Monday, August 16, 2010

Amenuensis Monday: Letters From Lodewijk Wesselo - Part I

I have been busy these past few days with transcribing seven letters written by Lodewijk Wesselo to his brother Willem Lodewijk Wesselo and his wife Wilhelmina Kwak. There's also a telegram which is part of this correspondence, giving the message that their mother, Alida Petronella van Grasstek, had died. They were written while Willem and his wife were in the Dutch East-Indies, where Willem was working as a manager for the same firm as Lodewijk himself was.

All of the letters, save one, was handwritten and as such sometimes there were indecipherable words. Not even so much because of the handwriting, I've gotten to be quite proficient at reading that, but because the ink is sometimes so faded it's just not legible anymore. But then again, the letters are all from 1925, which is 85 years ago.

Most of the letters follow a general pattern, there's some family news, news about business and some general gossip of friends and acquintances. But there are three exceptions. They are the last three letters and detail the death and funeral of Alida Petronella van Grasstek. It's a blow-by-blow account of this time and I could see everything in my mind. It was as if I were there. It's an invaluable account and I am very, very happy to have it.

Number code mystery, please help!

There is, however, one mystery. In almost every letter he writes about his business. But he doesn't write out the numbers of the profits he makes, instead he uses some sort of code. It's not Roman numbers and it's not just a letter for number substitution (like a=1, b=2). I am hoping some of you might have an idea?

Some background: Lodewijk is manager of a store for jewelry, and objects of gold, silver and other precious metals. The profits are quite high, one number he does write out in normal numbers is in his letter from 15 March 1925, where he says: "No business news, today I've already passed 25 thousand." The only other time is in the piece below.

The bit where he's written his profits in code is in a letter dated 7 March 1925:

"Nevertheless, sales are good. Februari ƒ iij,- and in total these first two months ƒ ijnhh,- higher than in '24. This week is especially good. I sold stuff for 6 thousand over the counter and on order 3 necklaces and 5 tie pins, total ƒ ihnhh,-."

A little later, he says:

"This afternoon, I was in Den Haag for business, where I had the last laugh. Their turnover last week was ƒ ouhh,- and mine was ƒ zehh,-."

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