17th-century postal chest filled with an extraordinary archive: 2600 “locked” letters, none of which were ever delivered. The letters are uncensored, unedited, and 600 of them even remain unopened. Come spend a couple hours with the Signed, Sealed, and Undelivered Project team learning how to fold and secure correspondence using the same techniques found on some of the letters in the trunk.
What is letterlocking, and how can a better understanding of it benefit conservators and other scholars? The workshop focuses on historical practices of letterlocking, asking how men and women folded and sealed their letters before (and after) the invention of the envelope. Why have there been so many letterlocking formats throughout history, and what did they mean? This session uses a hands-on approach to help participants make models of several key historical locking formats. We will argue that a more thorough understanding of this technique should influence conservatorial best practice with regard to letters. Participants will use paper, wax, scissors, and seals (all materials provided) to reconstruct the different letterlocking techniques, all of which were used by the letterwriters whose missives never made it to their intended recipients. Participants open a version of each letter, and then make their own version of each format, creating a set to take away, after discussing the relative security, innovation, and elegance of each model. We consider what kinds of evidence archival letters hold that remain hidden until a model is made, and we show participants how to make simulacra (a specific type of model fabricated in the presence of an original) of letters under their care, mimicking historical repairs on those models. The workshop also aims to demonstrate the benefits of collaboration between conservators and scholars in other disciplines such as literature and history, and will show how this conservation-based practice is leading to new theoretical advances in the humanities. It also makes the case for the “locked giveaway” as an effective tool of engagement, physically demonstrating to students, scholars, and the general public the important work that conservation and the humanities do to preserve our past for access and interpretation.
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