Room 5: How to write and fold a letter

Envelopes were not used in this period. Letters consisted of a single sheet of paper, folded in half to make four pages. Jane Austen wrote with a goose-quill pen, using iron gall ink, either homemade or, more likely, bought from a stationer’s shop. The letter was written across the first three pages and the top and bottom thirds of the fourth page, leaving its middle third blank.  With the first page uppermost, the bottom third of the letter was then folded upwards and the top third folded down so that the edges met in the middle. Then, holding the letter lengthways, the left-hand and right-hand sides were tucked inside each other. The packet was sealed with wax and the address written on the blank reverse.

Outside London, which had its own postal service, postage, based on weight and distance travelled, was paid by the recipient not the sender. This acted as an incentive for the writer to economize by using every scrap of paper.

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