Cite as: Jana Dambrogio, Daniel Starza Smith, et al. 2016. Dictionary of Letterlocking (DoLL). Last updated: 30 December 2017. Date accessed: [Date]. Abbreviated on this page: (DoLL 2016) Unless otherwise noted, All images except when noted are courtesy of the Unlocking History Materials Collection.


In letterlocking, a manipulation is any physical action (apart from writing) performed on the substrate. Some common types of manipulations that take place at different times in the social life of an epistolary writing substrate are: writing preparations, letterlocking/letter-packet preparations, and storage/filing preparations. (DoLL 2017)

Letterlocking manipulation (s)

A letterlocking manipulation is any physical action performed on the substrate that turns it into a letter-packet. Every letterlocking format is the result of multiple manipulations, and every category is defined by a specific combination of manipulations. The most common manipulation in letterlocking is the fold, but in addition to folding, examples of manipulations may include cutting, sewing, or lacing (see full list below). Many manipulations involve the creation of intentional damage.

Actions performed to make a letter-packet are manipulations; their results lead to the material features on the letter, which may share the same name. So a letterlocker might fold (verb – manipulation) a piece of paper, resulting in a fold (noun – material feature). Faced with material features on an archival letter, a modern scholar can reverse-engineer the letter to discover which manipulations were used to make this packet.

The principal manipulations in letterlocking are listed below. (DoLL 2017)



One of the primary letterlocking manipulations and often used in the final closure steps to secure a letter-packet. It is comprised of something external to the substrate itself: a material applied hot (sealing wax), wet (a moistened starch wafer), or with pressure (pressure-sensitive tape) to stick one surface to another. (DoLL 2017)



Letterlocking distinguishes between cuts and slits. A cut begins from any edge of the substrate and and extends into or across it, whereas a slit begins and ends within the body of the substrate. (DoLL 2017)


Fold/roll (visit the Fold/Crease page here)

A fold is arguably the most important manipulation in letterlocking, since it is used in every letterlocking category. The resulting physical mark left in the substrate is a crease. (DoLL 2017)


1.)To double or bend a substrate over itself. 

“To arrange (a piece of cloth, a surface, etc.), so that one portion lies reversed over or alongside another; to double or bend over upon itself. Also with inovertogether. Often contextually implying repeated action of this kind. to fold up: to close or bring into a more compact form by repeated folding.” (OED, v1, 1a) 

“To bend or turn back or down (a portion of something).” (OED, v1, 1c)

2.) Esp. in letterlocking, to complete the action of folding (see v1, above) by impressing the bend into a sharply defined edge, so that it maintains its new form to some extent.


1.) The transformation in the substrate formed by the action of folding. In DoLL, the many forms that folding produces are defined separately. (See below.)

“A bend or ply, such as is produced when any more or less flexible object is folded” (OED, n3, 1a).

2.)    A mark or indentation left in a substrate after it has been folded; the physical evidence of manipulation (as in v2, above). Although this term is available, in letterlocking we prefer crease.


Lock (lace/sew/wrap)

V. One or more actions used to fasten or secure a letter-packet shut. (DoLL 2017)
N. One or more materials used to fasten or secure a letter-packet shut. (DoLL 2017)


Puncture (stab (hole) or slit)

A gathering term for all holes, slits, stabs, perforations. (DoLL 2017)

Stab (hole)



In letterlocking, a linear piercing made in a substrate by a flat (usually sharp) tool, such as a knife or scissors, often indicating that something was woven through to secure the letter shut. A slit begins and ends in the body of the substrate. (DoLL 2017)



Tucks are one of the primary manipulations employed  to close a letter-packet. For a letter-packet to be categorized as a “tuck”, at least one closure element has to be made up of a multi-layered panel flap so that a single or other multi-layered panel can be inserted into it. (DoLL 2017)