From the "Mailstrom"

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



December 26, 2012

Pining for the thrill of another countdown, given that the world didn't end last week? Check out the days/hours/minutes/seconds counter at the National Postal Museum, where they're looking forward to another momentous date: the opening of the world's largest stamp gallery.

It doesn't take billions for this

December 12, 2012

According to an article [link no longer active] in the U.K. Daily Mail, writing letters is among the activities that help keep the brain healthy as one gets older (as those of us caught up in the grip of time have a tendency to do). For the price of some stamps and envelopes, one can achieve demonstrable brain effects (we had no idea that the old cliché "water on the brain" meant it was perpendicular.) And although the article mentions several activities, including reading and playing games, we found it interesting that they chose writing a letter to be the top illustration!

A few of those billions over the years

November 29, 2012

Collections of postcards, such as the one in the entry directly below, typically focus on the photos or drawings that grace the front (or back, depending on how you look at it), but sometimes it's the writer or the circumstances that are the main interest, such as in the postcard from the moon mentioned just below that. Here's another case of the sender being more important than the card itself: a series of 15 postcards written (with the occasional illustration) by famous authors, including one in Anglo-Saxon from C.S. Lewis. Other senders range from Virginia Woolf to Franz Kafka to F. Scott Fitzgerald; recipients include Gertrude Stein and various publishers.

A billion a year

November 20, 2012

If you're going to be in Boston this winter, you might want to check out The Postcard Age: Selections From the Leonard A. Lauder Collection, an exhibit of about 400 postcards dating back almost 150 years. It's at the Museum of Fine Arts from now until next April 14. The MFA website for the exhibition shows 10 examples but doesn't give very much information about postcards themselves - for that, see the review in the Boston Globe.

Now that's a long delivery

November 12, 2012

With mail deposit boxes and post offices being closed, sometimes you have to go farther than ever to mail a letter or postcard. But to the moon?

Neither snow nor rain, but...

October 30, 2012

...a 13-foot wall of water can cause a bit of problem. Many post offices along the East Coast are closed or on reduced service due to Hurricane Sandy. You can get an overview of where mail processing is being slowed or stopped at this USPS site. The post offices without power or with flooding are listed mostly by ZIP code, so this can be a quicker way than wading through the media reports of floating cars and balcony sharks to tell if correspondents might be affected. We hope all our subscribers came through the storm with no impacts other than impressive stories to tell!

Issue 29 is in the mail!

October 16, 2012

One again we found ourselves having to mail from Rapid City, SD, on a family trip. All the issues were put in mailboxes yesterday at Baken Park Shopping Center, within sight of the famous dinosaur-on-a-hill, and then today we drove home (for hours and hours and hours...), so we're all ready to start the forwarding!

One girl's famous penpal

October 4, 2012

Guernsey is a small island off the coast of France near Cherbourg, and is associated with the United Kingdom although not a formal part of it. During World War II it was invaded by Nazi forces, and many of its inhabitants, particularly children, were evacuated to mainland Britain, sponsored by American families whose support included writing letters to the children. One evacuee, Paulette Le Mescam, was sponsored by Eleanor Roosevelt, and exchanged letters for five years. Her story was told recently by the BBC - here are links to an article [link no longer active] and interview [link no longer active]. The researcher who worked with the BBC, Gillian Mawson, has extensively studied and interviewed the surviving evacuees, and has written a book, Guernsey Evacuees, which will be published next month. She also maintains a blog with more information.

"Uncorker of Ocean Bottles"

September 25, 2012

Most of us have had the experience of a letter or package taking a surprisingly long time to be delivered, sometimes for no reason that can be easily ascertained. But here's a way of making the interval between sending and receiving almost certain to be long, often many years - send a message in a bottle [link no longer active]. As one of the comments notes, however, the record of 98 years may only be an officially-verified record - the article mentions a bottle that was launched during the 1700s and found in 1935.

Her Love For Letters

September 17, 2012

Periodically we take a little time to surf the world of blogs for mentions of letter writing. Here's a nice one, from a new blog, mywhispersinthewind...

Make their day

September 4, 2012

If you have a little time and a few postcards or sheets of stationery, you can brighten the day for a sick child. (And if you have lots of time and paper. . .) Post Pals is a registered charity in the U.K. which facilitates safely sending mail to children with serious illnesses.

"A social event that's not about eating, drinking, or buying"

August 22, 2012

The poet Byron once said, "Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company." Undoubtedly the "company" referred to the ultimate recipients of the letters. But as fewer and fewer write them, here's a new meaning: various venues are springing up to encourage people to come together on a regular basis in stationery stores, community centers, and libraries, for an afternoon or evening of writing letters. We've mentioned a couple before (see below for entries on March 22, 2009, January 23, 2012, and March 13, 2012); here's a new one, using typewriters, which meets once a month at Alphabet City, a creative community center in Auckland, New Zealand.

Letters of Note

August 10, 2012

Soon to join the well-known collections of famous letters (Letters of the Century [link no longer active], Women's Letters [link no longer active], etc.) will be a new collection, Letters of Note by Shaun Usher, many of them taken from the larger collection at his updated-almost-daily blog of the same name. There you can read, often in both scans of the original and typed transcripts, over 800 letters, memos, telegrams, and faxes. They range from the emotional to the silly; from a letter a mother wrote to her daughter the day after the daughter was born, to Mark Twain's letter to a 9-year-old pen pal; from Hitler's nephew trying to join the U.S. Navy, to a defense of beavers who had built dams without getting the proper permits. Usher also maintains other sites including Letterheady, which presents examples of interesting letterhead.

"We have found the bodies..."

July 26, 2012

A few months ago, one of the last letters written by Captain "Scott of the Antarctic" shortly before his death on the expedition to the South Pole was auctioned. In a few months, another letter related to the expedition will be auctioned [link no longer active] - a letter written by a member of the search party when the bodies of Scott and the other expedition members were found.

Life in the Come to a Screeching Halt Lane

July 11, 2012

Douglas Adams is reported to have said that technology is "stuff that doesn't work yet" (although it appears he was quoting a computer scientist, rather than creating that definition himself). One might also describe it as "stuff that stops working for no good reason" - or at least that's the way LEX is tending to put it these days. Between 8:00 and 8:30 one evening recently, our Internet computer just decided it didn't want to connect to the Internet any more. Modem works, Ethernet cable has a signal, network setup is right, everything a week of checking can come up with checks out OK, it just "doesn't work." Sigh. At least we have access in some other places, so we're getting e-mail (though not on weekends), and questions, comments, and subscriptions entered through the LEX website are getting through - again, with a hiatus on weekends. But it's frustrating...

Life in the Slow Lane

June 24, 2012

We periodically try to sample some of the web sites that celebrate letter writing. In addition to those whose focus is specifically on letters, there are many others with entries extolling the virtue of letters. One such is Life in the Slow Lane, the blog of Elaine Rickett, who describes herself as a "dedicated grower of all things beautiful and edible."

Being different

June 9, 2012

A Lexington, North Carolina teen is starting a campaign to encourage letter writing, using his position as Teen Correspondent for [link no longer active] to spread the word. To join his project, go to the very new Tumblr site [link no longer active]. Jacob says "...remember, anyone can send a text. Be different. Write letters." We couldn't agree more. (Well, about writing letters...not sure we can send a text...)

Mail that floppy

May 24, 2012

Remember floppy disks? And the "floppy disks" that were smaller and not floppy at all? If you've got a stash of these, the blogger at mim4art has a new use for them: mail art. Kind of like a postcard... For a look at a more traditional format, checkout the mail art envelopes at Pinterest.

May 20 is Letter Writing Day

May 13, 2012

The Spellman Museum of Stamps & Postal History in Weston, MA is holding its third annual Letter Writing Day on May 20. If you're in the neighborhood, check out the fun -- write a letter to a friend, with the stamp provided by the museum, or create illustrated stationery and envelopes with children's book author and illustrator Jennifer Morris. Not in the neighborhood? Why not write a letter anyway? Heck, why wait for May 20th?

From Poe's Quill

April 29, 2012

Are you a fan of Edgar Allen Poe as well as of letter-writing? An exhibition [link no longer active] catering to both will be on display in Richmond, VA through July 11, 2012. In honor of the 90th anniversary of the Poe Museum, the Museum will host an exhibit of rarely seen or newly discovered letters and manuscripts written by Edgar Allan Poe. These rare works will be on loan from a number of private collections and will never be exhibited together again. Highlights include letters from Poe to Washington Irving and Edward Valentine, as well as a poem allegedly written through a medium after Poe's death.

The mail carriers' suggestions

April 17, 2012

Here's yet another proposal to save the U.S. Postal Service from going the way of the 8-track tape. It's interesting that despite the emphasis on raising stamp rates, complete with a chart of First Class prices in this article, there seems little effort by anyone to increase the volume of First Class mail - the proposals generally are on how to, as the article puts it, "get businesses to send more direct mail." One problem with that, of course, is that the more direct mail people get (often giving it a less diplomatic name), the more they look for opt-out lists and other ways of avoiding it. Perhaps if they reminded people of the value of real First Class mail?


April 4, 2012

We totally forgot to do a silly entry last Sunday, April 1. Well, we'll just have to start thinking up an especially good one for next year...

The Graceful Envelope

March 23, 2012

It's time once again for the Washington Calligraphers Guild Graceful Envelope contest. Entries are due by the end of April, and contest details and rules can be viewed here [link no longer active].

"Odd, exhausting, and beautiful"

March 9, 2012

Some years ago there was Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence and its sequels, a tale told in the form of letters and postcards. Now there's The Pen Friend [link no longer active], a novel by Ciaran Carson. From the publisher's website:

"'I write to try to see you as you were, or what you have become. You left no forwarding address: that was part of your intention. For when we wrote those letters to each other all those years ago, we wrote as much for ourselves as for each other.' More than twenty years after the end of their love affair, Gabriel receives a cryptic postcard from an old flame. It is the first of thirteen cards from her, each one provoking a series of reveries about their life and love in 1980s Belfast. The Pen Friend is, however, much more than a love story. As Gabriel teases out the significance of the cards, his reveries develop into richly textured meditations on writing, memory, spiritualism and surveillance. The result is an intricate web of fact and fiction, a narrative that marries sharp historical insights with imaginative exuberance, a strange and wonderful novel that confirms Ciaran Carson as one of Ireland's most engaging and ingenious writers."

And if that sounds almost as cryptic as the postcards (which are reproduced in the book), here's a lengthy review .

The humane art

February 28, 2012

Usually letters are written to be sent - but not always. LEX Issue 27's installment of Tamra Orr's "Writing between the Lines" examines "letters never sent," letters that one writes for the value of writing them, and then keeps or destroys without the person they're addressed to ever getting them. A recent BBC article about Virginia Woolf examines a halfway situation - writing letters and then thinking better of the hasty statements written in the heat of emotion and revising them before sending.

Message in a balloon

February 19, 2012

You've heard of a message in a bottle - but what if you're not near the ocean? A man in England found a solution [link no longer active] to that - he released two balloons with a note, and apparently has a new penpal from the Netherlands as a result.

Snail mail holders

February 9, 2012

Grammar mavens - does that title mean snail-mail holders, or snail mail-holders? In the case of Rex McKeen, it means both. You can check out his creations [link no longer active], wooden holders made from driftwood and decorated with snail shells, on Etsy.

Twenty-four letters hath February

January 30, 2012

That might not be quite how you remember the old rhyme going, but it will be if you take up author Mary Robinette Kowal's "The Month of Letters Challenge" to mail a letter (or a card or other item) on every postal day of February (not counting Sundays or the Monday holiday). The above link is to her personal website; there are links there to a specific Challenge site and to her Facebook and Twitter Challenge pages.

Remember typewriters?

January 23, 2012

There are still some around, even in working condition. Amherst College recently set up some for a late-night "letter-writing social" [link no longer active], in which several hundred students spent Friday night writing letters on typewriters and with quill pens. Both participation and the enthusiasm generated were higher than expected.

Letter styles of the famous

January 16, 2012

Ever think it would be cool to correspond with a famous author? Some fan letters to authors have turned into lifelong friendships by mail, although the chance of any particular letter sparking more than a perfunctory response is quite slim. Stephen Elliott [link no longer active] recently turned that idea around; for $5 a month he'll see that you get a letter from a different author every week or so. Will they want you to write back, and will you still be pen pals a year from now, or ten, or forty? The subscription price doesn't include any guarantees. The authors will write a letter that Elliott's website will copy and send out, so they won't be exactly personal letters, but authors will be free to encourage responses and a continuing correspondence if they want. Too soon to tell if any will want, of course...

Going up

January 4, 2012

The cost of sending mail in the U.S. and Canada will be going up in a couple weeks. In Canada, the increase takes effect on January 16, and will raise the price of a letter or postcard to 61¢ if mailed to the U.S. the price will be $1.05, and to anywhere else it will be $1.80. In the U.S. the increase takes effect a week later, on January 22, and will make First Class letters 45¢, postcards 32¢, and either item 85¢ to Canada or Mexico and $1.05 to anywhere else. Other types of mailings will also increase; see Canada Post [link no longer active] or USPS for details. Stock up on those Forever stamps now!

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