Unopened 17th century mail sheds light on everyday life

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A 17th century postmaster's case full of undelivered letters has been rediscovered in The Hague Museum for Communications' archive. Scientists have started examining the letters and will hopefully soon be able to shed more light on every day life in the 17th century, with all the gossip, intrigue and scandal it entails.

The letters will be studied by the international research team Signed, Sealed & Undelivered, led by David van der Linden of the University of Groningen and Nadine Akkerman from the Leiden University. The team also includes researchers from Oxford, Yale and MIT. The case contains 2,600 letters, mostly from France. 600 of them have never been opened. New imaging technology will enable these scientists to study the letters without even having to break the seals. Van der Linden believes that these letters will shed light on the lives of ordinary people in the 17th century, especially Huguenot families on the run. "Many Huguenots fled religious persecution under Louis XIV, while others remained in France. Letter traffic was the only way to keep in touch.", Van der Linden said on the University of Groningen's website. "The letters in this collection beautifully show what an emotional toll flight and separation had on these families." Another reason this collection is so unique, is that the letters are all still in the folded state. "The way in which a letter was folded, was very personal, similar to a signature. We call it letterlocking: folding and securing letters so that no one could secretly read it", Van der Linden explained. "This is a revolutionary new field of research - and the letters in this collection offer us unprecedented opportunities to map these folding methods."