Almost eight years ago, I wrote a piece about a hidden letter written by Jacob Arend, a journeyman cabinetmaker, living and working in Würzburg, Germany. Arend, and fellow journeyman, Johannes Witthalm, had recently finished making their masterpiece, an ornate writing cabinet. The letter was hidden in the writing cabinet in a space beneath a small drawer
The splendor of the writing cabinet, and the expensive materials used in its making, contrasts sharply with the living conditions mentioned in Arend’s letter. He described the scarcity of food he, and others in the houshold, have endured. Recent wine vintages are poor and good wine costs twice as much. He mentions an ongoing war. With the writing cabinet completed, Arend and Witthalm decided to leave Würzburg and seek better fortune elsewhere. He asks the finder of the letter to toast to the journeymen’s good health, or to their salvation.
The letter is dated, “This 22nd day of October in the year 1716.”
Jacob Arend’s letter brings to mind a quote attributed to Mark Twain, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
If you happen to be in London, the cabinet is currently on view at the V&A Museum in the gallery of Europe 1600-1815, Room 7.