…It has been a very long day and I’ve just had a child walk in as I watching this on the TV who announced – Letterlocking!

What the Fluff?

How did he know that and I didn’t ?

I’m the bloody historian…….!!!



Letterlocking is the act of folding and securing a written message (such as a letter) on papyrus, parchment, or paper, without requiring it to be contained in an envelope or packet. It is a traditional method of document security that utilizes folding and cutting.[1] The process dates to the 13th century in Western history, corresponding with the availability of flexible writing paper.[2] Letterlocking uses small slits, tabs, and holes placed directly into a letter, which combined with folding techniques are used to secure the letter (“letterpacket”), preventing reading the letter without breaking seals or slips, providing a means of tamper resistance and tamper evidence.[3] These folds and holes may be additionally secured with string and sealing wax.[4]

A particularly intricate method known as a spiral lock was in use by people of many social backgrounds in early modern Europe, including monarchs Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England. The pages of a letter would be folded together to form a packet. A sliver cut from a page but remaining attached at one end would be woven multiple times, back and forth, through short slots cut into the folded pages. The paper would then be moistened so that it would swell, locking the pieces together. The loose end of the sliver would then be pasted down and possibly sealed with wax.[5]

A Scottish diplomat in Italy, William Keith of Delny, sent letters to James VI of Scotland in 1595 which would tear in two if not opened with care.[6] In 1603 King James told the Venetian diplomat Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, with a smile, that he had previously received letters from the Doge of Venice which he could not open without breaking the seal. Scaramelli opened the letter for him.[7]

Intricate letterlocking works contain artistic elements, demonstrating more than a utilitarian purpose.[8] While the use of sealing techniques may have been limited to ecclesiastic and the nobility, letterlocking was historically performed by all classes of writers.[9] An individual could also be recognised by their personal technique of folding, as was the case with Jane Whorwood, of whose letter Charles I of England wrote: “This Note […] I know, by the fowldings […] that it is written by [Mrs Whorwood]”.[10]

Letterlocking is also a discipline focusing on “the materially engineered security and privacy of letters, both as a technology and a historically evolving tradition.”[1]