Signed, Sealed, and Undelivered: A Postal Treasure Trove in the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague


This project consolidates an international public-private partnership between researchers from five world-leading universities and the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague. Our collaborative enterprise centres on an extraordinary archive of undelivered letters - 25% of which are unopened -sent from across Europe to The Hague between 1680 and 1707.

Our approach to the Brienne Collection's materiality makes this project a world first. The uniquely preserved letters evidence the many ways writers sought to protect their privacy through intricate folds and seals, a process we call
"letterlocking". Our non-invasive examination techniques will reveal the contents of these fragile documents for the first time. Recognizing the significance of secure document formats through all social strata of early modern society, our work has the potential to transform both humanities scholarship and conservation practice.

Our proposed project has four action items:
1. Onsite team-building and grant-writing;
2. Using state-of-the-art technology to conduct trial scans to "read" unopened letters;
3. Organising letterlocking workshops for museum staff, an intern, and the general public. Staff and the intern will learn to recognize and preserve letterlocking formats; public workshops will communicate our findings, broadly
promoting the humanities and conservation science;
4. Item-level cataloguing of the entire collection, ensuring long-term storage of data in an open-access resource.

The study of correspondence demands a three-dimensional exploration of materiality, context, and content. In addition to recovering unique historical data,the new methodologies this project will develop and disseminate offer wholly new perspectives on material culture, individuality, and the history of epistolary privacy.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. N.N.W. Akkerman

Affiliated with

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS)


01/01/2016 to 25/03/2017