The history of letter writing is far too vast to encapsulate into one post, so I will type up some brief notes that are in no way exhaustive, but highlight some things I have learned or just things I have been thinking about.

Ancient Letters:  The majority of New Testament books are, in fact, letters.   Letters from Paul to churches requiring advice or a good talking to, letters from other authors to friends far away  – attempts to encourage their faith. Letters would typically be conveyed by a friend who was already heading that direction.  Besides these well-preserved Biblical letters,  we have a wealth of other ancient letters – from those on paper scrolls to notes etched into slices of rock.  Through these letters we get a glimpse in daily life in those eras – their preservation through time helps us to understand history and customs, ethics and relationships.   Makes you wonder what archeologists will make of us in two thousand years, with our ‘read then delete’ emails and texting abbreviations (OMG, IDK, my BFF Jill).

Slightly more recent: In Regency and Victorian times, letters were a staple of any wealthy young woman’s day.  How else were her friends living far away supposed to know her every thought, activity, and about the smart beaux she met?   Letters were written on sheets of paper, then folded carefully so that the same paper was also the envelope.  Letters were mailed for free by the writer, then paid for by the recipient based on weight and how fast the writer wanted to send it (1840 and earlier). Later the Penny Post was established and stamps became available, putting the burden of postage on the writer (1840 and later).  

Want more?  Wikipedia History of Mail (accuracy unknown as with all Wikipedia entries)

Today, letter writing is referred to as a ‘lost art’ and for good reason.  The invention of email created a way to communicate that was fast and free – I can email my friend Chelsie in Congo in seconds, but a written letter would never make it as they have no postal service in her town.   My friend Jenna in Honduras can get her birthday card on time if I mail it two months in advance, but a cheesy e-card works when I miss the advance mailing. 

My general daily correspondence is suited for email – short note reminders to my husband, quickly answering questions to the inquiries of friends, and a free way to send longer messages to friends back in the states.    It is the last category that I think sometimes requires a little more thought and effort.  While I frequently send updates to friends through email, and don’t mind in the least that they respond in kind – I also like to get mail.  I like to send mail – imagining the joy of the recipient upon finding a real letter within their bills and junk mail.  What used to be the main avenue of communication between friends far apart is now a surprise and a joy –  receiving correspondence that isn’t something you have to read on a screen. 

There are others who have written on this subject more eloquently than I.  There are others who write more letters that I do (well, anyone who really writes letters writes more than I do).  There is much more history to be learned regarding letter writing, supplies and mail systems.    This rambling is just a slice of letter writing information for your Wednesday. 

Have something to add?  Post up a comment – I would love to hear your thoughts!

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