The lost art of letter writing

The lost art of letter writing

How to keep tradition alive


In these days of the information superhighway with texts, WhatsApp and email, has the humble handwritten letter lost its place?

A sign of social standing

In the early 19th Century, receiving letters was considered as an expression of social standing within society and carried the same importance as architecture, clothing, travelling and writing, By the mid-19th century the exchange of regular letter writing had become an art form and a daily undertaking for many. Indeed, such familiar things like Valentines Day, sympathy and celebration cards, designer stationery and writing instruments exist because of the fashion of written communication.

A postal service for everyone

It was the introduction of the civic service, named the ‘Penny Post’ in 1840 that enabled an affordable postal communication system, available for all classes and destinations for a penny stamp. This superseded the old postal system that was unregulated, with inconsistent pricing and determined by the number of miles the letter travelled (not always by the quickest route) and the sheets of paper used.

There is a postbox within walking distances of most homes in the UK

The old postal system saw the burden of payment falling on the receiver and not the sender, it being seen as a social slur if a pre-paid letter was delivered to your door! If the recipient could not pay on receipt of the letter, it was returned. Therefore, only the select few had the privilege of written communication and it is easy to see how people lost touch who couldn’t afford the price of receiving a letter when living in different towns and villages.

The Penny Post was a revolution for the postal system as it allowed for all classes of people to send their mail, not just the social elite.

Author and TV presenter Stephen Fry is known for hosting the quirky general knowledge show QI, is an expert on the English language and is also famous as one of the world’s most popular celebrities on Twitter. More recently he has led a campaign run by Amnesty to encourage letter writing. He said: ‘ I love texting, tweeting, blogging and I love texting, tweeting, blogging and emailing as much, if not more, than the next person, but there are some occasions when nothing, but nothing, can replace the power of the hand-written letter.’

Championing handwritten letters as part of a Write for Rights campaign for the charity, Fry recently contributed to a project called Letter to an Unknown Soldier, based on Charles Sargeant Jagger’s statue on Platform One of Paddington Station. It shows a soldier reading a letter from home and is a memorial to the men of the Great Western Railway who died in the War – the people responsible for carrying the millions of letters to and from the war zone.

Stephen Fry tells us to get out a pen and just write…

The lost art of letter writing

The Amnesty campaign has seen thousands of people writing a hand-written letter on behalf of one of the charity’s cases. Letter writing has always been at the heart of their activities from the days when supporters traditionally wrote to dictators and police chiefs appealing for clemency and basic rights for ‘prisoners of conscience’ – those jailed just for their peacefully held beliefs.

Although modern times calls for all forms of activism from online petitions to social media campaigns, the written letter is being hailed as a valuable part of history -and a powerful form of communication.

The written letter is considered an important part of history

Handwritten letters, politely but passionately putting the case for prisoners of conscience, addressed to ambassadors, prime ministers, presidents and monarchs of countries where restrictions on freedom of speech have resulted in prisoners of conscience, these can work surprisingly well.

Appreciation of hand written letters

The Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society has been set up to bring together people who love to write and receive handwritten letters, and to stop them from becoming a lost art.

Their website states: ‘The hope is that handwritten letters will go on forever and ever. And if the Society encourages just one person to write a letter to a friend or relative or someone famous, it will be a triumph!

The Society claims to have six main aims which are:

  • To inspire people to write handwritten letters to each other.
  • To unite letter writers in a bid to boldly cling on to the dying art of writing letters.
  • To put the fun and meaning back into writing letters.
  • To value the beauty of an individual’s handwriting.
  • To encourage anyone and everyone to put pen to paper and send a letter to someone special.
  • To gather together everything to do with handwritten letters in one place.

They’re rare and exciting and are unique to the recipient. Because they are a ‘one-off’ they are personal and can be kept for many years, sparking cherished memories. There is also considerable effort that goes into handwriting a letter, more so than sending an email, so that effort is generally appreciated.

Because so few people receive personally written letters now, they do feel more valuable. Most adults only receive about ten bits of personal mail each year – often birthday cards and not proper mail.

Letters aren’t just good for the recipient. Handwriting and letters go hand in hand as the decline of one can result in the atrophy of the other – although history would tell us this may have always been on the cards.

Get back to letter writing

So how do we get back to becoming a letter writer? Firstly, there’s no need for immaculate handwriting, a special wit or limitless supplies of vocabulary.  All you need is something to write with, to write on – and a little bit of time.

Keep a supply of paper, pens, occasion cards, envelopes, stamps, and an address book or rolodex all in one spot. For an extra splash of personality, you can add stickers, stamps, coloured pens, even sealing wax and a seal. You can add to these accessories as letter writing becomes more of a hobby or regular practice for you, but don’t wait until you have them to get started!’

Other tips include:

  • Thank you cards

Be liberal in sending cards out following the receipt of gifts or when you have been a guest at someone’s house. Apart from being polite it is good practice for the art of letter writing.

Thank you letters are a great way to keep writing
  • Christmas or New Year’s letters

An old tradition of catching up friends and also a great way to reflect on the past year while you write.

  • Get a Pen Pal

Write to someone you don’t know or haven’t seen for many years. This is a very personal and friendly way to keep in touch than merely “seeing” them in your Facebook feed.

  • Postcards

Postcards let you dabble in letter-writing -and they can be sent when you’re traveling, or just to surprise someone with a “thinking of you” note.

Get personal

You never know how much you might brighten someone’s day with a personal letter – and how soon that feeling could be reciprocated.  It is well documented that writing letters can help reduce stress because it is an opportunity to slow down and be creative.

Personal letters can speak straight to the heart

Whether you’re the writer or the reader, a handwritten letter sent in the mail can help articulate feelings you never knew you had, generate stronger relationships and offer a real gift to someone you care about.

So, in the interests of keeping the tradition of letter writing alive, why not pick up some new stationery, a stylish pen, and get scribing as soon as possible?

And if you’re thinking of sending someone a card for a special occasion why not also send them a Parsley Box gift card? Click below to see the options: