Periodically there are stories about postcards - and on rare occasions letters - that are delivered late. Years late, decades late. And sometimes a misdelivered item, or one that was never mailed, is found in an attic or a similar place - again, for some reason, these stories usually seem to be about postcards. Here's one, though, about a letter that may or may not have been delivered a century ago and was recently found, with an added bit of interest to historians - it was from a King.
Many articles about long-term penpals who began writing as children are focused on how the writers eventually meet, either as children or as adults (if the correspondence lasts that long, which many do and many do not). Here's a story, though, about two women who have been writing for 70 years with never a meeting or a phone call.
Some people write to movie stars or politicians and treasure the letters they get from such famous people. Others have an old letter somewhere from someone they used to know who's now a big name in the news. But one newspaper columnist, not having done anything to prompt them (except maybe being a newspaper columnist) recently received a couple of letters from (so the letters claimed) someone even more famous than that.
If you're interested in using mail art to, as the article says, connect not only with others but with yourself, here's an article about a site that encourages people to make their own postcards (suggesting a political emphasis, but it's not necessary) and send them for posting on the site. And if you need pictures to use on the postcards, the Library of Congress has a huge free collection of images.
There's been a lot of emphasis over the centuries, in many different philosophies and under many different names, on finding the "silver lining" when a cloud comes by. Now with the cloud of COVID-19, many people are finding the silver lining of connecting through letters. Here's another article about that experience.
And beyond the ordinary fountain pen, for that matter. If you're in the mood for some really different writing tools, check out the gallery here. Some of the pens barely look like pens, and some come with high-design holders as well. (Of course, you're not going to get a dozen of these for $7.95...)
Children have always been interested in pen pal activity, and in one Virginia neighborhood there's a new way for them to participate - a fairy tree where kids - and some writers a bit older - can exchange pen pal letters with various fairies and others of the magic kindreds, and get responses. Subjects range from the whimsical to, in this time when children are affected by the pandemic as much as or more than adults, the serious.
During these virus-challenged times, people continue to discover that physical mail can be a good way to keep in touch when distancing and closures are in effect. Here's an article from British Columbia about one columnist's experience.
People interested in vintage postcards often use Ebay and/or Etsy, and find items of interest for sale. In one case, though, a person found something of very personal interest - a postcard written by her father from a prisoner of war camp more than 75 years earlier.
A common recommendation in self-help psychology articles is to write a letter to one's future self, to be read when that future arrives; or to write to one's past self, explaining things from a (hopefully) more mature perspective. Presumably, though, one's past or future self doesn't reply. Here's a project that's a little bit different - writing to the past and future itself, and getting a response. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about it.
Sometimes it seems like the bizarre situation we're going through now with COVID-19 is something unique. It may very well be in most people's experience, but it's not unprecedented, and as this article details, letters from a century ago shed light on a time when the flu rampaged through the world. They mention things that echo the present - work and schools closed, entertainment shut down, the wearing of masks. Check out some of the links in the article for more stories about people who have kept or are finding letters written during that time.
Letters not only played a bigger part in the world of 200 years ago than they do now, they also played a large part in the novels of the time. Sometimes this included entire letters between the characters, sometimes excerpts, and sometimes mentions, as the interaction between people in the story was carried on with the help of frequent correspondence, both personal and business. Recently a fan of Jane Austen's novels has correlated an edition of Pride and Prejudice that includes handwritten versions of the letters in the story, both the complete ones and careful constructions of what the partial ones might have been. The detailed process extended to the likely handwriting the characters of that time would have used, the mistakes and corrections they might have made, and even the postmarks the letters would have received.
Here's a short column about the days when the important, official, and personal all showed up in the home mailbox rather than the computer inbox.
These days there are a lot of articles about people writing more letters during the stay-at-home time. This one, though short, is breezier than most, and focuses a little more on the mechanics of writing letters by hand. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about it.
Articles about the value of sending postcards - personal, thoughtful ones - abound; but here's one made entirely out of hand-drawn pictures.
As many articles this summer are suggesting, writing letters can be an important means of communication during isolation. Sometimes, it's been much more, as this story, about a family who literally found a pen pal relationship to be a lifeline during World War II, details. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about it.
As is true in most places, the pandemic has resulted in an upsurge in letters and postcards, as people who were accustomed to meeting in person have used the mail to stay in touch. In Britain, Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla recently sent a letter to all the people at Royal Mail thanking them for their hard work during this difficult time.
Lots of people have postcards they've never used, especially from trips they've taken. One elementary school teacher figured out a way to use them - sending them to all her students during the school-at-a-distance of this past spring.
Many articles about writing letters mention the deeper communication that typically occurs compared to digital means, but this one from the Saturday Evening Post also talks about some of the therapeutic benefits such as developing the habit of focusing on positive rather than negative thoughts. The article also mentions physical benefits that research has documented, although it doesn't give any examples. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about it.
With many people still staying home, or working from home, writing letters and notes has become a way to connect with others. As this article [link no longer active] notes, there's a limit to how much satisfaction being online brings, so people are increasingly doing the physical version. And that requires paper, making sales of stationery increase dramatically in the last few months.
Didn't get all the mail you were hoping for at some point? This article might reveal the reason.
If you've received Issue 52, you may have read the 2-page excerpt from a 19th century book about the Dead-Letter Office and its attempts to deliver mail that didn't have a clear address. The Smithsonian Institution has a brief description of it, and a page at their National Postal Museum site that shows some examples. (In a future issue we'll have another 2-page excerpt from the 19th century book where we found Issue 52's article.)
An Akron, Ohio newspaper columnist reminisces about her experiences in writing and receiving letters through the years in this recent column [link no longer active].
With so many people staying home lately, there have been a number of articles about letter writing as a way of keeping in contact. This one, from the magazine Commentary, is one of the more detailed, exploring what the activity is teaching the columnist about himself, his correspondents, and our culture. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about it.
In Cleveland, there's a way for people to share the difficulties they're going through - virus-related or not - and for others to respond with encouragement. Some of the writing takes place on Instagram, but much of it is handwritten and deposited in a yellow mailbox that's moved from location to location in the Cleveland area.
A popular topic around the web these days is using snail mail to stay in touch during the virus-related restrictions. Some of them morph into ads for box sets of postcards, some are personal stories of writing to friends while staying at home, and this one details a child's thank-you to the mail carrier who brings her mail and what it blossomed into.
In Northern Ireland a writer who's been doing postcard stories for several years is dealing with the isolation caused by coronavirus precautions by writing postcards to strangers, illustrated with drawings by young children. And in Ireland, the postal service is distributing free postcards to everyone as a way of keeping people in touch.
And a special box to hold all the cards. In great Britain, Royal Mail developed both in honor of the 100th birthday of a man who's walking to raise money for the National Health Service.
Periodically one sees articles about pen pals who finally meet in person after years or decades of writing to each other. This one, however, is just the opposite - they met in person first, and then moved to being pen pals for decades.
The Postal Service still gets the highest marks of any U.S. government agency. (That wouldn't necessarily be a big compliment in itself, but it's a 91% positive view according to the survey mentioned here.)
No luck with your scratch-to-reveal-if-you've-won lottery tickets? Here's a consolation - postcards that you can scratch to reveal famous paintings. The brief article doesn't mention how much might be revealed by machine and mail carrier handling during the delivery process.
Many people are spending a lot more time at home than usual in the last few weeks, and a museum in Canada is offering them a chance to do something (besides writing more letters, of course!) - transcribing historical documents, including many letters and postcards. They say that being able to read cursive handwriting is a requirement (although we noticed that 2 of the 4 pictures of documents in this article are typed). We can't find any indication either in the article or at the museum's web site that volunteers need to be in the museum's area - the museum emails them scans of the documents to work on.
With so many closings and shelter-in-place orders around the country, you may be wondering if Lex is continuing to forward mail during this unprecedented virus situation. The answer is yes. Since the Lex mail is 4 miles from home and our state has a stay-at-home order in place, we've arranged for weekly delivery of mail by UPS. (Both USPS and UPS are designated as essential and remain open.) We can mail from our roadside mailbox, so forwarding and mailing of Lex issues will continue, with sometimes a slight delay due to the weekly delivery rather than our customary pickup every few days. (Issues ordered online will go out within a day or two as usual.).
In the U.K., Royal Mail has a tradition of decorating one or a few postboxes for short periods for special causes or messages, such as a recent one promoting literacy in children. They've also begun putting in parcel postboxes to take small packages that won't fit in a regular box's slot. Now the two have been combined for the month of March - a Mother's Day parcel postbox painted in blue and decorated with flowers. (The article says the box is "covered in floral designs," but the photos show a relatively small design on one side of the box - admittedly another two sides aren't shown so they could potentially have more designs.)
Putting a letter inside a bottle and throwing it into the ocean hoping for a faraway response has a long tradition. But that's not the only way a letter can be sent to an unknown place in hopes of starting a correspondence. This article details a multi-decade friendship that started when students put letters in apple boxes being packed for worldwide distribution.
Back in the 1920s, delivering mail by airplane was still new - a step up from the Pony Express, but nothing compared to today's jets. A professional flyer decided recently to see if he could recreate a portion of the route, using an almost-vintage plane, the pilot-written book of directions used by the original pilots, and for greater authenticity, a half-empty bottle of bourbon. This article, which includes vintage photos as well as photos of his plane, details his adventure.
An Oregon man describes his project of writing a letter every day for a year, describes a visit to the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., and ruminates about the difference between writing by hand and typing, in this article from last November.
Letters can survive decades - sometimes in the attic of the receiver, sometimes in a scrapbook, and sometimes in high-rise basements, as this article about a cache of letters from a century ago shows.
February is Letter Writing Month, when people are encouraged (or challenged) to write a letter every day for 30 days. (Even though February doesn't have quite that many.) Among the places hosting observances are Paper Umbrella, a gift shop and stationery store in Regina, Canada. This article interviews a store co-owner and also talks about a Saskatchewan radio show in which callers described what letters mean and have meant to them in their lives.
Here's a paean to handwritten cards which makes the point that, orphaned from the commercial intentions of most mail and the cliches of social media, they're free to be real communications of emotional importance. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about this short essay.
From beyond the edge, actually - the edge of the atmosphere. Students in Florida had a chance recently to send postcards aboard a rocket, and receive them back once they came down to earth with the help of a parachute. The story doesn't mention whether any of the postcards, which were hand-drawn by the students, said "The space weather is beautiful, wish you were here...".
From last year, here's an article that goes into a little more detail about the advantages, physical as well as social, of learning to write by hand. It also strikes a balance between handwriting and keyboarding and notes that writing by hand shouldn't be taught at too early an age.
Gradually over recent years there's been a decline not only in people writing letters, but in children being taught to write cursive in schools. That may be beginning to change, as this article reports that at least two states which dropped it in schools are again teaching cursive as part of their required curriculum. The article focuses mostly on how cursive writing, being slower, lends itself more to thought, and contrasts it particularly with email and texting. Several other topics are mentioned briefly, including whether children not taught cursive will be able to read their parents' old letters, and the difference in brain activity between typing and writing, but the focus is on the personal experience. Thanks to Carol Christmas for bringing this article to our attention.