Modelled after the original bifolium found in the National Archives (TNA), Kew, UK, manuscript collection TNA SP 101/81 ff 344–345.
This letter is one of the most secure, complicated, and time-consuming formats we have reverse-engineered and modelled. It has a hidden attached paper lock that “trips” when the letter is opened. On the outside, the letter passes as an unassuming pleated letter, an intimate format. Inside, there are several anti-tamper devices that “self-destruct” as the letter opens. In order to open the letter, the " dagger", the paper lock tears apart at its polar ends-the base of the lock laced through the first slit and seal with warm sealing wax and the narrow tip laced through the second slit.
Samuli Kaislaniemi (MA, Postgraduate student, University of Helsinki) tells us, “The letters survive in the TNA SP 101/81 which are designated "newsletters" from Venice—but the volumes contain diverse material, from 'proper' newsletters to (more or less) personal correspondence, notes, drafts, reports, and intelligence/spy letters. Simeon Fox's letters fall in this last category. One could call them intelligence letters (rather than spy letters), since Fox was not in Italy primarily to spy, and the letters contain general news (compiled from various sources) rather than inside reports of court intrigue, or the like. Fox was recruited by Sir Robert Cecil in summer 1601 and sent to Italy—or possibly he was going to Italy anyway, and was hired to write intelligence reports from thence. He spent time in Venice and Padua, coming back to England in 1605. Although the letters are addressed to Thomas Wilson, this was in fact a ruse—that is to say, Wilson's name was used as misdirection. Fox's letters are endorsed by Levinus Munck, who was the secretary of Sir Robert Cecil, and the endorsements make it clear that the letters were intended for Cecil. This evidence is supported by the fact that Wilson was in Italy when many of the letters were written (1601–2) (he also definitely met up with Fox in Italy).”
The dagger-trap historic manuscripts at the TNA differ from standard flossed pleated letters in that they have sealing wax applied over the floss on only one outer panel of the folded letter. Typical pleated letters tend to have two wax seals applied over the floss, one on each outer panel of the letter-packet. If this proves to be true for all dagger-trap letterlocking categories and formats as we begin to document their survival in letter collections, then perhaps the "Portrait of Constantijn Huygens and his (?) Clerk" (1627, Thomas de Keyser, The National Gallery, UK (http://bit.ly/HuygensDaggerTrap)) show Huygens receiving from his clerk a dagger-trap locked letter instead of an undressed pleated letter since the letter pictured lacks a seal over the floss.
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 in support of our project, “Unlocking History” .
Special thanks to Samuli Kaislaniemi, MA, postgraduate student, University of Helsinki, Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG) for bringing the letter to our attention and for providing the background information about Fox and Wilson’s correspondence; Ayako Letizia, MIT Libraries Conservation Associate; Annie Dunn; Emily Hishta Cohen, MIT Libraries Intern and Graduate Student, IFA, NYU; Barry Pugatch and Ramon, MVP staff; 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 DoLL.
Cite as: Jana Dambrogio, et al. ‘Intelligencer Simeon Fox’s Dagger-Trap Pleated Letter Sent from Venice ( 1601)’, Letterlocking Instructional Videos. Filmed: October 2016. Duration: 12:11. 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.
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