|A treasure trunk full of letters is shedding light on 17th century life.|
According to a news release from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the letters had been stored by a postmaster and his wife in The Hague. At that time, the postage was paid by the recipient, rather than by the sender, as it is now. Many of the letters were refused by the recipients, but others couldn't be delivered because the recipient had either moved or was deceased. The couple hoped that eventually someone would come pick up the letters. That never happened for 2,600 missives.
Researchers from Leiden University, the University of Groningen, The University of Oxford, Yale University and MIT were the first to read and analyze the letters. They are not only taking note of the content of the correspondence, but also the way that the letters were folded and sealed.Dr. David van der Linden from the University of Groningen said: "People had a very personal way of folding letters, rather like their own signature. We call this 'letter locking': folding and sealing a letter so that nobody could secretly read it. This is a revolutionary new research field – and the letters in this collection form a golden opportunity to study and analyse these different styles of folding."
The sealed letters will not be opened. Thanks to x-ray computed tomography, an advanced scanning technique which was also used to study the Dead Sea Scrolls, the letters can be read without breaking the seals, leaving the material evidence of letter sealing untouched.
The letters will also shed light on the life and times of ordinary people from the past, particularly Huguenot families forced to flee their homes. Van der Linden said, "A lot of Huguenots fled religious persecution under Louis XIV, while others remained in France. Letters were their only way of staying in touch. The letters in this collection show the high emotional price that these families had to pay for separation."
(Photos from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands)