New Technology Reads 'Locked' Letter Sealed 300 Years Ago

How can you read an unopened letter without breaking the seal or damaging it in any way?
Derya Ozdemir
The letter in its closed formBrienne

A new virtual-reality technique devised by MIT researchers has enabled us to get a closer look at the lives of ordinary people by reading old letters that were mailed not in envelopes but in the paper itself after being folded into complex forms. This process turned the letter into its own envelope since paper was scarce and expensive in those times. 

Using highly sensitive X-ray scanner and computer algorithms, the researchers were able to solve the mystery of a letter posted more than 300 years ago from Paris to the Hague. It was never delivered or opened which is why it protected its envelope form.

The team stated that the algorithm "takes us right into the heart of a locked letter."

New Technology Reads 'Locked' Letter Sealed 300 Years Ago
Source: Brienne

The study, published in Nature Communications journal, shows that the letter was sent on 31 July 1697 by Jacques Sennacques in Paris to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, a French merchant in the Hague. Sennacques was requesting a certified copy of the death notice of of their relative, Daniel le Pers. But it was never delivered and ultimately ended up with other lost letters in a leather trunk owned by a postmaster called Simon de Brienne. After it was given to a postal museum in 1926, it wouldn't see the light of day until being studied in the last decade by the Unlocking History Research Group's historians, scientists, conservators, and computer engineers, CNN reports.

New Technology Reads 'Locked' Letter Sealed 300 Years Ago
Source: Brienne

"We've been able to use our scanners to X-ray history," said study author David Mills, a researcher at the Queen Mary University of London. "The scanning technology is similar to medical CT scanners, but using much more intense X-rays which allow us to see the minute traces of metal in the ink used to write these letters. The rest of the team were then able to take our scan images and turn them into letters they could open virtually and read for the first time in over 300 years."

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The letter was written in French, so it had to be translated into English, but bear in mind that there are some missing words likely resulting from the wormholes in the paper. You can read it down below:

Dear sir & cousin,

It has been a few weeks since I wrote to you in order to ask you to have drawn up for me a legalized excerpt of the death of Sieur Daniel Le Pers, which took place in The Hague in the month of December 1695, without hearing from you. This is f...g I am writing to you a second time in order to remind you of the pains that I took on your behalf. It is important to me to have this extract you will do me a great pleasure to procure it for me to send me at the same time news of your health of all the family.

I also pray that God maintains you in His Sainted graces & covers you with the blessings necessary to your salvation. Nothing more for the time being, except that I pray you to believe that I am completely, sir and cousin, your most humble & very obedient servant,

Jacques Sennacques

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