From the "Mailstrom"

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


"Hello, remember me?"

December 25, 2017

Here's a story about someone who decided to take a break from electronically communicating and send a letter a day for 108 days, mostly to people he used to know long ago. Some of them he hadn't seen in half a century, others were relatives, and about a third of them wrote back.

Another similar name

December 17, 2017

The concept of Jane Austen tweeting may cause many letter writers to shudder, but in addition to exploring how that might have played out, this library event includes The Travelling Letter Exchange, in which visitors are encouraged to write an actual letter and receive one in return. Ironically, the collection of letters will then be published in an ebook rather than a paper one.

Speaking of then and now...

December 7, 2017

Back on November 12 we mentioned a postcard that took years to arrive, something that shows up in the news every once in a while. There's another way that mail can surface after spending years out of sight, though - the time-honored message-in-a-bottle. Here's a story about one that was finally picked up 29 years after an 8-year-old girl tossed it into the ocean.

Letters then and now

November 28, 2017

No relation to The Letter Exchange except in name, this progam [link no longer active] encourages people to write and receive real letters, invoking the memory of Jane Austen, whose surviving letters are still read by many. Although the program started several months ago, there's still time to participate in the next six weeks.

Can you imagine if Santa laid down the law?

November 19, 2017

Here's a story about a father using a letter - not sent through the mail, exactly - to improve his young son's dental hygiene.

Better late - maybe - than never

November 12, 2017

Periodically we come across a story about a piece of mail - usually a postcard, for some reason - that goes into some mysterious hiatus and finally gets delivered years later, often to the surprise of the by-then-older recipient. In this case, however, the recipient, a grandmother, had passed on by the time the postcard from her grandchildren finally arrived, 53 years after it was written.

Speaking of disasters...

November 2, 2017 the current issue we feature an article on mail carried on the Titanic and Hindenburg. Here's a story about the only known letter still in existence that was written on board the Titanic on its last day, which was sold at an auction several years ago.

Neither snow nor rain...

October 25, 2017

...nor, apparently, complete devastation. Here's a story, with a video, about mail being delivered in Santa Rosa, California, after wildfires swept through destroying almost everything down to the ground.

Better than a candy bar

October 16, 2017

Two cousins recently came up with a new way of introducing people to the pleasures of handwritten letters - a snack vending machine that they converted to a letter vending machine. For several months this summer they stocked The Letter Box Project [link no longer active] at the Boise Public Library with letters, mostly ones they wrote, that people could buy for a quarter. The letters came in various categories and were written in several languages, including Braille; they were so popular that the pair re-stocked the machine frequently, sometimes daily.

Short letters, even shorter bits

October 6, 2017

Speaking of travel postcards, here's a story about a site that features short quotes from old postcards sent from anonymous people on their travels. The book mentioned in the article has been published now and promises more of the sometimes funny, sometimes touching excerpts.

Postcards hang on

September 25, 2017

Many articles lately have bemoaned the lack of letter writing - and postcard writing - especially among younger people who click "Share" on their smartphones. Here's one twenty-something who celebrates the postcard instead. Her comment that looking for a postbox can lead to interesting places reminds us of trips we've taken, when we got off the freeway looking for postcards (as photo souvenirs more than to send), and saw a lot of interesting small-town vintage architecture we would have otherwise missed.

A life in stamps

September 17, 2017

Postage stamps honoring the late King of Thailand's 70-year reign are on display at the Grand Postal Building in Bangkok. The exhibition [link no longer active] features more than 70 sets of stamps dating back to 1947.

Rare postcard

September 10, 2017

There are many rare postcards, mostly from the very early days of postcards. Few are likely to be rarer or more controversial than this one, though - a postcard of Adolf Hitler with his dog, signed by Hitler.

The journey from idea to reality

September 1, 2017

Ever wonder how stationery is made - not the mass-market kind from the big companies, but the small independent designer sets? This blog post has several dozen heavily-illustrated articles written by designers about their processes, from getting an idea to turning it into stationery to getting it out to the people eager to use it.

Making it into a game

August 27, 2017

The post below mentions a serious search for a missing pen pal. On the lighter side, there's a video game with the same theme, including a physical letter and other accoutrements.

Never too late for thanks

August 19, 2017

Occasionally one loses track of a pen pal - here at Lex we periodically get requests for help in sending a letter or card to a correspondent someone's lost track of due to moves or other life-getting-in-the-way events. Here's a story [link no longer active] about a decades-ago pen pal and the man who wants to find him again.

When the dew hangs heavy...

August 15, 2017

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night" is a well-known way of stating the intention to deliver mail despite the weather - although sometimes the weather wins, of course. In some areas fog is the culprit, and for almost a century a tunnel system [link no longer active] in London provided the means to keep the mail moving. No longer used for that purpose, it's now open for public tours as part of the new British Postal Museum.

A daily friend

August 4, 2017

In some areas the delivery of the daily mail is a social event, and a sudden change can be quite jarring. Here's one example of a neighborhood where the postman is more than a faceless government paper-distributor.

A peek into the past

July 27, 2017

Postcards are of value not only to private collectors, as the post below mentions, but also to those interested in preserving the human side of history. Here's an article about one such card.

When the value goes beyond the sentiment

July 17, 2017

Sometimes at garage sales and flea markets there's a box or two of old postcards, often found in attics or basements during cleanouts. Sometimes the owners charge by the card, usually in the range of a dollar or two, and sometimes they're cheaper. We've even seen whole boxes offered for a few dollars, although those tend to be more recent cards - maybe back to the 1950s. Some of these, especially those that are quite old and still in fairly good shape, are worth a lot more than garage sale prices, although the trick is knowing (or finding out) which ones and then locating an interested collector. This article gives some tips and a couple of examples with their potential values.

Rediscovering the pencil and other small implements

July 7, 2017

According to this somewhat breezy article, digital communication has become so ubiquitous that for some people the materials of physical writing - pencils, pens, and the like - are becoming collectors' items. The book mentioned in the article, Stationery Fever, is available at Powell's.


June 27, 2017

Occasionally there are stories of dogs attacking mail carriers, and post offices refusing to deliver to certain addresses because of it. But apparently dogs aren't the only animals that can be a hazard...

Back from the islands

June 22, 2017

Back a couple of centuries ago it was common practice for mail to be left at restaurants, coffee houses, and other public places for the recipient to pick up - Jonathan Swift mentions watching the window counter at his favorite coffee house waiting for letters from "Stella." There's at least one place today that's a modern version of this practice - a box in the Galapagos Islands. Here's a story [link no longer active] about one piece of mail left there and how it found its recipient.

A postcard pointing out a mistake

June 13, 2017

125 years ago someone noticed the title of a painting in the British National Gallery was labeled incorrectly, and sent a postcard to tell them so. Can you imagine how many postcards would go through the mails today to correct the incorrect use of apostrophes?

Mail theft on a grand scale

June 5, 2017

Occasionally one hears about mail being stolen, especially around tax time or Christmas. Might be a check, might be a credit card statement, but seldom is it a single piece of cardboard worth 25,000 pounds...

Mail Call

May 31, 2017

Many people are interested in writing to those in the military - not just their own family and friends, but strangers as well. A current exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum examines what happens between the time the mail is sent and the time it's received by someone in the military.

The nostalgic and rare pleasure

May 25, 2017

Back on November 22, 2013 we mentioned University of Nottingham teacher of creative writing Jon McGregor and his project, The Letters Page, where he asked writers to send in handwritten letters. Late last year he wrote an updated summary of the project and what he learned from it, as well as thoughts on his personal history of writing letters and what he learned from that.

Metanomical figuring

May 16, 2017

A professor at Dickinson College ponders the past and future of the personal letter - the relation between private and public communication, between written and digital expression, and the "hybrid, feminised semi-political spheres" in this epistolary essay entitled "Should you feel sad about the demise of the handwritten letter?"

Dear Everybody

May 7, 2017

A professor at the University of Massachusetts also found out that writing to famous people will sometimes result in a personal letter back. He started by writing to authors for clarification of their work, and wrote (and continues to write) many letters a day, with the result that his collection of responses, now housed at Brown University, is estimated to contain at least 400,000 items and is still growing.

Dear Governor

April 27, 2017

Most of the time, writing to a public figure results in a form letter back, if even that. But for a woman in Maine, a letter to the governor resulted in an ongoing correspondence. This news story [link no longer active] includes a video interview with her about her experience.

Scenes from the past

April 22, 2017

Postcards have been around for quite a while, and during that time they've documented, in addition to many humorous drawings, flowers, and other common subjects, a lot of history. Buildings that have been demolished or changed beyond recognition, street scenes from decades ago, and many other photographs and drawings have all appeared on postcards over the decades. Troy University recently sponsored an exhibit of thousands of postcards showcasing scenes from Alabama's past.

Not declining everywhere?

April 16, 2017

In many areas post offices are closing and mailboxes are being removed, as the volume of personal mail declines and most mail goes through commercial bulk stations. But in at least one area, new boxes are being put in.

Did you write 6 letters since February 4?

April 6, 2017

That's what people attending the Smithsonian Institution's "Mail Call" exhibition are being challenged to do, with 3 more days to go. The exhibition focuses on letters to and from soldiers, but tries to widen the appeal to the value of handwritten letters in general through this challenge.

The excitement and the thrill

March 23, 2017

An Irish columnist reminiscences about her French pen pal in childhood.

How it gets there

March 14, 2017

We put an item in the mail, and through some process our recipient gets it a bit later. Here's a look at some of the steps of that process, in this case from Liverpool during the Christmas rush.

Postcards in the past

March 8, 2017

A man in Canada has helped spearhead the preservation and publication of thousands of vintage postcards of Hamilton, Ontario. The Golden Horseshoe Post Card Club has put out the second of at least 3 books of such postcards, and more continue to turn up, as this article reports.

Postcards in the present

March 2, 2017

A man in India has turned his design skills and interest in staying in touch by mail into a project in which he plans to send a personally-designed postcard to someone every day in 2017. This article shows one of the results and gives more information about how and why he creates his postcards.

Many letters, not many poems

February 22, 2017

The 2015 book Letter Writing Among Poets might seem to promise letters in the form of poems, or perhaps poems in the form of letters, but this review suggests that the focus is on the letters of poets and non-poets, regardless of their subject matter. It's clearly academic in nature, and speculates on subjects as various as why people are interested in the letters of the famous, "epistolary psychotherapy," and letters as a literary genre.

"I sure wish I were she"

February 16, 2017

People have been reading the letters of the famous for centuries, not just to learn about the writers but also about the social and cultural characteristics of their time period. That's still going on - and the writers don't have to be famous, as this story about fan mail to pioneering astronaut John Glenn, and what it reveals about gender roles in the U.S. space program, documents.

The feeling of a paper and pen

February 8, 2017

Mass-market stationery is fast becoming one of the casualties of the digital age, but for upscale, designer styles, the future looks as rosy as some of the designs.

The good and the bad of a traditional message system

January 29, 2017

Sending a message in a bottle is a staple of older fiction and even recent music such as the song of that title by The Police, but it's not just fiction - real people continue to do it, and despite what would seem to be astronomical odds against their survival, many are found. Here's an example of one. Click on the link a little below the picture to see more, and a discussion of the harm to wildlife plastic bottles can cause and how using them for messages might help raise awareness of this harm (although elsewhere the site advises against using plastic bottles, and glass bottles have their own dangers).

The little truck that could

January 21, 2017

If you live in Seattle, or are planning a visit, check out Rachel Weil's Letter Farmer truck, parked at various places around town. As this article details, she sells pens and stationery, and provides free postcards and advice, all in an effort to get people writing real letters and cards again. To find out where the truck will be, or to learn more about The Letter Farmer and her mission, check out her website. Either way, Weil encourages you to "write more real letters."

"Somewhere over the rainbow" probably wouldn't have worked

January 14, 2017

Post office machines can often manage quite sloppy handwriting, non-standard abbreviations, and other less-than-exact addresses, but Britain's Royal Mail recently figured out how to get a Christmas card to a couple with a particularly vague instruction [link no longer active].

Just her friend Ali

January 6, 2017

Writing fan letters to famous people most often results in a form letter in return - sometimes seemingly signed, but there are even pen-holding machines for that. In the case of a 10-year-old girl, however, a letter to boxing legend Muhammad Ali resulted in a personal reply and was the beginning of a correspondence that lasted decades, until Ali could no longer write due to ill health. In this article written very shortly after his death, Stephanie Meade details the correspondence and her meeting with Ali.

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