Crossed Letters – A Vintage Way to Save Money and Paper

Back when paper and postage charges were prohibitively expensive, people developed a technique to convey as much information as possible on as little paper as possible.

We’re privileged to live in an age when paper, writing supplies and postage fees are generally affordable, so much so that most of us take them for granted. But things weren’t always like this. Back in the Civil War era and up until the 1900s, the paper that letters were written on and the postage charges were so expensive that people had to write on a piece of paper in multiple directions in order to save money. The technique was called cross-writing, or cross-hatching, and despite seeming unreadable, back in the day everyone was used to it and could read every word with ease.

Photo: Jim Linderman/Wikimedia Commons

Crossed letters essentially began as regular ones, only when the writer reached the bottom of the page, instead of grabbing a new sheet of paper, they would turn the written page sideways and write over the written lines. In extreme cases, masters of cross-writing could write not only at right angles, but diagonally as well.

Photo: public domain

Looking at vintage crossed letters, they look more like puzzles to be deciphered, but according to experts, the practice was so common during the 1800s that anyone who could read could also read this type of letter. Apparently, the eyes get so used to the system after enough practice that they simply ignore the background text, focusing only on the words written in a certain direction.

Photo: public domain

Cross-writing was so widespread at one point in time that even famous writers and scholars such as Henry James, Jane Austen, and Charles Darwin used it to save paper and money. Luckily, we live in a time when such intricate techniques are no longer necessary, but there is no denying the charm of vintage crossed letters.

Photo: public domain

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