Flea Market Love Letters
Why Read Old Letters.
Updated: Mar 16
Whether you're familiar with the Flea Market Love Letters archive or are new to the community -- hello reader! My name is Liz and I am the creator and curator of this slice of snail mail appreciation on the internet. I've been collecting vintage love letters for over a decade and featuring them in some form on the internet.com for the last half of that decade.
One question that comes up time and time again is "How do you feel about sharing individual's private letters?". I spend a lot of time thinking about this exact thing so I figured it was time to sit down and put pen to paper myself, or put cursor to screen. These are my personal thoughts and reasons.
Reading Other People's Mail.
Do I feel strange reading other people's mail? Yes. Frankly, it might be weirder if I didn't! As the curator and transcriber and keeper of these letters and stories I had to make a decision when I started the archive about why and how I felt it was okay to share private correspondence that is not written by me, on the internet. And the summary of several years of thought on this? I believe we can learn so much from these letters that I hope, karmically, the writers wherever they are in the ether are aware that they led lives that mattered. I am vigilant that readers who engage with the stories shared are aware that these are real lives that were lived and we are privileged to have the access to learn from them.
Tricky Terms & Conditions.
I have always and will always welcome and encourage readers with personal connections to the letters to get in touch. Should there be a time where a relative or letter writer gets in touch and asks me to remove the materials and return them, I will gladly do so. In the meantime, I am happy to use platforms to promote letter preservation and modern day letter writing.
In this 2019 post I wrote about when I visited the home of a letter series in the collection, one hundred years to the month since a letter had been posted there. In 2023 I was contacted by a relative of the family writing to say that they remembered visiting the Frakenfield sister's who lived there.
I do not profit from the archive and the letters or stories shared. I try to present the letter and series with as un-biased a view as possible, taking time to photograph and transcribe each piece to portray the "full" picture as we have it. There are instances where the language, scenarios and ideologies in the letters do not align with modern thinking. And to that I say rather than ignore them or forgive them, we can use the letters to explore how and why that's "not okay".
A Social History Project.
The Flea Market Love Letters archive is a Social History project. Social History is defined as "a field of history that looks at the lived experiences of the past". I believe to my core that every one has a story worth telling and the letters can teach us so much about the past. History is not experienced by just the names from the textbooks but by the next door neighbor, by the kid on the basketball team, by the young woman at the department store. History is a living, breathing thing and to understand it best we can look at the letters and the observations they record to better shape our understanding of the past as well as the future. History shapes our perspectives and it is important to me that these letters be treated with the respect and courtesy that they warrant.
In the blog post "I'm including..." Treasures Found in Letters I look at the pieces individuals enclose with the letters and the significance of those inclusions.
How I "Get" the Letters.
We have to consider where and how the letters come into the "public". I love to hear about letters being reconnected with family or friends of the letter writer. I love it so much I have several posts cataloging my favorite reunited letter stories!
And while there are many, many instances of "lost" letters being left behind in moves, mistakenly donated in desk drawers and pressed between book pages, there are instances where the letters were released into the "public" market less romantically. The letters in the Flea Market Love Letters archive have been acquired from a third party provider (i.e. a vintage reseller).
In this line of collecting you have to admit that while many have special feelings associated with letters -- and that's good! -- there are unfortunately some who look at grandmother's stack of "old mail" and aren't as stirred as maybe you or I. And those letters, if we're lucky, end up in a thrift store or antique fair or given to a relative who has always been a bit of a pack rat. But sometimes those letters end up trashed. It breaks my heart to think of the letters and histories that have been lost to time at the bottom of a Hefty bag. But I also understand that often times letters -- particularly vintage letters -- are found in the process of cleaning out a relative's home after their passing or while preparing for a move to an assisted living home, etc. There's a lot of emotions tied up in those instances and sometimes the emotional bandwidth to save a stack of yellowing letters is not there. To that I say, you are entirely forgiven for not being able to give those letters a home.
Giving the Letters a Home.
When a letter series comes into the archive I don't look at receiving it as a personal acquisition. It's my hope that these letters outlive me. I am custodian of them, a keeper of their stories and their legacies. I believe that when we remember the individuals who wrote these letters we are keeping their memories and therefore their essences or spirits, alive. That's why I always respect letters and the ephemera that come into the archive as if it weren't those of a "stranger" but of a friend.
And to those lost letters that find their way to the archive, you are welcome but I know that the purpose of a letter is to travel so if some day you travel "home" I am so, so happy.
Get in Touch.
Have a letter story you'd like to share? Let us know! Do you have family letters and are curious about the best way to preserve and/or share them? Send a note to email@example.com.