Historic manuscript letterlocking examples in chronological order

 

 

Letterlocking refers to the the timeless technology of folding & securing any object to function as its own enclosure. Letterlocking is part of a 10,000-year information security tradition. Opened originals of historic manuscripts are modeled allowing us to "reverse engineer" each format to figure out how they once functioned. All letterlocking closed formats are based on examination of well-preserved opened original manuscripts that retain their original locking components. Thank you to the many institutions for granting access to original manuscripts, a must for letterlocking research. This page is a work in progress.

1440. England. Paston Family Letters. British Library.


1494. Category: Cut lock–N + fold + tuck + adhere. (slit perpendicular to vertical axis)


1498-1499. Locked document later sewn into a fascicle. Italy.

Modeled after Vatican Secret Archive, Fondo Veneto II, 668, (one out of many items stored in this box). Gesuati, San. Girolami di Vicenza. 1498-99. (v.s.deest.) (v) Processo per la Villa dell'Acquagnolla. In its "first" stage, the document comprised of three bi-folios (3 papers folded in half). The document was folded in quarters, stabbed twice, and locked shut (I originally called these vampire stabs, but now this lock is called the "Two-part Lock since it has a narrow piece of paper laced through the stabs that travels in one slit and out the other of all the pages of the folded letter. Wax was placed over the tails of the laced band of paper and the diamond-shaped paper lock sandwiched the warm wax between the papers as the sealing matrix was impressed into layers securing the letter shut). In it "second" stage, at some point after the document was opened, it was sewn into a fascicle with reused parchment guards adding extra strength for the sewing threads to pass on the front cover and the inner fold of the section. The "third" addition to this record included a document inserted into the booklet (possibly to keep related subject matter together?) The inserted docuemnt does not have any stabs. The original dimensions are: H 322mm x W 222mm, inserted document: H 314mm x W 215mm.


1532. Fold + tuck + slit + lock–N + adhere (slit perpendicular to horizontal axis).


1578. Document folded and stored in textile bag. Italy.

Modeled after Vatican Secret Archive Record Group, ASV, Fondo Veneto II, 876. Religious Order: Gesuati. Monastery: San Girolamo in Vicenza. Original dimensions, textile envelope: 203mm x 90 mm. Original dimensions, letter, opened: 311mm x 212mm. This is the only letter I have documented to date that appears to have once been stored (and sewn?) shut.


1580s-1590s, Nickname: Triangle-lock–YU (slit parallel to fore-edge) England & Europe.


1580s, Nickname: Triangle lock–YU (slit perpendicular to fore-edge), England & Italy.


1584. Instructions. Fold. England.


1580-1770s. Nickname:  Pleated letters England and Europe.

1586.  Fold + tuck + adhere. Nickname: Tuck and seal. England and Europe. Italy.

Modelled after Vatican Secret Archive, Record Group, ASV Fondo Veneto II, 670, 2, (one out of many items stored in this box). A letter from Tomaso di Levrieri to reverend Zuan Pietro Teg.mo (?), most worthy prior of the reverend fathers Gesuati of Vicenza

 

1612. Nickname: Sword-lock-YU (slit parallel to fore-edge). Italy.

Modelled after Vatican Secret Archive Record Group ASV Fondo Veneto II, 796, (one out of many items stored in this box). Letter from Pietro Sementi to reverend padre Daniele Rosa, Santa Maria dall Horto, Venezia, dated: 23 April 1613. This is the only letter I have documented to date where the long diamond-shaped paper lock is cut from the bottom two panels (not from a corner or the inside of a blank margin) to secure the letter shut. This falls into one of the most secure letterlocking format categories, category VII.

1600s. Nickname: Blank Margin Lock-YA. England, Italy, and Scotland. High built-in security.

1700s. Ceremonial letters from Spanish Kings and Queen to members of the Boncompagni Ludovisi Family, Rome, Italy. Spain.

Courtesy of HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi (Villa Aurora). Photo credits: J. Dambrogio 2010. To learn more visit http://villaludovisi.org/

1700s, Nickname: Removable Paper Lock–N, Letters from French Kings and Queen to members of the Boncompagni Ludovisi Family, Rome, Italy.

Courtesy of HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi (Villa Aurora). Photo credits: J. Dambrogio and Dr. T. Corey Brennan 2010. To learn more visit http://villaludovisi.org/

1775. Nickname: Two-piece lock–N. Austria.

Courtesy of HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi (Villa Aurora). Photo credits: J. Dambrogio 2010. To learn more visit http://villaludovisi.org/

1815. Fold + tuck + lock–N + adhere. (with kite-shaped removable lock). Ceremonial letter to the USA. Tunisia.

 

1940s. Fold + tuck. Russian soldier WWII triangle letters.

Russian manuscript letter: Courtesy of the MIT Libraries Wunsch Conservation Lab Historic Letterlocking Manuscript Study Collection. "Letters of Triangles" by Lucy May Schofield, 2013.