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Letters of Note cover

The Synopsis

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.

Describe it
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.

Why Unbound?
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.

The Excerpt

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.  

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The Author

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.


The Rewards

This book is now published. The first printing has sold out but you can pre-order the second printing for delivery in early Summer 2014.

£30
Special Edition Hardback

A limited edition beautifully cloth bound, 4-colour coffee table book and access to Shaun’s shed

The first printing has sold out but you can pre-order the second printing for delivery in early Summer 2014

£50
Signed

Beautiful, collectible first edition signed by Shaun

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£75
Goodie Bag
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  • bag full of letter/stationery treats selected by Shaun, including membership of the Letter Writers Alliance and a thank you telegram
  • a collectible first edition signed by Shaun
  • free UK delivery
  • access to Shaun’s shed
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£150
Letterhead & Party
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All the above plus 2 tickets to the launch party and a limited edition notepad, with each sheet featuring the letterheads of famous people

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£350
De-luxe
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All the above plus a limited de-luxe bound edition with linen slipcase containing facsimile reproductions of four letters (only 20 available)

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