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Writing slate collection

 Collection — Box: BW 27, Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS 16484

Content Description

This collection contains materials that document the evolution of the writing slate from stone book slate to native slate blackboards. This includes a slate book with 8 quartz paint pages with attached pencil holder,and another book with pencil holder and 6 quartz painted "slates". The cover of one is stamped in black and gold with a school scene and applied litho of two girls playing stick and ball. There is also a 1940 salesman kit with five loose photos of the National School Slate Co. They depict a couple of table top models with and without an abacus and a floor model with a picture scroll at the top. This is accompanied by a tri-fold price list for a vriety of slate and blackboard related products for the National School Slate Co., SLatington, PA.


  • Creation: 1860 - 1940

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Biographical / Historical

"School Slate Works -- In 1884, E. L. Krauss (sic.) associated with Charles Nelson of New York, in establishing a plant at the western section of Slatington for the manufacture of school slate and black-boards and they carried on business until 1892. The management was subsequently changed several times and carried on until 1907, when Mr. Krause (sic.) and his brother, Arthur H., became the owners and they have since operated it in a successful manor. The plant covers two acres of ground, embraces eight one-story brick buildings and employs from 150 to 200 hands. It is commonly known as the National School Slate Co."

The History Committee of the Slatington 125 Celebration's "Slatington and Surrounding Communities: A Volume of History, 1864-1989" (Slatington 125 Celebration, 1989) notes that Arthur and E. L. Kraus owned the National School Slate Company until it was purchased by Babyak and Jacob Papay in 1950. The Papay family maintained its interest in the company until 1971.

School slates, individual or blackboard size, are made from a fine grain, soft slate that is darker in color than the light-gray slate used for roofing. After a school slate is split to its desired thickness, its edges are turned up by a small circular saw, face smoothed with a drawing knife and then rubbed with a cloth and fine dust compound, and eventually framed for individual use or utilized as part of a child's toy blackboard. Ruled slates generally were made for export to Continental Europe. If colored crayons were to be used in addition to chalk, one side of the slate was lacquered in white.

In 1941 there were only two school slates companies in the United States -- National School Slate Company and American Slate Works. Both were located in Slatington. National School Slate Company owned its own quarry, the Blue Ridge Quarries. It also purchased slate from other quarries in the region.

By 1941 the American market for school slates had vanished. Most Slatington school slates found their way to Central America, the Netherlands, East Indies, South Africa and South America. American sales focused largely on toy blackboards and bulletin boards sold primarily by chain stores.


A slate is a thin piece of hard flat material, such as the rock also called slate, that is used as a medium for writing. The rock is "a metamorphic rock created by the recrystallization of the minerals in shale from clay to parallel-aligned, flat, flake-like minerals such as mica".

The writing slate consisted of a piece of slate, typically either 4x6 inches or 7x10 inches, encased in a wooden frame.

A slate pencil was used to write on the slate board. It was made from a softer and lighter coloured stone such as shale or chalk.

Usually, a piece of cloth or slate sponge was used to clean it and this was sometimes attached with a string to the bottom of the writing slate.

Slate from 1894, used in Berlin, Germany, currently at the Museum Europäischer Kulturen

The exact origins of the writing slate remain unclear. References to its use can be found in the fourteenth century and evidence suggests that it was used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The central time period for the writing slate, however, "appears to begin in the later eighteenth century, when developments in sea and land transport permitted the gradual expansion of slate quarrying in Wales and the growth of a substantial slate workshop industry."

By the nineteenth century, writing slates were used around the world in nearly every school and were a central part of the slate industry. At the dawn of the twentieth century, writing slates were the primary tool in the classroom for students. In the 1930s (or later) writing slates began to be replaced by more modern methods.[4] However, writing slates did not become obsolete. They are still made in the twenty-first century, though in small quantities.

The writing slate was sometimes used by industry workers to track goods and by sailors to calculate their geographical location at sea. Sometimes multiple pieces of slate were bound together into a "book" and horizontal lines were etched onto the slate surface as a guide for neat handwriting

Source: Peter Davies, "Writing Slates and Schooling", Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 23 (2005), 63-64. Robert N. Pierport, "Slate Roofing", APT Bulletin, Vol. 19(2) (1987), 10.


0.03 Cubic Feet (1 letter sized folder)

Language of Materials


Condition Description


Guide to the Writing slate collection
Initial record created by Rose Oliveira.
7 April 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States