Handwritten Letters

Adair Watters on July 15th 2019.

According to Cable Neuhaus writing for the Saturday Evening Post, July/August 2019, "It's becoming a thing again to write letters and drop them into a physical mailbox". I hope so.

A client and I recently worked on conserving hundreds of handwritten letters that she and family members had written to each other ca 1960s. She was a young teen, a college student, then a teacher and a wife. These were personal letters and were not intended for me to read and I didn’t, but I as I conserved the collection, I got the drift.

They were written in and about a different time in our country's history and culture and in a small southern city. A quick study would teach the reader about the writers’ values, where they traveled, what they did on a daily basis, who they talked to, the things that made them happy and the things that caused concern, the things that were important to them, and, of course, the weather!

What struck me about these letters was that they were a conversation between two people, spoken in very long sentences, with the expectation of a fairly prompt reply. Many of them began, "I had been expecting your letter..." or “I hadn’t heard from you since…”.

They were written in cursive, which I blogged about earlier (HeirShare Blogs). My father had very nice handwriting and he enjoyed writing letters. As a result, he received a lot of letters in return. Getting the mail was an important daily ritual of his. He always had several "conversations" going simultaneously with plenty of time to be thoughtful in replying. I wish I had kept more of them.

From what I understand, young students are again being taught basic cursive handwriting. It is quicker and smoother when you must write something and it's helpful when reading older family letters, deeds and wills.

Today, a handwritten letter implies something important! Again quoting Neuhaus, "It's undeniable that when you hold a pen in hand, you will express yourself with greater honesty (if not dignity)." As an aside, it seems like every time there is a postage rate increase there is a lot or wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. Personally, I am grateful and surprised that the USPS can transport a letter from my mailbox to anywhere in the US for $0.55.

Let’s hope that Neuhaus is correct and that handwritten letters will become “a thing” again. If not, future historian will have a small window in which to look into our times and piece together the values, travels, what we did, who we talked to, the things that made us happy and sad, our important things, and, of course, the weather!

At HeirShare, we look at handwritten letters as keepers thinking that there is a much better chance that many of them will be available to family historians in future generations. I hope you keep and conserve any handwritten letters that you have. Lord only knows where our e-mail correspondence will be.

Adair Watters

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