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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Art of Letter Writing in Regency England, Part I

I’ve just finished writing the second book in my Widow’s Club series and I ended up doing a fair amount of research on letters, letter writing, and the post during the Regency as my characters wrote a lot of letters as an integral part of the plot. Since I wanted to share some of the more interesting things I found out about the art of letter writing during the era, I’ve devised a short series of posts on this topic, starting with envelopes.
The number one thing I found out, that I absolutely did not know, is that envelopes come much later than the Regency. Envelopes do not come into common usage until about 1840, so Regency writers had to find other methods for ensuring the privacy of their letters. They could have enclosed the letter in a separate piece of folded paper, but the extra sheet would have added quite a bit of money to the postage (calculated by weight), which was then paid by the recipient, not the writer of the letter. Many people chose instead to use one sheet of paper (foolscap, post, and pott were popular), folded in half to form four pages of writing surface. They would write and often cross write over three of these pages, leaving the fourth page blank. The paper was then folded so this fourth page formed the envelope to keep out prying eyes and sealed. Sealing a letter could be accomplished by one of two means. Least expensive was to use a pre-formed wafer made from flour and gum that the writer licked and stuck to the paper to create a seal. The other method was to use sealing wax. I have, in my youth, used sealing wax on my letters to
friends and after this bit of research plan to find and use them again, as they give quite an elegant look. In the Regency, the letter writer would melt the end of a stick of sealing wax (which had no wick), then snub the pliable resin onto the envelope and press it with a seal or signet ring to insure against tampering. Sealing wax, I discovered, came in only three colors during the Regency era. Red was the most favored color and could be used at any time. Green was used by the Office of the Exchequer, the courts, and the Church. And black was used by those in mourning or to inform others of a death. Letter writing was absolutely a romantic part of previous eras and an art that I think we should bring back into our lives today. Next time I'll tell you what I learned about that most romantic of writing implements--the quill. Sources: “A Touch of Quill and Ink: Regency Letter Writing,” by Maria Grace “Anatomy of a Regency Letter,” from Lady Smatter, Her Reputation for Accomplishment


Valerie Ullmer said...

That was wonderful, a great bit of information! Thanks for sharing!

Melissa Keir said...

Very interesting. Too bad about the green or black... You would know what kind of letter was coming and avoid it!

Jenna said...

Thank you, Valerie! I find historical research so fascinating because everything was so different from our own experience I always wonder how they coped with what they had. And they truly got along very well with their own "modern conveniences."

Thanks, Melissa. I think it's a shame they only had 3 colors. I remember having everything from gold to purple to turquoise. I really think I'll get a new set and re-start that tradition again. :)

Katherine Bone said...

This was great information, Lady Jenna! I didn't know about the different colors of wax used. I assumed red was the primary color. I found the black reference intriguing! Thanks for this! ;)

Sandra Masters said...

thank you for this fascinating information. I was not aware that the recipient paid for the postage. And the cross writing is new to me. Fundamental information for Regency writers. In my own novels, I did describe one page of paper writing on one side only, folded in four, to resemble an envelope.Sweet Heaven. I remember buying a wax and seal when I was a teenager.

Alina K. Field said...

I love the information about the black wax. I'll definitely be using that in a story sooner or later!