PEN FRIENDS

Pay­ing homage to the art of let­ter- writ­ing.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

WHEN was the last time you sat down and wrote a let­ter? When was the last time you re­ceived one?

Let­ter-writ­ing is fast be­com­ing a thing of the past, but the trend to­wards exclusively dig­i­tal lit­er­acy may be miss­ing out on a form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­te­gral to our his­tory.

Let­ters com­prise our writ­ten his­tory. They de­tail fam­ily re­la­tion­ships, friend­ships and dis­putes, po­lit­i­cal treaties and al­liances and sig­nif­i­cant events in our cul­tural his­tory. Let­ters are pre­served from the time of an­cient In­dia, an­cient Egypt and Sumer, through Rome, Greece and China, mak­ing up sev­eral of the books of the Bi­ble and ar­chives of cor­re­spon­dence. Whether for per­sonal, diplo­matic, or busi­ness rea­sons, they serve as pri­mary sources for his­to­ri­ans. Let­ter-writ­ing has changed sig­nif­i­cantly since the 19th cen­tury, when pa­per let­ters were the only re­li­able means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween peo­ple in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions. As com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy has di­ver­si­fied, post­ing let­ters has been over­taken by send­ing emails.

New gen­er­a­tions are learn­ing about online eti­quette and man­ag­ing the in­di­vid­ual dig­i­tal iden­tity, but there is a whole eti­quette to writ­ing let­ters that we are los­ing for­ever, un­less an ef­fort is made to pre­serve it. In an ef­fort to do just that, online homages to off­line cor­re­spon­dence; specif­i­cally let­ters, are a grow­ing trend. As we move fur­ther away from putting pen to pa­per, hand-writ­ten let­ters of note are fetch­ing in­creas­ing prices at auc­tion houses around the world.

Let­ters of Note is a photo blog that gath­ers and sorts fas­ci­nat­ing let­ters, post­cards, tele­grams, faxes and memos from times past. Post­ing scans and pho­tos with ac­com­pa­ny­ing tran­script, it is up­dated weekly and is con­sis­tently fas­ci­nat­ing.

Giv­ing you a peek into the lives of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures through their pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence, you can read the hand­writ­ten cor­re­spon­dences ( and tran­scrip­tions) of Frank Si­na­tra and Ernest Hem­ing­way, Mick Jag­ger and Andy Warhol, Adolf Hitler, Win­ston Churchill and more.

Blog cre­ator Shaun Usher has a strong nos­tal­gia for let­ters. His other let­ter nos­tal­gia blog, Let­ter­heady, is a col­lec­tion of beau­ti­ful let­ter­heads ( just the blank let­ter­headed page, with­out con­tent), scanned or pho­tographed, and up­loaded. Those fea­tured in­clude Dis­ney, Hou­dini, Frank Zappa and yes, Hitler; it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­er­cise in de­sign com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The de­sign of the writ­ten let­ter is a so­cial in­sti­tu­tion in it­self. Not many of us are taught the cor­rect com­po­si­tion of a busi­ness let­ter, a per­sonal let­ter or a thank-you let­ter any more. We may RSVP via email or SMS and we are more likely to Skype video-chat with a fam­ily mem­ber over­seas than draft even an email.

When was the last time you re­ceived a let­ter?

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