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Finnish banker's notebook finally opened, revealing century-old secrets

A museum in Pori will now decide how -- or if -- to display the notebook.

Rafael Mellinin lahjoittamasta kirjekuoresta paljastui talousjuoruja porilaisista mahtisuvuista
The banking notebook was seen for the first time by anyone in more Image: Karri Laihonen / Yle

Sixty-two years ago in the western city of Pori, a mysterious sealed envelope from a wealthy banker named Rafael Mellin was handed over to the local association Pori Seura.

The group was established in 1901 and promotes the city's culture and historical preservation but also is active in local environmental and social issues.

Two weeks ago the Satakunta Museum announced that it was time to open the letter and there has been wild speculation about its contents ever since.

Some have suggested it might contain important banking information, gossip or personal confessions, others said it was empty and part of a decades-long practical joke by Mellin.

A century ago

Mellin was born in 1886 and became a wealthy Pori resident who socialised with citizens and cultural friends alike, but he never married. After he retired he moved to Sweden but was always interested in business and cultural life in his hometown.

Story continues after photo.

Ett gammalt gulnat brev.
Image: Satakunnan Museo

When he died in 1965, Mellin had no close living relatives and bequeathed much of his estate to the Finnish city.

More than 200 people gathered at the museum to see the opening of the mysterious envelope on Wednesday.

Even now, in 2020, his stamped initials are still clearly visible on the red wax seals that secured the envelope 62 years ago. As she opened the letter from the past, researcher Sirkka-Liisa Hakala from Pori-Seura cut the envelope very carefully so as not to disturb the seals.

The first item pulled from the envelope was a notebook, which appears to be the bank's secret logs, listing many clients and potential borrowers.

An accompanying letter reads, "These notes are for the most part made by bank director E.A. Sundqvist during 1892-1896. The last are by Tor Grotenfelt [resigned 31/12 1909). The book was saved when the Association's archives were burned during a merger with Nordic Bank in 1919.

Story continues after photo.

En hand med vit handske bläddrar försiktigt i en gammal anteckningsbok.
The notebook contains family names that still live in Pori. Image: Linus Hoffman/Yle

Descriptions blunt and to the point

The notebook itself contains the names of hundreds of Pori residents, with more - or less - flattering notes about them. "Unpleasant person," reads a note about one person, "intelligent and unassuming," reads another.

Several others read, "Has inherited a better future after his father was secretly engaged to Miss Rosenlew," "serving time in Kakola [prison] for arson," "will marry rich," "acted very poorly," and so on.

Those notes appear to have been written by bank directors aiming to avoid making bad deals and lending money to the wrong sort of people.

All of the individuals mentioned in the notebook are now deceased, but if the rare book had been published at the beginning of the 1900s, it would have been scandalous, according to Hakala.

High historic value

Though Mellin saved the book from being burned in 1919, he realised nearly 40 years later that it was still too soon to release its contents publicly, she explained.

"It has enormous cultural and historic value, and says a lot about the banking world but also about business life in Pori a century ago," Hakala said.

The museum will consider out how to display the notebook in an exhibit - or even if it can. It contains the names of many families who still live in the city.

"There's interesting gossip in it, but the reviews [of customers] are very straightforward and can still be hurtful," Satakunta Museum educational curator Carita Tulkki explained.

Before he died, Mellin also donated another item that was to be opened later - an iron-clad chest that is thought to contain his valuable stamp collection. However, the chest is so heavy that there are suspicions that there might be something else in there as well.

According to Mellin's directions, the chest can only be opened when Pori celebrates its 500th anniversary, in 2058.

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