Take a look at some of the most intriguing pieces of the collection in terms of their material condition and preservation status. As if they were frozen in time, some of the archive boxes present us with time capsules containing letters never opened or still folded in the way their authors left them, books never finished, original court bundles or artifacts once stolen right out of the hands of the historical actors. In the exhibition, the viewer also can glean a first impression of how we digitize the materials of the Prize Papers collection.
TNA, HCA 32/111E: The Prize Papers collection comprises more than 160 000 letters. The lion’s share of these letters has been opened. However, several hundred of the letters in the collection have survived in their original closed state until this day, folded and sealed as if they had just been sent off. In the pictures, we see parts of the mail in transit, mostly Spanish letters that were stored in mailbags on the French ship Le Fort de Nantes before it was captured in January 1747.
· Learn more about these letters and their writers here
· Learn more about our digitization approach regarding still closed letters here
· Learn more about postal practices here
TNA, HCA 30/766: Letter writers during the early modern period used various forms of folding and locking of their letters for postal despatch. During an age when envelopes had not yet been invented, people used their letter paper to fold and lock their letters and create sendable items. Due to the collection’s unique material state of preservation, in the Prize Papers letters have survived in many shapes and forms, still folded by various techniques or even locked up. In the picture we can see a small letter folded by a unique letter folding technique in a small triangle fold, which was found in a box of private papers and letters of Lieutenant George August Dossit D’Alban, who, before sailing on the Scielland, which was captured at the Cape of Goods Hope in 1798, previously sailed on the St Laurens as the address line tells us.
· Learn more about this ship here
· Learn more about our approach regarding documenting letter folding and locking techniques here
· Learn more about practices of letter folding and locking here
· Learn more about letterlocking here
TNA, HCA 32/249/11: During the early modern period, letters were often sent in packages. That means, letters enclosed other letters. The reason for sending several letters as part of one postal item was not primarily to save postage, which was in most cases paid by the receiver, but often for more practical reasons. Like in this case of a letter package from the so-called Bordeaux-Dublin collection. By receiving such a letter package, the merchant to whom the outer letter of the package was addressed was entrusted with the task of making sure to pass on the inserted letters to other business partners. This practice was, however, not limited to business circles, but we also find it in the context of family, friendship, or jurisdiction. We see a Materiality Shot and a Panorama Shot of this letter package.
· Learn more about the Bordeaux-Dublin Letters here
· Learn about letter packages here
· Learn more about our digitization approach regarding letter packages here
TNA, HCA 30/642 and TNA, HCA 30/652: A typical contemporary record keeping practice of the High Court of Admiralty was to bundle together pieces of evidence taken from captured ships. These court bundles often included various sorts of different records such as letters, administrative papers, and books. Strings, belts, ribbons, leather straps kept the records together that would become relevant during the court proceedings. In the Prize Papers collection, many of these original court bundles have survived in an amazingly conserved material condition, such as the large court bundle we see in the first image including a notebook with a pencil, a large official seal, bills of ladings, and correspondence all found on the ship Azië in 1672. In the second picture we can see documents coming from a ship that departed in St. Christoffel. The court bundle includes letters in English, French, and Spanish from 1664, three octavo cashbooks and Dutch almanacs with annotations from 1655.
· Learn more about the ships: HCA 30/642 and HCA 30/652
· Learn more about court practices here
· Learn more about conservational issues regarding these bundles here
TNA, HCA 32/125/21: The Jupiter of Plymouth was laden with woollen cloth and pilchards when it was captured on its way to Madeira in 1746. The ship and cargo were restored by the court, however, as parts of the ship’s papers were confiscated by the authorities as potential evidence, several dozen cloth samples have survived in a great variety of colours. Such kinds of samples, fabric or cloth, sometimes in the brightest of colours, can be found often in the Prize Papers collection, because they were either sent by mail, were part of the original cargo, or were owned by the captain or sailors on the ship. These artifacts are depicted as part of their original material environment as well as individually and will also be researchable in the Prize Papers data portal.
· Learn more about the Jupiter here
· Learn more about artifacts found in the collection here
TNA, HCA 32/119/21: Books have their very own kind of materiality. A practice we encounter frequently in the Prize Papers collection is that people on ships did not only own one or several larger or smaller books or notebooks, but that, due to their situation, it was also common practice to keep these books, notebooks, and leaflets enclosed within each other. In the picture, we can see a ship’s notebook found amongst the personal belongings of the master of the Jungfrau Maria containing notes in pencil. Enclosed within the notebook are two books with very small print Verbesserte Brem- und Verdischer Almanach, 1747 and Hamburgisch verbesserter Schreib-calender, 1746 as well and papers and bills relating to work undertaken at Hamburg in September 1746, including records of the time spent by dockworkers and carpenters working aboard the ship. In modern terms, we would call this book an early form of a moleskin notebook.
· Learn more here
· Learn more about the practice of inserting books into books here
TNA, HCA 32/1827: Surely one of the most spectacular material findings in the Prize Papers collection are books and notebooks with slate or chalkboard pages still showing writing in chalk or pencil. This highly fragile writing on a surface created for particularly aide memoires still exudes the air of a bygone past. Just a single careless wiping movement could destroy this unique materiality. It is immensely important to handle these books with care and to capture their materiality for posterity. In the picture, we can see a wallet with a notebook including chalk writing in Kurrent script. The book stems from the period between 1689 and 1679, probably coming from the ship Catharina from Copenhagen.
· Find the original book here, but please handle with care
TNA, HCA 32/996: Many artifacts have survived in the Prize Papers collection. Keys, seeds, powders, drugs, hair strands, and, extraordinarily, even jewellery. The golden signet rings shown in the pictures were found by our Dutch colleagues in 2017 while opening 75 still closed letters from a ship that departed Elmina in Ghana. The rings are in remarkable condition, sheltered for centuries in a closed letter. In the accompanying letter, the author J.G. Coorengel, writes that by sending this gift to his mother, he wanted to comfort her after the death of her husband, his father. He also writes that these rings would show “what the blacks know how to make”s. Elmina castle was a Dutch slave fort during the 18th century.
· Find the original artifacts here.
· Learn more about the glass beads that were found in these letters and other artifacts in the collection here.
· Learn in detail about the historical background of these artifacts in Erik van der Doe’s article “Small hidden treasures in the Prize Papers: Beads and gold rings from West Africa”, Magazine of the Friends of The National Archives, November 2019, Vol. 30, No. 2.