My! just when you think that searching eBay for ‘entire letters’ is hard, comes the realization that there is a thing called Free Front. Namely, these are the remains (no other name for it) of a letter. The “letter” (as in ‘entire’) is not extant; the “cover” – a free-standing sheet of paper used to wrap the pre-stamp era letter (and may by what the free front represents; keep reading*) has been cut so that the address panel alone exists.
*NB: the address panel could be that of a folded letter – would depend: if writing is present on the backside then the address was most likely applied to a section left blank for that purpose, and the paper folded and sealed so that the address showed. This Jane Austen letter shows what I mean:
You can see the writing on the other side of the paper; the red seal still exists and this view shows the part of the lower page has been taken for more of the letter (typically, there will be two other ‘letter continuations’ to the left and right of the address). You can see more Austen Letters at the Morgan Library’s website. Want Austen facsimiles to keep? Find a copy of Jo Modert’s book!
In short, for my purposes I’d kill to find another (my “only” letter was purchased thanks to Craig in Australia alerting me!) Autograph Letter Signed, or ALS, also known as ‘entire’ letter. A cover is nice – but at the same time: no letter (boo…). So who knew such ‘trimmed’ specimens existed too.
NB: I am grateful to ALL who contact me,
whether you have a cover or entire letter
just happy to transcribe contents or addresses
The hard part is, I’m not looking for postal marks, I don’t collect certain counties or places; I want INFORMATION! I want chatty letters. EBay does not make this easy. Few listings comment on the sender / recipient. And I do not have the patience to open and look and try to decipher EVERY friggin address.
Which brings me to today’s post.
Gosh! some of these people have HORRIBLE handwriting!
I’m talking the address, NOT the ‘autograph’. Ah, which reminds me to tell you what a Free Front is.
A FRANK you are probably familiar with; members of parliament could send mail — franked (ie, they made out the envelope and “signed” it) — free of charge to the recipient. This was supposedly used ONLY for parliamentary business. Even Jane Austen writes Cassandra Austen about her ability (or inability) to secure a Frank. So the letters could very well BE those chatty ones I’m dying to find more of! (So you see my dilemma… where are the letters?? pitched or just somewhere else — with a big hole!)
To quote: “Free franks were avidly sought during the first three decades of the nineteenth century for autograph collections. This was accomplished by cutting out the front panels of the envelope which carried the inscriptions which were required under the use of this privilege. These panels are referred to by collectors as free fronts.”
Must say, when there are ‘entire’ letters listed on eBay, so many prove to be letters of business: to merchants of wine or books; or the family solicitor. But even those are not Smith&Gosling letters of business. That’s why I’m so grateful to people like Antony in Essex – he contacted me and sent scans of his Eliza Chute letters, which left me wanting more.
BTW, Jane Austen’s brother Frank Austen gifted collectors interested in the autograph of his sister with a signature trimmed out of a letter from her to him. Ohhhh…. (read that as a big GROAN!). Why not the entire letter?! I have a feeling ome of those snipped-out pieces may be all that has come down to us of some letters.
I am reminded that I had thoughts to pass along to reader of TWO TEENS IN THE TIME OF AUSTEN regarding the letter-writing notations noticed in the 1830s diaries of Mamma Smith, which I’ve been proofing and reading this weekend; so hope to follow up with a part II, but I leave you with two images found on eBay today.