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The Wenches

  • Mary Jo Putney

  • Patricia Rice

  • Susan Fraser King

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  • Nicola Cornick

  • Andrea Penrose

  • Christina Courtenay

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    Word Wench 2006-2016

  • Edith Layton
    Word Wench 2006-2009

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« What Happened Next? | Main | Editors (part 1) »


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Mary T

Well, this was very interesting. I never thought about letter security in early times. From the books I read, I assumed that if you were rich or important enough you would send your letter by special messenger - the (sort of) UPS of the day. I always thought that for ordinary folk the risk of the letter getting lost was more likely than someone snooping on the contents.

I learn so many interesting things on this blog. Thanks Andrea.

Mary Jo Putney

Fascinating indeed, Andrea! Thanks for the lesson in something I've never thought about.

Andrea Penrose

So glad you enjoyed the post, Mary. I found the article SO interesting! The idea of using the paper itself as a lock was incredibly imgainative. I haven't yet tried it myself, but I will at some point. (I already have my sealing wax!)

Andrea Penrose

Ha, ha—yes, it's one of those things that you wouldn't tend to ponder—until you happen to stumble over it and then realize how very cool it is! That's what makes history so endlessly fascinating.


This was indeed a fascinating post. I've only heard of letter locking once before, and I think it was on this site. (Perhaps I'm dreaming.) Thank you very much, Andrea!


@Christina, I remembered the longest epilogue I've ever read. It's the aptly titled Gratuitous Epilogue by Andrea Höst and is 126 pages long. It follows the 800ish page long Touchstone trilogy, a science fiction work in which a 17 year old Australian walks out of her world and into another one. That trilogy written in diary format, and a favorite of mine, starts with Stray which is free to US Kindle readers.

Andrea Penrose

So glad you enjoyed it, Kareni! I found the NYT article and pictures fascinating.


This is wonderful stuff, Andrea. I love it!

Privacy was such a luxury in the past. Exchanging letters was itself an unreachable luxury for most people, and managing to keep them truly private must have been reserved for the highest echelons. Sort of the way government agencies send encrypted communications. For the rest of us, we're apt to just casually hand our privacy away.

Christina Courtenay

Good grief, Kareni, that's a bit excessive I think! Sounds like it should have been a sequel novella in its own right instead! Thanks for mentioning it - intriguing.

Christina Courtenay

How wonderful, Andrea, I'd never heard of letterlocking! I always fancied using sealing wax with my own personal stamp on my letters, but that would have to be inside an envelope of course. Not as much fun! Some of those designs look so intricate. Our ancestors were truly ingenious sometimes!

Mary M.

Letterlocking! Imagine being assigned what was probably kind of grunt work, cataloging old letters, and coming up with a whole new field of study. This is fascinating. Thanks so much, Andrea, I love this blog!


Many thanks for this post, Andrea! I remember seeing some letters in a museum in Venice years ago that had long pieces of paper shredded along the sides - obviously cut and shaped on purpose. The letters were supposedly declarations of love, sent from a battlefront to a Venetian lady, and I always wondered why she had shredded his letters only along the sides, on the assumption that it was she who wanted them to be secret. Now, perhaps, I know the real story!

When I was in elementary school (centuries ago), there was a brief fad for writing notes in tiny script on narrow strips of paper torn or cut from the long side of notebook paper. The notes were then rolled up into tight little scrolls, which could be passed without attracting much attention during class. If only we’d known about letterlocking!

Annette N

Thanks for such an interesting post.

Actually, I write notes and send cards to several people. I think I should start posting on the outside of each envelope - "Read at your own risk, this has nothing interesting, you are subject to dying of boredom."

Thanks again for such a terrific post.

Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

Andrea Penrose

SO true! I always love to see how they figure out solutions to complex problems with such creativity.

Andrea Penrose

So glad you enjoyed it, Mary. Yes, Dambroglio really was insightful to notice the tiny details and realize there was a really important story there. She apparently gives a lot of seminars showing how it works, which gets young people fascinated in the history.

Andrea Penrose

What a great story, Constance. I'm sure the cuts on that old letter were part of a letterlocking style.

LOL on the rolled-up slips of paper! I remember that too! Secret correspondence is nothing new!

Andrea Penrose

Ha, ha! Annette. But actual letters need no warning. I'm sure those who receive them are thrilled to get a "real" letter! I know I am.

Teresa Broderick

Fascinating Andrea!! Genius methods for keeping letters safe. It's actually something I hadn't thought of either.

Robin Rustad

Sealing wax certainly was used and didn't need to be in an envelope. It's not like it was going through our modern postal system handling. However, as I understand it, a skilled ne'er-do-well could sometimes use a hot knife to lift, then reseal the wax. Some documents had a ribbon and lead seal, which was harder fake. The letter locking was so clever!

Robin Rustad

I tried the letter locking with cheap printer paper, but ended up with a shredded mess. I suspect the old cotton rag paper was tougher. I'll have to see if I still have some cotton bond resume paper squirreled away from the 80's. knowing myself, I probably do.

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