“Locked” for 300 years: Digital unfolding has now revealed this letter’s secrets and techniques

In 1697, a person named Jacques Sennacque wrote a letter to his cousin, a French service provider named Pierre Le Pers, requesting an authorized demise certificates for an additional man named Daniel Le Pers (presumably additionally a relation). Sennacque sealed the letter with an intricate folding technique generally known as “letterlocking,” a kind of bodily cryptography—the higher to safeguard the contents from prying eyes. That letter was by no means delivered or opened. Greater than 300 years later, researchers have just about “unlocked” the letter to disclose its contents for the primary time, proper right down to the watermark within the form of a chook. They described their leads to a brand new paper printed within the journal Nature Communications.

Co-author Jana Dambrogio, a conservator at MIT Libraries, coined the time period “letterlocking” after discovering such letters whereas a fellow on the Vatican Secret Archives in 2000. The Vatican letters dated again to the 15th and 16th centuries, and so they featured unusual slits and corners that had been sliced off. Dambrogio realized that the letters had initially been folded in an ingenious method, basically “locked” by inserting a slice of the paper right into a slit, then sealing it with wax. It might not have been doable to open the letter with out ripping that slice of paper—proof that the letter had been tampered with.

Dambrogio has been finding out the follow of letterlocking ever since, usually creating her personal fashions to showcase totally different methods. The follow dates again to the 13th century—a minimum of in Western historical past—and there are numerous totally different folding and locking methods that emerged over the centuries. Queen Elizabeth I, Machiavelli, Galileo Galilei, and Marie Antoinette are among the many well-known personages identified to have employed letterlocking for his or her correspondence.

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