From the "Mailstrom"

Tidbits, this 'n' that from around the web about letters and letter-writing, selected by Lex editors, Gary and Lonna.


Keeping on

December 28, 2016

Some people who retire don't want to do anything that reminds them of their former job, but for onetime postal worker Clayton Fritz [link no longer active], retirement has meant time to write to hundreds of pen pals.

Young and old

December 21, 2016

Programs that match pen pals are common, and we've heard of a number of them that match young people with seniors. Here's one.

"I know it is unwise..."

December 15, 2016

Did he have second thoughts about sending it? Or did his secretary decide it was better kept under wraps? Here's a story about an apparent love letter that former President John Kennedy wrote to a family friend shortly before he was assassinated.

Writing through the years

December 9, 2016

Where can you find letters from Albert Einstein and the Marquis de Sade in the same collection? If you happen to be in Brussels, check out the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts of Brussels [link no longer active], whose 100,000+ items include these as well as letters and other writings by Mozart, Charlemagne, Dickens, and many, many others in the areas of the arts, history, and science. Some will be on display in temporary and permanent exhibitions, and for a small fee you can rent a video guide to the permanent collection.

Large amounts of small pictures

December 2, 2016

The largest collection of postcards in the U.S., the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, contains 2.5 million postcards produced by the Curt Teich Company and several others throughout the 20th century. It recently moved to the Newberry Library in Chicago, having outgrown its original home. The postcards range from the usual travel and tourism subjects to holiday cards and sports cards, as this blog site [link no longer active] showcases.

Letters from camp, with a difference

November 22, 2016

During World War II, many Americans of Japanese ancestry were sent to "relocation camps" for the duration of the war. San Diego librarian Clara Breed wrote to many of the children, and a number of the letters and postcards they wrote in return are now available online at the Japanese American National Museum website.

Van Gogh in pen and ink

November 16, 2016

Annotated transcripts of all known letters written to and from artist Vincent Van Gogh are available online at this Van Gogh Museum/Huygens Institute website. You can click on the small icons next to the text to see scans of the letters, many of which include Van Gogh's sketches, and the book that's also available (at a hefty price!) includes them at actual size.

Making the right connection

November 8, 2016

Many people who get a piece of mail delivered to them by mistake drop it back in a postal mailbox, or at most slip it into the right mailbox if it's nearby. In one case, though, the incorrect recipients decided to find and meet the right ones, and in the process discovered a story [link no longer active] of siblings who use old postcards to keep in touch.

Better late than never, hopefully

October 30, 2016

Wondering why it took 4 days to get your latest issue of Lex? It could be worse - here's a story about a postcard that took 53 years to arrive.

Small pictures of history

October 19, 2016

A librarian in New Jersey has collected more than two thousand postcards showing the history of her city and surrrounding area as far back as 1903; almost 1,500 are of Jersey City, where she works. She's also co-written a book of Jersey City's history in photographs, which includes some of her cards.

Ballpoint pens, pro and con and a bit of history

October 4, 2016

A few days ago the Google doodle celebrated Ladislao Jose Biro, who invented the modern ballpoint pen after seeing a child's marble rolling through a puddle. This article documents a bit of the history and mentions some of the advantages and some perhaps-surprising disadvantages, including being one of the early threats to cursive handwriting.

Words from the past

September 21, 2016

Back in May we reported on a man in California who sends old postcards to the places depicted on them. Here's a different twist on reuniting postcards - an attempt to find someone who knows something about a postcard that surfaced a century after it was sent by a soldier on leave in New Zealand.

Still going strong

September 5, 2016

In some areas post offices are cutting back hours and days, and there's talk of even more reduction. But in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, this post office is still open six days a week - and has been for the last 200 years. It's the oldest continuously operating post office in the U.S., and seems set to keep on well into the future.

A new definition of Air Mail

August 18, 2016

Periodically one hears about someone who tests the limits of the mail rules by mailing, or trying to mail, something very unusual. Here's a new twist - a man who mailed a helium balloon. We think the postal clerk should have accepted his logic just for the fun of it...

Stamps and more

August 1, 2016

The Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum is possibly the best known museum of its kind here in the U.S., but there are others. The Spellman Museum of Stamps & Postal History in Massachusetts is one of them. It features collections of stamps, letters, and other documentation of postal history. The web site is a little rough around the edges but gives an idea of what the museum, which was founded half a century ago by Cardinal Spellman, is about.

"The weather is here, wish you were beautiful..."

July 15, 2016

If you've ever thought a commercial postcard didn't show what you're actually seeing on vacation, or didn't want to spend your time searching for someplace that sells them, here's a solution, assuming you have a cell phone with you [link no longer active]. This small company will convert your phone picture to a postcard and mail it, complete with the message (not handwritten, of course), to your recipient for not much more than the cost of buying your own card and a stamp.

Free stationery for a click

June 29, 2016

Looking for some unique and colorful stationery for writing letters (or anything else you want to put on paper)? No need to settle for the mass designs everyone else is using - check out Linda Tieu's blog, where you can download free PDF files for personal use. Designs include greeting cards and notecards as well as stationery, some of it ready to fold into envelopes. And once you've sampled the free designs, for a small fee you can join Linda's Happy Print Club [link no longer active] for access to dozens more.

Mailing a postcard in a volcano?

June 24, 2016

Well, not quite. But as this exhibit [link no longer active] at the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum shows, people used to dip postcards into a volcano in Hawaii before mailing them back to friends and family.

Unravelling the history of a "crazy fan"

June 6, 2016

Many books of letters have been published over the centuries, often shedding additional light on historical or literary figures who were already famous. In the case of the letters of Hazel Elizabeth Hester, however, few if any letters she sent appear to have survived, yet her history emerges from a few unsent ones and the voluminous correspondence she received from writers Flannery O'Connor and Iris Murdoch. The latter called her "my crazy Atlanta fan," writing to her for more than three decades; O'Connor also wrote to her for almost ten years until her early death.

A sort of repatriation

May 23, 2016

Many people collect historic postcards, but here's a guy who gives them away [link no longer active] - to the places shown on them in their past, in some cases a century or so ago.

Stamping out hunger

May 12, 2016

It's time once again for the National Association of Letter Carriers "Help Stamp Out Hunger" food drive. On Saturday, May 14, if you put out bags or boxes of non-perishable food (not outdated, and not in glass jars) before mail delivery time, letter carriers will pick them up for donation to food shelves. Some areas may not yet be participating for various reasons, but in many others reminder cards and/or bags to hold food have been distributed this week - and you can always use your own bag or box. If you didn't get a notice in your mail, you can call your local post office to make sure it's participating before putting out the food.

Is that Elvis getting out of the car?

April 27, 2016

When retired Las Vegas news director Bob Stoldal was looking for the "real" history of his town, someone suggested postcards. Thousands of them later, Stoldal has an informal paper trail - or cardboard trail - that spans more than a century and documents not only the changing landscape but the people behind it, as he relates in this article.

Postage price decrease

April 10, 2016

No, this isn't a belated April Fools' item, either - under protest, the USPS reduced the price of postage today for the first time in almost a century. First class envelopes (up to an ounce, of course) and oversize postcards are now $.47, down from $.49; regular size postcards are $.34 instead of $.35; and one-ounce international envelopes were reduced from $1.20 to $1.15. The surcharge for a non-standard envelope (square, uneven thickness, too rigid, etc.) is $.21 rather than $.22, as is each extra ounce over the first. Ironically, people who bought "Forever" stamps within the last two years because they can be used when the postage price increases without putting on extra stamps will now be using them on mail that costs less - unless, of course, we just save them for the next price increase, which undoubtedly will happen before another century...

Writing to the President

April 3, 2016

No, this isn't a belated April Fools' item - it appears that the best way to write a letter to the White House is to send an email instead...

A picture is worth a thousand... um, lies?

March 20, 2016

If you're in the Michigan area in the next couple of months, you might want to catch an exhibit of "tall-tale postcards," which feature humorous and rather unrealistic scenes such as the fabled jackelope. (Of course, sometimes the tallest tale of all is what people write on the postcard, such as "The weather is beautiful," or "Wish you were here...")

Giving Voice to Letter Writers

March 13, 2016

When a a 17-year-old asked her what writing paper was for, Anna Maria Polidori saw the need to give voice to "people who still love the old-fashioned way of communicating via letters." We heartily applaud Anna Maria's efforts to support the centuries old tradition of letter writing. We're honored to be among the first penfriend organizations to be profiled on her blog. We look forward to additional entries and hope to learn of many more groups involved in the world of penfriends.

Are postcards private?

February 29, 2016

The answer appears to be murky, according to this article. Postal carriers are supposed to protect mail, including "covers," from unauthorized reading. Does that mean averting their eyes from everything but the address? Probably not. Does it mean not leaving Aunt Hilda's account of her vacation in Hawaii sticking out of the mailbox at a front door? Not exactly a public area - but what about those walls of P.O. boxes in apartment buildings? The article brings up more questions than it answers, but if you're planning to rob a bank, coordinating it on postcards most likely isn't the best way to go...

Same name, different aim

February 14, 2016

We recently came across The Letter Exchange [link no longer active], a project which invited people to send in handwritten letters with a goal of displaying them online and eventually publishing them in a book. The submission deadline was December 31, and there are a number of letters - some illustrated - displayed in a gallery on the site. Sounds like a fun project. Note: The Letter Exchange project is not connected with The Letter Exchange, our penpal-oriented magazine and forwarding service.

Letters that weren't destroyed

February 10, 2016

Throughout the history of letter writing, many letters have been destroyed - by the recipient. by the writer who managed to get them back, after the writer's death by someone in the family who didn't want them made public. And of course many have simply been lost. Author Iris Murdoch hoped that at least some of her letters would meet the first fate - and at least some of them didn't, giving reviewers and readers a fuller picture of this twentieth century novelist.

Sometimes the snail takes a detour

January 26, 2016

Periodically there are articles about a letter or postcard that gets delivered late - 30 or 40 years late in some cases, having fallen behind a cabinet or otherwise slipped out of the delivery stream. Here's [link no longer active] a slightly different version: a letter that apparently couldn't be delivered and was returned to the sender - 40 years later.

The materiality of postcards

January 13, 2016

Sometimes they seem like quick, just off-the-cuff jottings. But if you write a postcard well, and it just happens to catch the right eye, who knows what can happen? For Douglas Coupland it led to a career, as he explains in this interview [link no longer active].

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