Among the art papers that I purchased in Paris last month were several dozen old letters, with incredibly beautiful handwriting that was the style back in the day. Some of these were purchased at the Postage Stamp and Telephone Card Market, just off the Champs-Elysees, where vendors are set-up year round in large white tents, one after the other, stretching for a few blocks along Avenue de Marigny. Here you can find vintage postage, postcards, letters, and other collectibles on paper, a real treasure trove for ephemera lovers.
Most of the booths are wonderfully organized--postcards and letters by location, other collectibles by subject matter--which is what sometimes happens when one has too much time on one's hands. Nonetheless, this works to your advantage, for if you came looking for Paris or Marseilles postmarks you can have them in multiples if you want them, and right quickly, too.
Since it was my first experience at this market, I proceeded with caution and purchased only a few things that I really admired. This turned out to be a good strategy, because later in the week I found an entire street of dealers for the same items, just a few blocks from my hotel, and their prices were much friendlier than those at the open air market. Perhaps this was because I was just looking for lovely handwriting samples; the postage stamps on the missives didn't matter so much to me.
Written on thin paper of pale colors, most of these letters have no separate envelope. The message is written on one side, then folded into thirds across the width, ends folded to the center. Next, the short ends are tucked in no more than an inch, creating a self-contained packet. The address information was then written on one side, and a wax seal applied to the back to hold the loose edge in place. The inks are mostly sepia, although a few are black. Every one of them, even those that appear to be simply statements of accounts and notes written in haste, feature handwriting that most of us could not approach after many months of calligraphy lessons.
Most of these are dated from the mid to late 1800's, although a few that I chose were from the 1700's. They have held up remarkably well, and I hope they will have a new reincarnation in a forthcoming series of book related projects that I have in mind to do this summer.