Letterlocking: Hate Mail?: A Diamond-shaped letter in the Brienne Postal Archive

This may be one of the shortest letters in the collection. It’s also a fine example of early modern hate mail. The letter reads: “Dear comrade Suijthof, I never thought you’d be such a miserable dog by always talking behind my back. If you’ve got something to say, just say it to my face.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Suijthof refused to accept the letter, because written on the back we find the written in Dutch "niet hebben" (“don’t want it”). The letter raises all sorts of questions. First of all, who was the author? – the letter was never signed. Even more intriguing: why go through the trouble of sending an expensive letter and not even use all of the expensive paper, just to tell Suijthof to stop gossiping? We do know diamond-shaped letters often contained declarations of love, so perhaps the author used this formate tongue-in-cheek. Hopefully more research will uncover the full story behind this hate letter. (DB 833 Museum voor Communicatie)

In 1926, a seventeenth-century trunk of letters was given to the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague, then as now the centre of government, politics, and trade in The Netherlands. The trunk belonged to some of the most active postmasters of the day, Simon de Brienne and Marie Germain, a couple at the heart of European communication networks. The chest contains an extraordinary archive: 2600 "locked" letters sent from all over Europe to this axis of communication, none of which were ever delivered. In the seventeenth century, the recipient also paid postal and delivery charges. But if the addressee was deceased, absent, or uninterested, no fees could be collected. Postmasters usually destroyed such “dead letters”, but the Briennes preserved them, hoping that someone would retrieve the letters – and pay the postage. Hence the nickname for the trunk: “the piggy bank” (spaarpotje). The trunk freezes a moment in history, allowing us to glimpse the early modern world as it went about its daily business. The letters are uncensored, unedited, and 600 of them even remain unopened. The archive itself has remained virtually untouched by historians until it was recently rediscovered. Our international and interdisciplinary team of researchers has now begun a process of preservation, digitization, transcription, editing, and identification of letterlocking formats that will reveal its secrets for the first time – even, we hope, those of the unopened letters.

The research team comprises Rebekah Ahrendt, assistant professor in music at Yale University; Nadine Akkerman, lecturer in English at Leiden University; Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator at MIT Libraries; David van der Linden, the NWO Veni Fellow and Lecturer in History at the University of Groningen; Daniel Starza Smith, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Lincoln College Oxford; and Koos Havelaar, curator of postal history at the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague; with assistance from David Mills of Queen Mary University of London.

Special thanks to: The MIT Academic Media Production Services (AMPs), Ayako Letizia, Barry Pugatch, Barbara Seidl, The Delmas Foundation, Thomas F. Peterson, Simone Felton, and Camille Dekeyser who is demonstrating the letterfolding in the video.

To learn more: bienne.org, #SignedSealedUndelivered, #Letterlocking, letterlocking.org

Social media: @misswalsingham, @dcvanderlinden, @letterlocking, @MITLibraries, @LeidenHum, @NWOHumanities

Video Link: 


Letterlocking: Brienne Postal Archive: "I wish you 100,000 good nights,...", diamond-shaped,1694

69 Triangle Inside + Letter Wrapper

DB 799. The enclosed letter remains unopened.