Wonderland Postage Stamp Case was not intended by Carroll to be carried around in a pocket but rather to be kept with your writing materials in an envelope case or similar. Inside the stamp case there are 12 separate pockets for stamps of each denomination at the time, from ‘½d’ right up to 1 shilling, with an extra pocket for the most used price of one penny. Each pocket could comfortably hold up to six stamps.
What made Carroll invent it, as he states in his accompanying booklet was
the constantly wanting Stamps of other/ values, for foreign Letters, Parcel Post, &c.,/ and finding it very bothersome to get at the/ kind I wanted in a hurry.
The case is a lovely item in itself, besides its functional purpose, as it contains what Carroll refers to as two ‘Pictorial Surprises’. The case comes in an outer cover which has a chromolithographic image of Alice holding the Duchess’s crying baby, an illustration that does not appear in Carroll’s books. However, when you take hold of the stamp case within and pull it out, the baby turns into a pig.
In Carroll’s opinion
If that doesn’t surprise you, why, I suppose you wouldn’t be surprised if your own Mother-in-law suddenly turned into a Gyroscope!
The case and cover also feature an illustration of the Cheshire cat on the reverse.
In his Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing Carroll shares with the reader his thoughts and opinions on how to begin, go on with, and end a letter, many of which I’m sure the Post Office would applaud to this day such as the golden rule of ‘write legibly’. However, the booklet also has nuggets of witty repartee often presented in the form of conversations between Carroll and the reader that make for entertaining reading.
First published in 1889, the stamp case and booklet show the extent to which there was a culture of letters developing throughout the nation, indeed Carroll states:
I believe the Queen’s laundress uses no other.
Even in this short work, Carroll uses his playful nature as a vehicle for sharing his interests and enthusiasms, in this case, letter writing.
- Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)