Letter Writing Through the Decades: "The Teach Yourself Letter Writer" (1952)
I was in Dublin in December 2020 visiting a favorite secondhand bookshop (The Last Bookshop) and I stumbled upon this 1952 edition of the 1950 U.K. Teach Yourself Letter Writer. Titled as "self-educational" tools the Teach Yourself books began in 1938. From 1938 to 1966 there were some 700 Teach Yourself books published from technical to vocational subjects. Interestingly those published during World War II were on subjects to help the population during wartime (i.e. "Teach Yourself Flying").
The Teach Yourself Letter Writer:
According to the inside flap: "[this] book seeks to cover a wide range of human activity where letter-writing is bound to play a part". Some such examples listed: "home life; family business; neighborly conduct; friendship and its expressions of affection, sympathy, and congratulations; with one's career; with the conduct of business; with public affairs".
Mr. G.S. Humphreys wrote quite acutely that "Most folk like receiving letters; fewer like writing them". I have reproduced the first page of Chapter 1 here.
Much like how today we might Google "How to write a Cover Letter" or "How to write an Email to Landlord" this 1952 edition of Letter Writer was a tool for the young lady or gentleman. With chapter titles such as "Writing a Letter" and "Letters of the Home" with subheadings "Religion: To the Vicar, concerning Christening; To the Rector, asking advice; To the Minister, announcing death" it's hard to find a more complete compendium of letter writing advice.
Letter Writing in 2021:
Recently I saw a friend on Social Media sharing that they had asked their "Gen Z" son to apply the stamps to the Holiday Cards and only at arriving at the Post Office...had they realized the son, never having mailed a letter before, had affixed all some 25+ stamps to the left corner of the envelope! I can't help but wonder if perhaps Mr. G.S. Humphrey's of the Letter Writer were alive today he might see the value in a TikTok on the proper "balanced arrangement" of the envelope.
I am pleased to add this edition to my collection of letter writing volumes. And hope that you've enjoyed today's brief foray into the not so recent past of letter writing. So much of the discourse around letter writing today is for the preservation of the medium that rarely do we look at how it has evolved over the centuries. In a series of blog posts, I will be exploring the relationship we have to letter writing throughout history.
Fond of Letters?
You're in the right place then! Check out the Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society for all things letter appreciation. I am proudly a card-carrying member of the society since November 2020. Interested in letter writing in 2021 and want to deploy some of Humphrey's advice? Join "Penpalooza" a large international collective of letter writers. Already letter writing and want a cool coffee mug? Check out our Write More Letters Project merchandise -- 100% of the proceeds go to charity.