Letters of Note
By Shaun Usher
The Sunday Times best-selling collection of 125 of the world's most entertaining, inspiring and unusual letters
Publication date: October 2014Buy
Special Edition Hardback
A limited edition beautifully cloth bound, 4-colour coffee table book.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I get my book delivered to?
How do supporter names work?
The eagerly awaited Letters of Note: Volume II is now being crowdfunded through Unbound. Pledge for the perfect companion to Letters of Note and get your name in the back of the special edition here. It's going to be just as good, or possibly even better, than the first!
Why a book?
As the pitch video explains, this book project has grown out of a website: www.lettersofnote.com, an edited collection of letters, telegrams and memos which are worthy of a wider circulation. People really seem to like the site, but there are some things a screen just can’t do. To me, letters are small artworks and this book will be catalogue of beautiful, meaningful objects.
A large coffee-table volume with 150 letters, many of them reproduced in facsimile with an introduction by me and a transcript of the text. Unbound’s plan is to produce a physical object of great loveliness: cloth bound, using thick, uncoated paper: something that gives you the experience of holding and reading the actual letters themselves. As well as being a good read, it will make a lovely gift. It’s being printed in Germany where they understand these things.
What’s in it?
Many of the letters will have appeared on the site but I'm holding some of the best back. The main thing is that it will be an eclectic mix of the humour, seriousness, sadness and brilliance that make up our lives. Here’s a random selection of what I hope you’ll find inside:
- A 19th century letter from the Chairman of London Hospital in which he introduces 'The Elephant Man' – Joseph Merrick – to the world and asks for help from the public.
- Virginia Woolf's unbearably sad suicide note, addressed to her husband.
- Steve Martin’s hilarious 'personalised' form letter to a fan.
- The poignant farewell letter of a Kamikaze pilot to his two young children, written the night before his mission.
- A 9th century form letter from China used to apologise for having drunk too much at a dinner party.
- William Safire’s memo containing a speech for president Nixon to deliver if the Apollo 11 mission failed and the astronauts were lost.
- A heartbreaking series of letters from a 31 year-old woman with dementia desperately trying to contact her husband from a German asylum in 1909.
- Queen Elizabeth II's charming a handwritten letter and personal recipe for drop scones, as sent to President Eisenhower.
- An explanation from Albert Einstein to a young girl in reply to her question, 'Do Scientists Pray?’.
- A fascinating letter to Winston Churchill that contains the first ever recorded usage of 'O.M.G.’
- Leonardo da Vinci's remarkable job application letter.
Where does my money go?
This is going to take me eight months of work obtaining permissions, and agreement from all the parties included in the correspondence, as well as laying out the book and designing it so it works for the reader. That’s hundreds of hours hunched in front of my screen, most of it spent writing (you guessed it) polite letters.
The success of the site has meant I’ve had many publishers approaching me to publish a book, but the Unbound idea seems best for me. Let the people who like the site help me make the book. There will be plenty of chance for me to share progress and ask for advice as it goes along. We aim to publish in a year’s time.
I’m Shaun Usher, a 33-year-old writer who runs Letters of Note. My chosen career as a curator of correspondence is particularly interesting given that I regularly receive — and more often than not don’t reply to — abuse from exasperated friends due to my apparent inability to return their calls, emails, and, on very rare occasions, letters. I have promised to get back to them as soon as I have a spare minute.
I live in Manchester with my fiancée, Karina, and our son, Billy.
In November of 1905, an enraged Mark Twain sent this superb letter to J. H. Todd, a patent medicine salesman who had just attempted to sell bogus medicine to the author by way of a letter and leaflet delivered to his home. According to the literature Twain received (p1,p2,p3,p4), the 'medicine' in question - The Elixir of Life - could cure such ailments as meningitis (which had previously killed Twain's daughter in 1896) and diphtheria (which had also killed his 19-month-old son). Twain, himself of ill-health at the time and very recently widowed after his wife suffered heart failure, was understandably furious and dictated the following letter to his secretary, which he then signed.
- 2nd June 2015 Letters of Note: Volume II needs you
It's been quite a while since I ventured into my Letters of Note shed, but I thought I'd pop in to tell you all that I've been hard at work writing the sequel Letters of Note: Volume II.
I'm very aware that pledging money for something that doesn't exist yet can be a tough decision, but as you all made the leap of faith with me the first time round you will (I hope) know that the second…29th November 2013 Book delivery
We are very pleased to announce that the first books have started to be dispatched. They are sending the non-signed copies first as there has been a delay with the signed copies needing to be shrinkwrapped again. This is so that they don't get damaged in the post. These will start to be sent out as soon as this is finished (late next week/early the week after).
If your delivery address…5th November 2012 A selection of the confirmed letters
9th Century Chinese form apology for drunkenness
16th Century letter from widow to late-husband
Abraham Lincoln on abolishing slavery
Annie Oakley - "50 lady sharpshooters await"
Archibald Kerr, on "Mustapha Kunt"
BBC exec, rejection of Fawlty Towers pilot
Beethoven's "Heiligenstadt Testament"
Campbell Soup executive writes to Andy Warhol
Charles Bukowski on the censorship of his novels
Charles Darwin on Natural…
These people are helping to fund Letters of Note.
Rebecca Jesswyn Howard
An anonymous donor