Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Envelopes and letters in the 17th Century

Letters whether mysterious, incriminating, or romantic are a staple of swashbuckling and cape & sword fiction. In our post modern world of emails, text messages, Facebook posts, tweets, and twits (That is what stuff onTwitter is called, right?) letter writing has become even more of a lost art than it was when I was growing up when it was widely lamented that letter writing was a lost art. But things were different in the Early Modern period. In Western Europe literacy grows. More people can read and write and a greater percentage of the population can read and write and with that literacy the amount of correspondence of all kinds: business, legal, governmental, and personal also grows. 

Recently an international team of scholars begin to examine the 2,600 pieces of correspondence—written between 1680 and 1706—that comprise the contents of a trunk full of undelivered letters. Many of the letters remain unopened, sealed with distinctive wax emblems and folded into intricate designs. Composed in French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Latin, they tell the stories of ordinary people living during a war-torn and tumultuous period in European history. 

The reason why there was a trunk of unopened and undelivered letters is due to the interesting fact that recipients, not senders, paid for the delivery of letters. I need to remember to use that fact in my H+I campaign. Here's a few ways the GM can use that:
  • The PCs receive a letter from a correspondent they never heard of - do they pay the postage?
  • An important letter went undelivered and now it must be recovered from the post master's dead letter file before the postmaster has it destroyed.
  • A character without funds can still send a letter to update his companions, to ask for help, or simply to ask for money.

Another interesting fact about letters in the Early Modern is that they don't use envelopes, or to be more precise the letter is it's own envelope. You can see the folds in the image above.

And if you want to fold your own, here's a site with how to videos and more information on letters from the period. Here are a few sample folds.

No comments:

Post a Comment