Have those halcyon days of love letters and perfumed stationary well and truly vanished in time? Think back to a time before emails, text messages, and social media. A time when the only way to communicate with someone was by writing a letter.
Snail mail was the primary form of communication, and it was an art form. Letters were imbued with emotion and personality that is lost in today's digital age. But now, letter writing is dying out.
Fewer and fewer people are taking the time to sit down and write a letter. Why? Because it's difficult. It's harder than clicking a few buttons on your phone or computer. Why sit down and think about a phrase or a feeling or and emotion that a bright yellow emoji can encapsulate just as well and in a fraction of the time!
Or are we simply becoming a little too starry eyed about this? Has the distant memory simply dimmed the arduous task of grinding out line after line to simply fill 4 sides of Basildon Bond?
Is Letter Writing a Dying Art?
On the face of it perhaps. The inevitability that this time-consuming task will fall by the wayside for many seems like just a matter of time. Like many traditions, it seems convenience trumps every time.
The physical act of forming letters is a basic part of the human learning process and as such remains something very personal to every individual.
The intent of a handwritten letter is altogether a different proposition to that of a text or even an email.
According to the ancient Greek historiographer, Hellanicus of Mytilene the first ever letter was sent by the Persian Queen Atossa around 500BC.
So, as you can see letter writing has weathered some ups and downs in its time. Perhaps it’s our concept of distance that is dying. For centuries letter writing was the only way to communicate over vast distances.
However, in the digital age time and distance have become irrelevant. It seems like a casualty of this so too as handwritten communication is becoming less and less common.
Despite all the above letter writing persists in society. It seems that there is still something intrinsically personal and human about the written word. Letters can become cherished souvenirs of a bygone age, an honour that’s difficult to see bestowed upon an email or a text. The letter still seems to sit at the top of the communication hierarchy despite its dwindling commonality or perhaps because of it.
The Golden era of Letter Writing
By the 1920s and 1930s, more parents were able to afford stationery outfits for their adorable offspring. This provided an early start to letter writing that could create a lifetime's love for letter writing.
The practice was taught at school alongside penmanship and composition. The skill was encouraged and valued from an early age.
Cute colourful illustrations covered the wallets and on the stationery itself. Sometimes there would be an association with a popular character or a film such as Snow White.
By the 1950s, character products were on the increase, primarily because of the influence of television.
From love letters to celebrity communications, letters were the way centuries of people communicated.
Famous 20th Century Letter Writers
The early part of the 20th century was deemed as the golden era of letter writing.
Alongside the upheaval caused by the two World Wars, the necessity for communication became apparent. Famous authors and poets began to realise the worth of such collections of works.
The final tomes often serve as part autobiography and part historical document offering an insight into another time and another world.
If you are looking for inspiration here’s our top 10 letter writers of the 20th century.
- Scott Fitzgerald
- PG Wodehouse – A Life in Letters
- Graham Greene – A Life in Letters
- The Letters of Virginia Woolf
- George Orwell – A Life in letters
- Steinbeck – A Life in Letters
- The Groucho Letters – Letters to and From Grouch Marx
- Don't Tread On me: The Selected Letters of S.J. Perelman
- The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde
- Kurt Vonnegut: Letters
Letters as a Lifeline
During the 1930s and 1940s letter writing was a lifeline for many scattered across the globe fighting or fleeing war. These documents have proved invaluable primary sources for historians since.
The increase in emigration bought focus on communication over vast distances. It seemed that no matter what changed in the world humans still wanted to keep in touch and by post was the perfect solution.
Letters for many were the lifeline for love, emotions and secrets. The excitement of receiving a personal letter in the post never seemed to abate. During the Second World War they even carried their own codes on the back of them. The letters document how generations of people fell in love with each other particularly during World War I and World War II.
How many of these can you still recall SWALK, HOLLAND, FRANCE and BELFAST? There were even more risqué ones like EGYPT, BURMA and NORWICH.
The Joy of Letter Writing
Letter writing is an art form that has been around for centuries. It provides a personal connection that can’t be replicated by other forms of communication.
The psychological impact of letter writing cannot be underestimated. When you take the time to sit down and put your thoughts on paper, it shows that you care enough about the person to put in the extra effort.
Just remember how you feel when you see a handwritten letter among al the junk and bills on your hall carpet. You have the power to spread that little moment of happiness wherever you want.
The joy of letter writing is evident when you read through old letters from loved ones. It’s clear they took the time to choose just the right words and crafted them with thought and care.
So, what does it matter if you write a formal letter or an informal letter? You might even want to start with a letter of complaint!
The key is to start.
Perhaps a short handwritten note to an older relative might be just the tonic they need. The possibilities are endless so simply get that letter written!
We hope this article has convinced you to start writing more letters.
Discover the fascinating history of consumer culture from Victorian times to the present day at the Museum of Brands.
Children's Stationery Image Courtesy fo Robert Opie Museum Of Brands