Modelled after British Library, Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex’s letter to Queen Elizabeth I of England, Essex to Elizabeth I Pleated British Library Add Ms 74286, yr 1590, fol. 1.
This “butterfly lock”, name is inspired by the metamorphosis of its namesake creature. In order for the gorgeous pattern to develop, a flat and narrow band of paper, must destroy itself as it, transforms the lock, into a textured and tightly-laced lock. The letterlocker’s choice to use paper would have been practical and economical since one could use scraps of paper, and would be a handsome alternative to silk floss, a material often used to secure ‘pleated’ letters shut in the early modern era.
Letters found with many slits parallel to and millimeters from the fore-edge with no signs of sealing wax may have been secured shut either with silk floss or using a technique found with blank margin locks, referred to as “recursive perforation”, where the paper lock is laced through itself and the letter-packet using three or more slits. First, the wider portion of the long, narrow tapered paper band wraps around the letter-packet. Then, a chisel is used to create a small slit parallel to and about 4mm from the fore-edge of the packet that goes through both the lock and the letter-packet close to the bottom edge. The lock folds in half and travels through the slit. Once through the slit, the lock is unfolded and pressed flat over its beginning (the thicker end of the lock). A small slit allows the lock to travel from one side of the packet to the other. Four additional slits are made between these two, allowing the above steps to repeat. The “sewing” of the lock through itself continues in the same manner, perforating itself in the process, each time the loose end of the lock folds in half so it may travel through the narrow slit, and each time it emerges, it is flattened out before before another slit is made. The paper lock begins to make a beautiful pattern as the width of the paper lock becomes narrower, and the slits align and form the perforation from the thickest edge of the lock toward the center of the packet. The advantage of using a paper lock cut from a source other than the letter substrate is that the paper may be quite long, so the letterlocker may sew the lock through itself more times. Conversely, when the letterlocker chooses to have more built-in security, that is having the paper lock remain attached as it laces through the letter the number of slits the letterlocker is limited by the length of the lock. When the paper runs out, the lock cannot lace through itself anymore. Essex’s letters have five or six slits along a panel that measures only 37 mm (or 1.5 inches) high. Many of the attached blank margin locks have three to four slits that are staggered so when the letter tears open, they can often run together and appear to look like one continuous crooked slit.
Produced by MIT Video Productions (MVP). Directed and demonstrated by Jana Dambrogio, Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator, MIT Libraries and co-general editor of Letterlocking.org and Dictionary of Letterlocking (DoLL).
Funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Libraries.
Special thanks to Dr Andrea Clarke, Curator of Early Modern Historical Manuscripts at the British Library; Barry Pugatch and Ramon, MVP staff; Ayako Letizia, MIT Libraries Conservation Associate; Annie Dunn, former MIT student; Emily Hishta Cohen, MIT Libraries Intern and Graduate Student, The Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU; Mary Uthuppuru and Brien Beidler book conservators in private practice and associate editors of Letterlocking.org and Dictionary of Letterlocking (DoLL); and Dr Daniel Starza Smith Lecturer in Early Modern English Literature (1500–1700), Department of English, King's College London, UK. and co-general editor of Letterlocking.org and Dictionary of Letterlocking (DoLL).
Cite as: Jana Dambrogio, et al, 'Robert Devereux’s letter to Queen Elizabeth I, England, Butterfly Lock, ca. 1590,’ Letterlocking Instructional Videos. Filmed: October 2016. Duration: 15:01. Posted: October 2016. Video URL: [Use URL below]. Date accessed: [Date].
Copyright 2016. Jana Dambrogio, Daniel Starza Smith and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T). All rights reserved. The following copyrighted material is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) License creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/. Contact the M.I.T. Technology Licensing Office for any other licensing inquiries.
NB: Letterlock responsibly. Be mindful of open flames or hot tools.
The URL link for this video is:vimeo.com/letterlocking/essex