In a breakthrough study in historical preservation, a sealed letter written in 1697 has been deciphered by researchers without opening the seal.
The letter, dated 31 July 1697 was dispatched by French merchant Jacques Sennacques in Lille to his cousin Pierre Le Pers in The Hague, and had been closed using “letterlocking”, a procedure by which the letter is folded to become its own envelope, thereby sealing it to keep it personal. It is part of a collection of many undelivered letters sent from all over Europe to The Hague between17th century and 18th century, 600 of which have never been read before.The letters had been conserved by the chief postmasters of The Hague, Simon de Brienne and Marie Germain and donated to the postal museum in 1926. When letters could not be dispatched in the earlier times they were secured safely by the employees because the recipient paid for a letter in those times. Undelivered letters could be valuable if claimed.
Since the letter was folded so many times, the letter had many layers combined together and words looked mixed up.The team of researchers published their findings today in a Nature Communications article titled, “Unlocking history through automated virtual unfolding of sealed documents imaged by X-ray microtomography.” This breakthrough was the culmination of an international collaboration between conservators, historians, engineers and alos applying imaging technology . The letter dated July 31, 1697, contains a request from Jacques Sennacques to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, a French merchant in The Hague, for a certified copy of a death notice of a man named Daniel Le Pers.