Jack London’s Lost Writing Tablet

A unique and enchanting sculptural writing tablet carved by the famous California sculptor, Arthur Putnam, for one of the most famous American authors, Jack London (1876 – 1916).

The writing tablet was carved from a tapered slab of California redwood, an icon of the two artist’s beloved home state. This carving depicts the famous literary canine, “Buck”, the hero from one of the most famous American novels, The Call of the Wild.

This sculpture depicts the famous dog in repose, carved in relief at the top.

Arthur Putnam, American (1873 – 1930)

Sculptural writing tablet, California Redwood, Circa 1904

Dimensions: A 13" x 22" x 5" sculpture of the dog “Buck” in a recumbent position, laying across the back of a tapered slab. The slab measures 1" thick in the front, and 3" thick at the back, with the sculpted dog carved in relief, measuring 13" long, 4½" wide, and 2" high.

This work of art was unknown just a few short years ago, and has miraculously survived in original condition, retaining even the original patination to the bronze tags and medallion.

There are 6 bronze tags affixed to the writing surface, 4 of which were professionally engraved, and a 5th tag, lightly scratched, with the name of the award winner, and an oval cast medallion from the Livestock dept. of the Panama Pacific International Exposition.

These bronze tags are engraved with the following:

  1. "In Memoriam, Jack London" on a banner shaped tag.
  2. "By all means let us have a C.P.E. The only way for man to understand himself is by understanding all life about him. Jack London"
    It is interesting to note that this quote is not found in any of Jack London’s known quotes, but was found in the archives of the Huntington Library, hidden in a 1915 magazine article from Everywoman, which was found in the scrapbooks, assembled by Charmian London. The presence of a qoutation by Jack London two years prior to the CPE can be easily explained. The Children's Pets Exhibit was an annual event since at least 1913, and, as mentioned in the article from Everywoman, in 1915 it was actually held as one of the final events in the Panama Pacific International Exposition.
  3. "Presented by Mrs. Jack London"
  4. "For Most Popular Exhibit, Children’s Pet Exhibition, San Francisco 1917"
  5. This tag at first glance appears to be blank, but on closer inspection it has been scratched with the name of the boy who won this award, "James Rolph III".
  6. A bronze oval medallion, affixed by the livestock department of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, with the profile of a rooster, and the initials, "C.P.E." (for Children’s Pets Exhibit) and dated "1917".

Putnam’s work is very stylistically consistent. It is easily recognized by the smooth flowing forms, with distinct characteristics of the animal’s strong muscular foundation, combined with a realistic natural living form, and real character.

However, the technique could not be called Realism, as with the sculpture of the 19th Century animalist, Bayre. The dog’s anatomy and musculature is implied, rather than carefully delineated. Yet it is clear that the carver has a clear understanding of his subject. The unique color and grain of redwood – so symbolic of the sculptor and his friend Jack London’s home state – adds to the unique quality of this carving. It depicts the dog in repose, as he was at the end of the famous story. - Jeffery Morseburg

Auguste Rodin called Putnam "the greatest animal sculptor alive". If you examine Putnam’s works, and the nuances of the forms from different angles, it becomes clearly apparent why Rodin was so impressed. This is an amazing statement, because Rodin was considered one of the most famous animal sculptors in the world at that time.

Clearly we can see in this superb example of Putnam’s work, exactly what Rodin saw. The unique talent Arthur Putnam possessed, is masterfully displayed in Jack London’s writing tablet. It is clear that Buck must have been one of Arthur Putnam’s ultimate challenges, and that this is a masterpiece.

Arthur Putnam knew Jack London as a friend, and Jack had just gained world fame for his 1903 novel "The Call of the Wild". I’m sure Putnam took the time to read the book, and discovered that "Buck" was no ordinary dog, but a strong powerful animal who was a survivor of a most brutal world. Even though "Buck" had been cruelly and heartlessly abused by men who were blinded with greed for gold, he still allowed his soul to remain soft enough, such that a tiny spark of love for man still remained in his heart. Buck’s forgiving nature and deeper understanding provided the environmen for that spark to grow to a true love for his new human best friend.

Buck is masterfully depicted with his head held high in proud dignity, yet he is clearly relaxed, content, and finally at peace with himself and his new life.

It makes me wonder. Is a dog’s heart softer, more aware and more forgiving than man’s? To me, this has a deeper meaning: that no matter what horrors you may have to face, healing and the rebirth of a content, happy heart, is always possible. It may require the strength to make the choice to lose everything you know in life, exchanging it for the unknown, even when you know that there is only a slim hope of finding the contentment you seek in the future.


Notice: content is continually updated for accuracy. Please contact Christian Chaffee with any and all comments, questions, and corrections.