A Red Letter Day

Trawling the web this morning for letter-themed inspiration, I stumbled on a little known fact; the first recorded handwritten letter was written by Persian Queen Atossa around 500BC.

Now I might win a pub quiz armed with this information, but come on Handwritingletters.com, I want more. How did this come about? Did the queen wake up one morning and think ‘this is so important I must commit sharpened stick to papyrus and invent a whole new form of communication?’

I need to know what was in that letter don’t you? I mean this was the first EVER letter. Who did she write to? Who posted it? Did she get a reply? How did the idea go viral? Who invented the envelope? Who grabbed the marketing opportunity and invented the first letter opener, the postage stamp, the pen, the ink?

This is an entire semester’s worth of school class. If I were still teaching I’d be making handmade paper with the kids and researching ancient Persia with them. We’d have a mailbox in the classroom and post letters to each other everyday. I’d have them write a play about the royal court and produce it. We’d look at ancient parchment and study hieroglyphics. We’d lead onto a bigger project on communication. We’d move onto the impact of the Internet. We’d have so much fun. Oh yes. I forgot. You can’t do that since standardized testing took over. I taught way back, in the days when teachers were not treated like children and we were able to tailor the curriculum to the kids.

Sorry. I wasn’t expecting to go on a rant about education.  I was aiming to write something jolly in advance of my Red Letter Day tomorrow when Letter From Paris is published. There’s something evocative about a handwritten letter, it gives a quality to our lives we’re in danger of losing and it’s far more enduring than email or text. I mean, when was the last time you printed off emails and tied them with a ribbon to treasure or to give to your grandchildren one day?

I wonder if in years to come a website will record that the last letter ever handwritten was in the twenty-first century. I really hope not.



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