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Summer Seekers

Lovely Letters

Keeping connected with other people used to be hard work. Learn all about letter writing by clicking the items on my desk!

Do you know what this object was used for?

It's a letter holder that Goulbourn Museum has in its collection! It would sit on someone's desk. See the curves on the feet? Those are designed to hold pens. Letters would slide between the rings on the spring in the middle.

Letters used to be written by dipping the tail feather of a bird into ink.

When people used to write using ink, school desks had to have a place for the ink to go. Here is a picture of an actual school desk used in a Stittsville public school starting in 1912. Do you see the place where the ink would be stored in the corner?

Can you imagine having to use ink everyday at school?

Letters used to be the way that most people communicated with each other.

The Goulbourn Museum has a collection of letters written home during The First World War.

These letters are part of the With Love to All exhibit – you can look at some of the letters here.

This might look like a knife, but it is really a letter opener! Can you see how the blade is not actually sharp? That's because it is a special tool, only made for opening up envelopes. This one was made in 1905.

People used to close up their letters using wax seals. They would melt wax and press into with a special tool that would make a design in the wax.

It used to take take a long time for a letter to reach its destination!

After Henry Goulbourn signed the treaty of Ghent in Belgium in 1814, the War of 1812 ended.

But the soldiers fighting didn’t know the war was over! They actually fought a battle after the war had ended.

Some people didn’t know the war was over until 49 days after the treaty was signed.

Make your own quill and ink!

Click on the items on my desk to begin the activities!

Become a

Writing one letter used to take a lot of work!

It took time and effort to make the materials, like the quill and ink, needed to keep in touch with people. Click on the objects on my desk to learn more!

The first pens date back to ancient Egypt. They were made from plants.

Quills are made from the tail feathers of birds. They were first used way back in the 600s.

People wrote using quills all the way until the 19th century. Pens with metal tips were not widely used until the 1820s!

Most quills were made from goose or swan feathers. That's why they were usually white!

But for writing thin lines, lots of people preferred crow’s feathers.

There were also quills from eagles, owls, hawks, and turkeys!

Ink would be put into a small pot or bowl called an inkwell. Here are some photos of different kinds of inkwells that the Goulbourn Museum has in its collection!

This inkwell is made from glass. It was used in schools!

This inkwell is made from clay. The top is narrow to help prevent spilling!

When the quill was popular, the most common type of ink was called Iron Gall ink. It was made from parts of oak trees and vegetables. When those ingredients weren’t easy to find, people also used charcoal and water, or crushed berries!

Writing Whiz

For this activity, you will need:
- Feather
- Scissors
- 2 cups dark berries
- Sieve
- Spoon/Ladle
- Bowl
- 1-2 tablespoons vinegar
- Small cup or bowl
- Paper


Click on the things in my desk to learn more about wax seals.

Wax seals became popular in Europe as a way to prove who sent a letter.

Eventually, everyone doing business had their own symbol for a wax seal. You would know who sent you a message before you even opened it!

The Goulbourn Museum has a letter opener with a letter "J" to represent the person who used it.

In the 1800s, letter presses became popular instead of wax seals. They pressed the seal into the paper instead of using wax on top of the paper.

The wax seal used to be made from beeswax! It was sold in rectangular blocks. Here is a photo of some sealing wax from Goulbourn Museum's collection. Can you see the black marks from when the wax was melted?

Many seals began from rings! Important people like kings and queens would press their jewelry into wax to prove a letter came from them. These rings were called signet rings.

The word “wax” can also mean to become or turn into. So when you are waxing poetic, it means you are starting to speak in a fancier way!


This activity requires adult supervision. You must have a grownup's help!

-Oven-bake polymer clay
-Goulbourn Museum pin or metal charm or jewellry
-Cookie sheet
-Tin Foil/Parchment
-Metal spoon
-Vegetable oil or cooking spray

Click here for written instructions!


Some types of letterlocking did not need a wax seal at all! The paper was folded so neat and small that it stayed shut.

You can learn all about different styles of letterlocking, and its history, here.

When we say something gets a "seal of approval", what does that mean?

It means that something is official and accepted. That's because seals were put on important messages and letters. Over time, a wax seal became a symbol for something important!

Wax seals were usually considered fancy. Just look at the design of the seal from Goulbourn Museum's collection!

People used to seal their messages using a wax seal and different ways of folding instead of using envelopes. This kind of folding is called letterlocking. Messages were folded up and sealed to make sure that only the person who the message was meant for would be the one to read it.

In the past, sending a handwritten letter was a way to show that you cared - and it still is today!

Send someone your love by writing them a letter.

If you want to learn more ways of letterlocking, check out this youtube channel!

Every video is inspired by an actual message that was sent in the past.

Secret Sealer

This activity requires adult supervision. You must have a grownup's help!

For this activity, you will need:
-Quill and ink
-Wax stamp
-Metal spoon

Click here for written instructions!

Click here

Collect your badges

Make your own personalized wax seal to close up letters just like people used to do up until the 1800s.

Discover how writing used to be done by making your own quill and ink.

Learn how people used to fold and seal their messages through letterlocking.

Completed a badge challenge? Congratulations!

To receive your digital badge, click on this link to fill out the Summer Seekers Badge Form. Badges will be distributed once a week on Fridays.

Remember to keep track of how many badges you earn. When you get to 5, you will receive a prize in the mail!