From the "Mailstrom"

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


How things change

December 22, 2013

A new online exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum documents some of the many changes in the U.S. postal system from 1808 to the present. The exhibit, "Systems at Work" [link no longer active], isn't immense and occasionally sounds more like a promo than a history, but it does have some interesting visuals from throughout the last two centuries, both still and video.

The Franklin legacy

December 8, 2013

In a rather surprising development, considering the esteem that many people hold Benjamin Franklin in, a research team has analyzed thousands of his letters and come to the conclusion that, in the intellectual world of his time, Franklin was a "bit player." The research, done as part of the Mapping the Republic of Letters project at Stanford University, is highlighted with a Smithsonian Magazine Ingenuity Award [link no longer active]. Thanks to LEX #1378 for bringing these sites to our attention.

"A literary journal in letters"

November 22, 2013

That pretty much sums up The Letters Page, a project of the University of Nottingham School of English. Writers are invited to submit letters on a theme - the one on pen pals, unfortunately, had its deadline just before we found out about the site - for publication in the online journal (also to be available in a physical edition). The idea originated from writer-in-residence and novelist Jon McGregor's blog, where a sampling through the archived entries documents (in letters, of course) the process leading up to and beyond the publication of the first issue. From the site's description: "The Letters Page is a correspondence-themed literary journal with the written letter as its primary form."

"Your letter made me so happy, dear Miss Barrett..."

November 7, 2013

The mid-19th century story of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning continues to fascinate many today, and now several thousand of their letters, to each other as well as to and from some of their contemporaries, have been scanned in an ongoing project by the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University. The collection allows the user to see the way the letters were actually written, including misspellings, words crossed out and added, and all the other personal idiosyncrasies that are lost in printed collections; in some cases even the envelopes have been scanned. The text is also included to make it easier to read the letters.

An inner "squee"

October 19, 2013

The current issue of The Lascaux Review [link no longer active] includes a commemoration of International Letter Writing Week. Lexer Wendy Russ is among those sharing their favorite epistolary fiction, poetry and collections of letters. Her faves? Griffin & Sabine, and Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills. Contributors also share their personal experiences with letters and letter writing.


October 2, 2013

LEX #10680 recently told us about an incredible doll created in the 18th century. It writes! Built of clockwork, the doll can write up to 40 characters, complete with eye movements following the writing. It even dips its pen in ink and shakes off the excess! Here's a link to the site of the museum [link no longer active] where the doll writes, and one to a BBC video [link no longer active] showing it in action.

"Fold marks"?

September 14, 2013

If you're ready to take a break from surfing and want to write a letter, but you find it easier (or more fun) to type, now there's no need to put down the iPad. This app [link no longer active] will take care of the formatting so you can get right down to the message.

Sharing Doubles the Joy

September 5, 2013

That's the masthead of Lexer Carol Ann McCarthy's blog, and the guiding principle behind her entries, which range from her travels to her home decorating. If the blog entry isn't specifically about letters and postcards (and many are), Carol Ann usually manages to work them in anyway. Current entries include photos of her self-folding letters and a rather dismissive quote from Charlotte Brontë about Jane Austen's books.

"...a cook on a stamp..."

August 22, 2013

If you've ever really, really liked a meal in a restaurant, you might have wanted to not only leave a tip for the server, but one for the cook as well. Now here's your chance - Australia Post is having a contest [link no longer active] to feature cooks on a new stamp series to be released early next year. One legendary cook from each of the last five decades will be chosen by public voting. And if you think the best cook you've come across in the last 50 years was your mother/father/husband/wife/etc... there's even a place for write-in votes!

"...a bond that had developed almost entirely through the letters..."

August 12, 2013

Historian and philsopher Jacques Barzun's life spanned most of the 20th century, a time when family members often wrote long and thoughtful letters to each other. Such was the case with Barzun and his grandson Charles. Recently that grandson has added to the tributes with a public letter to his departed grandfather discussing, among other things, the importance of their correspondence.

Women Letter-Writers in Tudor England

July 25, 2013

Vintage collections of letters often echo the sentiment of George Saintsbury in A Letter Book that "Women write the best letters," and many agree with him that the "Golden Age" of letter writing in England was the eighteenth century. As a book published several years ago shows, however, women were writing letters well before that time. James Daybell's Women Letter-Writers in Tudor England presents the results of research into approximately 3,000 letters surviving from the latter half of the 1500s, and his conclusions range from the difference between writing and dictating letters to the social customs surrounding the layout of writing and white space on the paper. It's not a cheap book (over $100 at online bookstores), so it might be a good candidate for finding in a library.

"Some of the greatest works of English literature"

July 12, 2013

A.M. Klein is hardly a household name, but to at least one reviewer his letters are "like small golden nuggets"...

In the clutches of the law

June 28, 2013

Nope, that's not a description of LEX co-editor Gary's day job, which involves database work for a law firm. Normally that job doesn't have very much to do with letters, but a partner in the firm has recently published, after two decades of research, In the Clutches of the Law: Clarence Darrow's Letters, an edition of many of the letters of the lawyer perhaps most famous for opposing William Jennings Bryan in what's come to be known as the Scopes "Monkey" Trial, about the teaching of evolution in public schools. A description of the book, including a link to the entire Introduction, can be found here [link no longer active].

Summer is finally here (we hope)

June 17, 2013

After a very cool and wet spring, it appears that maybe, just maybe, summer is finally making a tentative appearance. Just in time for the mailing last Saturday of LEX Issue 31, Summer 2013, and if we'd realized that's what it takes we'd have tried to mail it a month ago...

A mail art gathering

June 6, 2013

If you're in one of the many cities where there's a Paper Source store, you might want to check out tonight's Mail Art Workshop & Contest [link no longer active] - "From handmade envelopes using Cavallini calendars to collaged accents finished with souffle pens, or masked stamping with heat embossing," in the words of the Paper Source website. Sounds like a lot of fun!

Little windows to the past

June 4, 2013

Postcards have been around now for more than a century, and for many people they fall into one of two categories - disposable tidbits that tell someone you're on vacation, or a short letter with a pretty picture. For collectors and historians, though, they have additional benefits, as this article [link no longer active] about a woman who's amassing a postcard history of her local beaches shows.

"The maddeningly mundane and the philosophically insightful"

May 21, 2013

Due to copyright restrictions, we usually use older letters in LEX, in such features as The World of Letters and the quotes scattered throughout, but there are many collections of more recent letters as well. An editor of such showcases some of his favorites in this article.

Letters to a "Sneaky Girl"

May 6, 2013

Before he became famous as the author of the controversial-at-the-time The Catcher in the Rye, author J.D. Salinger did some other writing - to a young woman who wrote to him for advice on a career as a novelist. Over the course of a few years a small number of letters were exchanged, not entirely on business ("You're pretty," wrote "Jerry" after asking for a photo); the letters were recently sold to the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. This article [link no longer active] about the letters focuses more on Salinger; this one on the young woman, Marjorie Sheard.

Wonder what Bernie's photographing today...

April 22, 2013

During the 1950s, as people in the U.S. took to the highways in large numbers for vacations, there arose a "Roadside America" category of postcards. Some featured odd tourist attractions such as giant concrete animals and vegetables, and it seemed that every motel offered guests free postcards with views of its front entrance and often its rooms as well. Hundreds of postcards of such motels, gift shops, gas stations, and other buildings important to the "road trip" traveler are featured at [link no longer active]. Other postcards focused on the highways themselves; there's a humorous dissection of one group apparently taken by the same photographer, "Bernie," at Bad Postcards of the Week.

Hope springs eternal...

April 11, 2013

...although Spring doesn't seem to be doing much springing around here... or maybe it's Winter that's springing eternal... Anyway, it appears now that mail delivery will continue to happen 6 days a week at least for the near future. We can, according to this article, [link no longer active] "blame" Congress...

A site worth checking out

March 26, 2013

There are many blogs and websites about writing letters, stationery, and similar topics, and from time to time we come across them in one way or another. Here's an excellent one we've discovered very recently: Simplicity Embellished [link no longer active], by Cole Imperi. There's a wealth of information, advice, and experience on a number of topics, including letter writing, contained here.

"Dear Bird:"

March 16, 2013

In the published history of letters there are some famous collections of the courtship letters of lovers - Thomas Carlyle and Jane Welsh, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, John Adams and Abigail Smith. Will the letters of Lyndon Johnson and "Lady Bird" Taylor join them in fame? It's too soon to tell - they were just released last month by the LBJ Presidential Library. The online collection [link no longer active] consists of a little under 100 letters, and includes both scans and transcripts.

If they wait long enough...

March 1, 2013

People vary in how they deal with the envelopes that letters come in - some discard them at the same time as they take out the letter for the first time, others put the letter back in the envelope after reading it and store them together. Then there are those who wait 165 years [link no longer active] before reuniting the envelope with the letter it once contained...

Letters of support

February 10, 2013

Letters, even from strangers, can support and encourage someone going through a difficult time. That's why author Gina Mulligan (whose first book, by the way, is written entirely in the form of letters!) started Girls Love Mail, which distributes letters to women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Girls Love Mail is a registered charity which collects volunteer letters for participating doctors and medical programs to distribute to patients. The web site gives full details, including suggestions for what to say and samples of letters. Gina encourages letter writing parties and has downloadable kits appropriate for several types of groups. This year her goal is a "Mile of Mail" - 5280 letters for distribution to women with cancer. We hope LEX subscribers, and anyone else reading this blog, will help her reach and exceed that!

Counting down...or up...

February 6, 2013

By now you've probably heard that the USPS plans to end Saturday delivery, except for packages, this summer. Is this the beginning of a trend, the closings that have affected some local post offices starting to come to your own mailbox now? Or an efficiency measure that will help stave off the day when letters have to be delivered by courier at ten times their current cost? Time will tell...

Going up again

January 23, 2013

U.S. postage is increasing again this weekend, so if you're mailing from the U.S., or sending mail to LEX for forwarding, you might have to put a little more postage on it. First-Class, which includes most personal mail except postcards, is going up to 46¢ - Forever stamps are always good for First-Class postage no matter what price they were bought at, so there's no need to add a 1¢ stamp to ones you already have. (Additional ounces over the basic 1-ounce rate will still be 20¢, and as far as we know the surcharge for envelopes that are too big, too small, or square will also still be 20¢.) Postcards will need that extra 1¢ if you're using current stamps - their postage is rising to 33¢, and there aren't any Forever postcard stamps yet. Both letters and postcards mailed outside the U.S. will be going up to $1.10 - and that includes mail to Canada and Mexico, which had lower rates than other countries until now. There will be a new Forever International stamp, though, to protect against future price increases.

As of this morning, the USPS page that claims to have the new rates effective on January 27 was still showing, in its downloadable files, the current rates, so if you need to know the prices for any of the other classes of mail, of which there are many, you'll want to check with your local post office or wait a few days for the USPS to catch up.

Letter-Writing Week, maybe...

January 16, 2013

According to various sources, National (or maybe it's Universal) Letter-Writing Week was January 7-11 (or maybe it's January 8-14). The exact dates, of course, aren't crucial to those of us who write letters whether or not a proclamation to do so has been made... in any case, in honor of Some Sort of Letter-Writing Period, there's a group of short reviews of books about letters, or even told in the form of letters, here [link no longer active].

" a diamond in a pig sty..."

January 3, 2013

There have been numerous reports that kids today don't know how to address an envelope and can't spell "sincerely," among other casualties of the texting craze. But in the U.K. that may change, if a new draft curriculum goes into effect. It calls for teaching kids how to write both personal and business letters. Here's an article about it, although we're not sure why they chose to illustrate the article, which mentions the value of writing both job applications and letters of condolence, with a scene involving a quill pen.

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