Letters from the Collections

By Hilde Perrin, Library Assistant

April is designated National Card and Letter Writing Month by the United States Postal Service, a month dedicated to the joy of writing and receiving correspondence. Here at the MHS, letters are in no short supply. With over 13 million documents in our collection, we have lots of correspondence ranging from famous figures like the Adams family to regular friends writing to friends. I asked a few of our library staff members to share some of the fun letters they have come across in our collections.

Library Assistant Grace Doeden chose a letter written by O.R. Howard Thompson to Ruby V. Elliot in 1917. Grace is currently working with the Ruby V. Elliot Bookplate collection, a compilation of bookplates that Elliot collected from friends and acquaintances. Thompson sent this letter to Elliot, along with his bookplate, joking that he did it because her brother told him to, stating that “I always do what I am told.” The bookplate that accompanies the letter features a cat lounging on an armchair, and a quote in German attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Sieh, das Gute liegt so nah” or “Look, the good lies so near.”

Left: Letter written by O.R. Howard Thompson to Ruby V. Elliot, 26 February 1917, Ruby V. Elliot Bookplate collection. Right: Bookplate of O.R. Howard Thompson, Ruby V. Elliot Bookplate collection.

Associate Reference Librarian for Rights and Reproductions Hannah Elder picked a rather endearing letter, written by a child named Freddy. Here’s what she has to say about it:

“I first came across this letter while making reproductions from the Horatio R. Storrer papers [hyperlink: https://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0001] a few years ago. I snapped a quick picture of it with my phone and have been enchanted ever since. It is a birthday greeting written to “Carrie Gilmore,” Caroline Augusta Gilmore, by an unidentified child (“Freddy”) at an unknown date. We so rarely see the letters of children and this one is so very sweet. It’s fun to see Freddy’s emerging handwriting – note that he puts serifs on almost all of his letters. I especially love the stick figure drawn on the back of the letter. Is it a snowman? A dapper gentleman? Only Freddy knows.”

Transcription: Dear Carry

I want to see you very much. I hope you will come home soon.

Charles has given me a ship, it is very pretty. Much love & a happi birthday. Freddy

Letter from Freddy to Carrie Gilmore, Horatio R. Storrer papers

The letter I chose for this spotlight is a postcard from the Charles Cornish Pearson papers. Pearson served in France during World War I, and the majority of the collection is made up of the letters he wrote home to his family. While he wrote page-length letters to his parents and siblings, he often opted to send short postcard messages to his aunt, Florence Pearson. Not only do these postcards contain short messages of what he had been up to, they also feature fun images of the places Pearson was visiting during his time in France. This missive was written while visiting Paris and features an image of the tomb of Napoleon, with the caption explaining his impression of Paris. He writes:

“Just a line from gay
Paris. Some town &
mighty glad to get a
chance to visit it.
Some wonderful sights &
all quite different from
everything in the States.

Postcard from Charles Cornish Pearson to Florence Pearson 10 August 1918, Charles Cornish Pearson papers

Take inspiration from the letters in the MHS collection in this final week of National Card and Letter Writing Month to send your own letters and postcards. You never know, they might end up in an archive!