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Afterlife of Letters

John Martin. Letter book. Manuscript, ca. 1650-1663

What happened to a letter after it was read? The recipient, or his clerk or secretary, would often fold the letter and write on the top of the outer leaf an endorsement consisting of the date, the name of the sender, and a brief summary of the letter. The letter would then be filed in a bundle with the endorsements visible for quick recall and easy retrieval.


Other times, letters were preserved in letterbooks. Personal letterbooks took many forms. They could contain copies of letters actually sent and received by the compiler, as well as letters collected by him or her--including copies of historical, scurrilous, or anonymously-written letters that circulated widely, letters taken from printed books, advice letters from parents, letters preserved for legal and financial reasons, or letters simply worthy of imitation.

Autograph letter signed from Katherine Hamilton, Lady Paisley, to Colonel Robert Warcupp. Manuscript, November 1681

Related Items

John Martin's

Letter Endorsements

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