From the "Mailstrom"

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


If Santa brought you a fountain pen...

December 28, 2008

...or even if he didn't, you might want to check out the Fountain Pen Network, an extensive (20,000 members, over 800,000 posts) online forum discussing these writing instruments. There are sections for various brands of pens, the history of pens, pen repair, inks, paper, buying and selling pens, clubs and meetings, and other topics relating to fountain pens and their use. To give just one example of the size of these discussions, the forum for reviews of inks contains over 1000 topics with over 10,000 posts.

Tis the season to be slow

December 20, 2008

Recently we mailed a small First Class package from near downtown Minneapolis to an inner-ring suburb. According to MapQuest™, this is a distance of less than 11 miles and should take 16 minutes to drive. The package was mailed Monday morning and arrived on Friday....

"...a handwritten letter is a rare and wondrous item"

December 10, 2008

Amidst all the assurances that letter writing is a lost art, there are some passionate groups devoted to practicing it as an active and worthwhile part of daily life. One of these is the Letter Writers Alliance, which features a blog of correspondence topics, links to related sites, stationery downloads for members, and more. While there, check out the nice mention of LEX on December 1!

From A to Z

December 1, 2008

Wendy Russ, whose impressive site Letters, Letter-Writing and Other Intimate Discours [link no longer active] you may have seen, is migrating the information, and much more, to her new site, A Passion for Letter Writing [link no longer active]. It contains an active blog [last updated 2009], interviews, photos, and an amazing collection of links, lists, and other resources. Books about letters, thoughts about letters, the history and future of letters – if it has to do with letters, chances are you can find it here. The site is well worth some extensive time, and well worth bookmarking to return to often.

"It has a whole different audience"

November 21, 2008

That's a comment we overheard exchanged between two staff members at the exhibit "More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of Art" [link no longer active] yesterday at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum [link changed] in Wausau, WI. Almost five dozen letters were on display in low illumination (though it looked normal enough to us) to minimize fading – a few were in covered cases with sliding doors to protect them from light except when actually being viewed. Several classes of young children were being given tours of the exhibit while we were there, and the adjacent indoor "Art Park" included a station where kids could write letters on bright blue paper with erasable colored pencils and stamp them with a Bates™-type stamper with rubberstamp-like designs – "Writing letters can be a fun experience for the writer and makes the receiver happy, too" said the poster at that station. The museum, which has a specialty of "Birds in Art", also was displaying a couple of mail art envelopes it had received decorated with fanciful birds, including a Dodo carrying "Air Mail"!

The artists whose letters were on display ranged from the famous (Andrew Wyeth, Alexander Calder) to the (at least to us) obscure (J. Kathleen White and William Trost Richards), from verbose correspondence illustrated with a few small sketches to collages to elaborate diagrams with a few words, from vacation reports to descriptions of current art projects, and the drawings ranged from informal doodles to surprisingly detailed miniatures. The exhibit, arranged in six categories, filled two rooms and we could easily have spent more hours there than we did (the museum is 200 miles from home, and we wanted to (but didn't) get back before dark). It's just started at the Woodson and will be there into January, then there are two more stops on the tour – Louisiana [link no longer active] in the spring and Florida [link no longer active] in the summer. It's well worth the time if you're able to go, and look for a more detailed report in Issue 18.

Have you finished your holiday shopping?

November 12, 2008

If you live in the U.S. and you're sending packages by Parcel Post to military addresses, the USPS thinks you have, or should have. Tomorrow is the deadline for APO/FPO delivery by December 25. If you choose a pricier method or are sending to non-military international addresses you have another 2 or 3 weeks before more dates start looming. See the USPS 2008 Holiday Shopping Calendar [link no longer active] for more info.

When you care enough to send the very smallest

November 2, 2008

Ever wonder what would happen if you addressed a postage stamp and put it in the mail? Well, no, we haven't either. But probably Lea Redmond has, because she offers a service almost as unique. Send her a letter (up to 6 sentences long) and she'll write it on a sheet of stationery roughly the size of a horizontal postage stamp and mail it to the recipient, or to you for mailing if you prefer. Comes complete with envelope, sealing wax stamp, and magnifying glass in case the recipient doesn't have telescopic eyes. See her site, The World's Smallest Post Service [link no longer active], for details and examples. She does greeting cards, too!

(Pea)nuts to you

October 22, 2008

Perennial comics favorite Peanuts is in apparently endless rerun rotation – see [link no longer active]. This week the strip returns to a topic that shows up on occasion (though not as often as baseball!) – Charlie Brown's attempts to write to his penpal. Needless to say, he's not much more successful at that than he is at pitching or flying a kite...

Here it comes

October 15, 2008

Issue 17 is in the mail! A new issue of LEX is usually achieved by late nights and looming deadlines. Before Issue 1 we read that it takes "way more time" than you expect to put together an issue of a magazine: imagine "way more time" and then imagine "way more time" than that. And it's true. It does take way more time than we ever imagined. But somehow this time we got LEX to the printer early and us to bed on time. After five years and 16 issues perhaps we've finally figured out the secret: we had ideas, articles, and pictures in mind well in advance, and we worked steadily on LEX throughout September even when it seemed like we had "plenty of time". We also stayed current with our record-keeping and as a result the label/label/label stuff/stuff/stuff went smoothly as well. We even had time, while LEX was at the printer, for a flying trip to the Black Hills where the weather was lovely and the fall color gorgeous. Back home in Minnesota the weather also smiled on us and we drove LEX to the post office amid sunshine and falling leaves: a perfect Autumn day!

Won't be long now

October 3, 2008

Issue 17 is at the printer, and should be back in about a week or so. Then a little flurry of label/label/label, stuff/stuff/stuff, stamp/stamp/stamp, and it will be time for the October 15 mailing!

The write stuff

September 22, 2008

If you're interested in the paraphernalia of writing – pens, inkwells, etc. – and you're going to be in London next month, you might want to check out the Writing Equipment Show, sponsored by the Writing Equipment Society, an organization formed "to promote ownership, conservation, study and use of writing equipment", both new and vintage. Fountain pens are a central theme, but according to the group their approximately 500 members are interested in "everything connected with the world of writing from papers to inks; from writing slopes to slates; from stamp boxes to pencil boxes; from steel pen nibs to quill cutters". Their online site includes a discussion forum and links to other organizations focused on writing instruments and related materials. And their website gallery includes Victorian inkwells in the shape of snails!

"My efforts did make a difference"

September 12, 2008

A couple of years ago, Liz Mann [link no longer active] decided to write a letter a day – to heads of state, entertainment celebrities, and ordinary people whose lives she read something interesting about in the news. She wrote to the Pope, to a woman trying to keep her phone number, to the CEO of Philip Morris, to the Chicago Police Superintendent, to a couple protesting taxes, to a soldier protesting sexual harassment, to the FDA... and in many cases posted replies she received. She was inspired by The Lazlo Letters, but although many of the "Liz Letters" [link no longer active] are satirical or downright sarcastic, her intention was generally not the humor but to make a point about something she believes in. After writing a letter every day in 2006 her writing became more sporadic, and it's not clear if she's continuing, since the last entries are from February of this year. If you enjoy her writing style, which often combines a breeziness with a serious intent, you'll probably hope there are more to come!

"Traditional communication must be preserved"

August 30, 2008

Sometimes in the rush to improve efficiency, important small details can get lost, and such was the case recently in Hagerstown, Maryland, when the USPS removed some corner mailboxes to save on the costs of picking up the mail. People can mail at work, and buying goods and paying bills online means fewer physical items of mail, according to the USPS. But for some senior citizens living near the suddenly-missing mailboxes, limited mobility and limited income [link no longer active] can mean the other choices are not so much options as obstacles to mailing. After complaints, the USPS decided to return some of the mailboxes. Fittingly, one such return [link no longer active] may have been spurred by a letter, written to the Congresswoman for the district.

Fu spells fun

August 20, 2008

Looking for an easy, inexpensive way to send decorated envelopes? Try Letterfu. Or you could call them decorated letters, because the letters are the envelopes in these designs. You print them out on an ordinary computer printer, then write your letter on one side and fold them into a mailable shape. You don't need glue, because the stamp goes over two edges to keep the design from unfolding in the mail, or you can use a bit of glue for more security. There are several designs on the site, and there's a blank template with the folding marks and instructions so you can make your own designs as well. The designs are free as long as you aren't using them to make money, or modifying them without giving credit, so all you need to buy is paper and ink.

On the road mail

August 9, 2008

If the history of the picture postcard in Issue 16 caught your interest, you might want to check out the National Park Service's online exhibit "Lying Lightly on the Land." The physical exhibit closed ten years ago, but dozens of vintage postcards of national parks, mostly focused on the park road system, are featured in "postcard tours" of eight national parks, plus four additional tours of Yellowstone. If you're an old car buff, there are plenty of those shown on the postcards as well.

On the air mail

July 25, 2008

This Sunday, the Canadian Broadcasting Company's "Cross Country Checkup" show [link no longer active] will be on the topic of letters and e-mail, specifically significant letters (written or electronic) people have sent or received. It's a 2-hour call-in show broadcast on CBC channels, on Sirius satellite radio, and podcast. If you can't tune in live, check the web site later and you can hear the audio stream, as well as read comments by listeners.

Talk about lucky

July 12, 2008

Recently a demolition company has been in the process of removing parts of a small house J.R.R. Tolkien lived in for several years before he died, which is being demolished (to the anguish of many fans who feel it should be preserved as a historic site), and found several postcards, including one addressed to Tolkien, probably from American sword-and-sorcery author Lin Carter. The finder says he has permission from the Tolkien estate to sell it at auction, along with the fireplace it was found behind, and expects it to go for a large sum. Here's a link to an article [link no longer active].

"The surprises of an ongoing exchange"

July 6, 2008

A while ago we found an interesting discussion of the similarities and differences between conversation, letters, and blogs on a blog named UFO Breakfast. The wide-ranging discussion touches on letters and orality, epistolary novels, and the different assumptions about the privacy of letters in the prolific correspondence of the eighteenth century. We had hoped to reprint it in the last issue, but the blog is no longer current and we were unable to find a contact address for the author in order to ask permission. It's still available here, though, through the auspices of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

Speaking of numbers

June 26, 2008

A couple of recent entries mentioned numbers – 42, 22. Here's a bigger one – 170,000. No, that's not the speed of light in miles per second, though it's close. It's the price, in pounds sterling, that a letter by Albert Einstein recently sold for in a British auction. Interested in seeing such a valuable piece of paper? There's a picture of it (or at least part of it – the writing isn't clear enough for our schooldays German to easily read it here [link no longer active].

Neither rain, nor sleet...

June 7, 2008

...but sometimes there are situations, from flooding to strikes to political situations, that interfere with the mail delivery. The UK's Royal Mail keeps an ongoing list of world areas where these interferences are occurring. The same page lists postal holidays in various countries as well.


May 24, 2008

No, that's not the condensed meaning of life, not even according to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it's the number of days til the next issue of Lex comes out. Actually, it will be even less than that, because June 15 is on a Sunday, so we'll be mailing on Saturday, June 14. The layout of the issue is all set, except for the "From the Editors" page which we always leave til the last minute for some reason, and the fine-tuning of the columns so they line up and look nice, and the proofing, and the tweaking of the graphics to print well, and the final check of spelling, and probably a few other things we'll discover when we go through our checklist before sending the files to the printer...


May 11, 2008

No, that's not the meaning of life (well, it is, according to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), it's the new First Class postage for U.S. letters. Did you use up all your 41¢ stamps yesterday? Get a supply of the Forever Stamps while they were still 41¢? Yeah, we forgot too...

Stamp Out Hunger

May 7, 2008

That's the theme of this Saturday's collection of non-perishable food by the National Association of Letter Carriers. Food shelves tend to be low this time of year, as the donations given during the winter holiday season run out, and as the NALC press release [link no longer active] notes, summer can be a critical time for children especially. Food left next to the mailbox on Saturday before delivery will be collected and delivered to local food shelves (except in Chicago and New York, where food can be taken to post offices all week). Last year about 70 million pounds of food was collected, and this year, with gas prices squeezing family budgets and driving up prices of anything that's transported, including food, the need is even greater – an estimated 12 million children and 23 million adults don't have access to a consistently adequate food supply.

Better later than now?

April 27, 2008

Occurrences such as the one below aren't (we hope!) intentional, but what if you actually wanted to delay a letter? Sent From The Past [link no longer active] says it will do just that for you – and unlike the USPS, you can choose the date, up to 15 years in the future. You might want to record your thoughts on the birth of a child as a present for their confirmation day; write to your spouse on your wedding day and have the letter delivered for your tenth anniversary; or write to your future self at any time setting forth your hopes and fears for the coming years. According to their website, you buy a stationery kit from them, themed or generic, and after you (or someone you give the kit as a gift to) send it to them they store it in archival materials in a temperature controlled environment, and then mail it on the date you specify. Just remember that you wrote it, in case you change your mind (or your spouse!)

Better late than never?

April 16, 2008

Today we received a returned postcard in the mail – one of our listing deadline reminder cards, with a USPS label attached indicating it couldn't be delivered because the addressee was no longer at that address and they didn't have a forwarding address on file. This is not unusual – except that this was the Issue 12 listing reminder, which we mailed November 20, 2006!


April 10, 2008

We've passed the 10,000 mark – 10,000 letters forwarded since we began our stint of forwarding letters! Let there be hoopla! Let there be fanfare! Let there be dancing in the streets! (Well, maybe after the sleet stops...).

War Letters: Lost & Found

April 9, 2008

The National Postal Museum, in association with Andrew Carroll's Legacy Project, has an online exhibit of recovered war letters. These letters, which were on display at the Museum a couple years ago, were written during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War. All of them were lost or thrown away and then later found by strangers at garage sales, in attics, or simply in the garbage. The site includes text excerpts as well as photocopies of the original letters. (Carroll has published a number of books of war letters; his book Behind the Lines was featured in Issue 11).

Astronomical Growth

April 1, 2008

LEX today announced plans to extend its market. "We've focused on the Earth for a long while, and we're ready for expansion," explained Chief of Surgery and Advertising Lonna Riedinger. "We're especially reaching out to Mars, Venus, and Jupiter, but anyone in the Solar System is welcome to subscribe." Transterrestrial endeavors are always a risk, but even more so in the case of letters. "The postage needed for these letters will be slightly higher," said Vice President of Orchid Gardening and Finance Gary Marvin. "A First Class letter to Mars, for example, requires a $32,837.15 stamp. But we're confident that there's enough interest in alien correspondence to overcome this slight impediment." An added incentive is that letter writers on other planets are often especially enthusiastic. E-mail has barely started to become widely available on Jupiter, and the length of the day on Venus leaves many Venusians with ample time on their hands. "There's only so many episodes of Gilligan's Island you can watch in a 2-month evening," said G'norh'k, one of LEX's first new subscribers. "Eventually you want to do something more meaningful while waiting for bedtime, and letter writing is a great choice." Stay tuned for future expansion plans to Alpha Centauri and other nearby star systems.

Whole Lotta Writin' Goin' On

March 27, 2008

Do you believe that Elvis Presley didn't die in 1977 and is still alive? A lot of people do, and they still write him fan letters [link no longer active], as this site shows. Another site is run by the director of the documentary film The Truth About Elvis, where you can read letters [link no longer active] meant to eventually be published as a book, which the director says will be sent to various family and friends of Elvis in the hopes that it will eventually get to him. And if you'd like to read letters written to Elvis by newlyweds at The Elvis Wedding Chapel of Las Vegas, check them out here [link no longer active]. We don't guarantee a response from The King, though...

Now C here

March 14, 2008

The theme for this year's Graceful Envelope Contest, conducted by the Washington Calligraphers Guild and sponsored by the National Association of Letter Carriers, is "C's the Day". Envelope designs can involve anything that starts with the letter C, and need to be postmarked by April 30. "C" the contest website [link no longer active] for suggestions and the exact requirements for submitting an entry, as well as displays of winners from previous years.

Onward and upward

March 2, 2008

Or at least upward. Yes, U.S. postage is going up yet again, in May. First Class and postcards will rise by 1¢, letters to Canada by 3¢, and International letters by 4¢. At the same time, as happened last May, some classes of bulk mail (what many people refer to with a different name) will be going down...

The first Adams family

February 24, 2008

You may have noticed some words faintly peering out from the postmarks of letters recently, sometimes more readably than others. It's a quote from John Adams: "Let us dare to read, think, speak and write." The postmark is being used in February and March to advertise an upcoming miniseries on HBO about John Adams, a prolific letter writer. The USPS refers to its promotion as "The Power of the Letter" [link no longer active], and includes a link to the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Family site, which presents the text (with scans of the original pages) of well over 1000 letters [link no longer active] between John and Abigail Adams, from 1762 through 1801.

Spreading the Word

February 17, 2008

Would you like to help spread positive feelings? There's a new site devoted to doing just that, using... handwritten letters! It's [link no longer active], "a not for profit community literacy project dedicated to spreading words of hope, appreciation, and happiness to those around us". It's quite new and the site navigation is still in progress (here's a link to the blog [last updated 2008] that explains more about the vision and history), but it looks like it has potential. Here's how it works – you download their letterhead and write a positive letter to someone. That someone can then go to the Elphos web site printed on the letterhead and respond or comment. You can also write a letter that you don't mail – to a deceased loved one, or a public figure, for example – and send a copy or scan to Elphos to be posted on the site.


February 16, 2008

Remember a few weeks ago when we were trying to decide between Martian Green™ and Lift-Off Lemon™ for the Issue 15 cover? Well, when you get your issue (and that should be soon, since we mailed it yesterday), you may notice that it's the same color as Issue 11. We were trying not to repeat colors until necessary, using all the possible cover stocks first, but there was a mixup with the printer and we were distressed to open the newly-delivered boxes of Lex to discover Vulcan Green™. We're quite upset about it – but not $1450 upset, which is what it would have taken to have it redone. The problem occurred because we gave the specifications over the phone, and apparently were misheard. We should have written them a letter...

Keeping the memory alive

February 1, 2008

Letters have appeared in many songs, often in light-hearted form ("Please, Mr. Postman", for example). Sometimes, though, the full power of letters comes through. According to most reviews, this is the case with the album "There's No Love In This War", by The Gunshy, the musical pseudonym of Matt Arbogast of Chicago. The 17 songs on the album are each based on a letter sent by Matt's grandfather Paul Arbogast to his wife Julia during the latter half of World War II. Reviewers use terms like "personal and profound", and "heartbreaking" to describe the result. You can hear an extensive interview with Matt on NPR here [link no longer active], and also see a page from one of the letters.

Yellow or green or...

January 24, 2008

It's cover color decision time again. Issue 15 is nearing its journey to the printer – after a few more layout fixes it will be proofing week, after which we send off the files and wait eagerly for the boxes of LEX to arrive. That means we need to tell the printer what color the cover should be. Originally we thought of matching the colors to the seasons – various greens for the Summer issue, red and yellows for Autumn, and blues for Winter (though this year white might be more appropriate), but there are only a few shades of each readily available in cover stock, plus that wouldn't allow scope for colors like purple.

Recently we've been working through the colors in the Wausau Astrobrights® line, with such fun names as Venus Violet™, Celestial Blue™, and Fireball Fuchsia™. Combined with LEX's new "stamp" cover, some of the bright colors are actually not the best choice for readability, although we're experimenting with a lighter gray inset in the stamp design. We're trying to avoid repeating colors from the first few years too soon, as well as avoiding colors too similar for consecutive issues, so it looks like the choice this time comes down to Martian Green™ or Lift-Off Lemon™.

More and more

January 13, 2008

The Smithsonian traveling exhibition More Than Words [link no longer active], which includes numerous examples of the hand-illustrated letters of American artists, has added yet another venue, the J. Wayne Stark University Galleries at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. This show begins next month, after which it moves to Kansas and then has a 2-month as-yet-unscheduled period. We'll update here if that's filled in.

The healing power of letters

January 7, 2008

Sometimes letters are just fun, but they can also be an important part of resolving emotional distress, expressing unexpressed feelings, or simply enhancing a relationship. Bonnie Birnam and Sharon Alworth, in their book Letters to Fathers from Daughters: A Pathway to Healing and Hope, present several hundred pages of real letters written by daughters to their fathers. They're now collecting letters for a second volume, as well as letters from daughters to mothers and from sons to fathers and mothers. You can submit letters for the upcoming books at their web site [link no longer active], or use their guidelines to write your own letters, either to send or for your own benefit. They also have an upcoming book of tips, Putting Your Heart on Paper: A Guide to Writing Letters for Healing.

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