From the "Mailstrom"

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


The letters of Anne Frank

December 28, 2018

Anne Frank’s diary is world famous - but she also wrote letters, including some to an American pen pal. Copies of the letters are on display at a permanent exhibit at the Library and Museum in Danville, Iowa, where the young girls who corresponded with Anne and her older sister lived during the brief correspondence. And if you have some extra postcards laying around, you might be interested in the Danville Postcard Project, in which school children are hoping to collect 1.5 million postcards (which was a hobby of Anne’s) to commemorate the 1.5 million children who were killed in the Holocaust. After 6 years, they have approximately 6,000 postcards, so there’s a long way to go.

"It was cool"

December 15, 2018

A Canadian author who researched a battalion of World War I soldiers decided to mail postcards to the houses the soldiers originally came from, if he had the address and the house had survived the years. Here's the story of one of them.

Up, up and away

December 7, 2018

Are you ready for a record increase in the price of a first-class stamp? The USPS hopes so, but in any case that's what they're planning. If the Postal Regulatory Commission approves (and they usually do, though there's been the occasional balk), first-class mail will go up 10%, to $.55. The price for a second ounce, or a square or otherwise non-machinable envelope, will go down by a penny, though, because those stamps are proposed to fall from $.21 to $.15. Postcard and international one-ounce rates stay the same, but packages will be more expensive as well. Here's the USPS notice about the changes proposed to take effect near the end of January. Since first-class stamps are now "Forever" stamps, anything bought before the change will cost the current rate and be usable for the new rate.

Writing across the generations

November 26, 2018

Another pen pal program that's occasionally seen is matching seniors with students. Here's a recent example.

Writing across the oceans

November 12, 2018

Remember when schools matched children in different countries as pen pals? In some places they still do.

Writing into the void

October 31, 2018

Ideally we all hope for mutual pleasure in writing and receiving letters - but sometimes only the writing part seems to happen, even though the other party claims to still enjoy the correspondence. What then? According to one British advice columnist [link no longer active], the best thing to do is to keep writing - for the other person's enjoyment, for one's own, and occasionally even for posterity's. Thanks to Lex #12534 for bringing this article to our attention.

"How differently people communicate when they write to you"

October 18, 2018

Occasionally we come across a "lost art of letter writing" article in a newspaper or magazine; here is a particularly eloquent one from an author whose first book is about the mysteries hidden in a Dead Letter office, where undeliverable letters are sent in the hopes someone can figure out who they were meant for. In a review, another author called it "a love-letter to letters," and much the same could be said about the article.

The art of mail

October 5, 2018

Another loss for the paper way

September 23, 2018

Traditionally Mormons received their "mission letter," assigning them to a year or two of faith-based work somewhere in the world, by letter. For most it was a ritual of passage, shared with family and friends and then carefully preserved as a memento. But beginning earlier this month the assignments will be increasingly sent by text or email, and many Mormons mourn the change to a method that feels less personal and less inspirational.

Larger (or at least more colorful) than life

September 10, 2018

Ever wonder where postcard manufacturers, especially in the heyday of vacation cards, found such vibrantly colorful scenes for their cards? Sometimes they had a little help from their photo labs, as shown in the first two examples here.

Early to bed, early to write

August 31, 2018

Tomorrow, September 1, is World Letter Writing Day [link no longer active]. Are you ready to get up in the morning and go to it?

"A little larger than a cell phone..."

August 24, 2018

It used to be that a staple of almost every drugstore and many groceries, motel lobbies, and gas stations was a big display of picture postcards showing local sights. Some were commercially printed, others individual photos back from the processor with a few faint lines on one side for the address. Like the drugstore soda fountain, however, they're rapidly becoming a memory. Here's an article [link no longer active] about one person's attempt to find them in Virginia Beach.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat, but maybe birds...

August 12, 2018

It's not unusual to read about mail carriers being attacked by dogs, and last year we had a post about a carrier who was injured by a cat. But it's not just on the ground that there can be dangers to mail delivery, as this article about aggressive seagulls in Wales describes.

A different take on the "delivered late" story

July 29, 2018

Periodically there's a story about a piece of mail - typically a postcard for some reason - that mysteriously gets delivered decades after it was mailed. In this case, however, it was apparently delivered originally on time, then hung around in at least 2 unrelated families until it finally ended up back with the woman who wrote it half a century ago.

They hardly ever use a pen

July 14, 2018

According to a recent survey, 25% of those aged 25 to 34 haven’t received a handwritten letter or note in the last decade. About half said they send a letter once every two years at most. And 65% said they hardly ever use a pen!

Those deep, dark postcards

June 28, 2018

2005 saw the beginning of PostSecret, a project to encourage people to share secrets they’ve never told anyone, by writing them on a postcard. A million postcards later the project is also an exhibit [link no longer active] at the San Diego Museum of Man, including a rotating display and a mailbox for visitors to add their own postcard secrets.

A positive buzz

June 14, 2018

Many schools are no longer teaching cursive writing, as keyboards and smartphones are being used by more and younger children all the time. Here’s an article about one school, however, that’s not only teaching cursive, but using letter writing to help give it meaning.

Rocks, skin, grand, Your Majesty

May 31, 2018

In the early days of the transatlantic telegraph, there were code books with words, many of them obscure, that stood for phrases or even sentences, allowing people to save money on telegrams that were charged by the word. Although used by tourists, they were especially aimed at businesses that needed to communicate similar things frequently. For example, using Price & Pierce’s Private Cable Code for the Timber Industry, a merchant could request "Cable us the limits at which we may sell Deck Plank Pine, 1st Class, 28 lineal feet and up, 13/14 to 16/17-ins, 55 cubic feet average," by sending a telegram that simply said "Retake Lapidary." (If the wood was "good fair average" quality rather than 1st Class, the message would be "Retake Larboard.")

Fast forward to the modern era, and there’s a firm, What3Words, that’s labeled every 3-square-meter area on the planet with a 3-word phrase, as an intended improvement over the current, sometimes confusing, system of addresses and post codes. And it’s not just for people - new Mercedes cars include it as a navigational tool.

The new and the old

May 19, 2018

In many articles these days, it’s almost a cliche that modern electronic communication is causing the demise of older forms such as the letter. But for some people the two can not only co-exist but support each other. One such example is the Cleveland Letter Writers Club, whose originator uses her Instagram website to encourage people to “Revive written correspondence.”

Letter troves

May 1, 2018

While formal letters - between a diplomat and the government back home, or between an author and a publisher, for example - can contain valuable historical information, they’re often calculated, impersonal, or aware that later generations are likely to read them. In contrast, letters between family members, especially if the family isn’t famous, can be a more accurate portrayal of the times and the experiences of the people living in them. One such group of letters are those collected at the Confucius Institute. In addition to a description of Chinese family letters, this site [link no longer active] contains an essay about a man who sent daily postcards to his elder sister during her long hospitalization.

Looking for "the rest of her story"

April 20, 2018

Sometimes a snail mail correspondence can linger in the memory long after the letters stop. Here's an article about a woman who lost touch with a childhood pen pal half a century ago, and the quest to reconnect that an old letter found in a farmhouse has led to.

Brave men and scary babies

April 8, 2018

Students at the University of Akron have recently taken on a bit of a task - scanning more than 200,000 postcards donated from the collection of a psychologist who obtained them while traveling around the world. (Actually, only 1,000 are currently in progress, with hopes that the project will continue until the entire huge volume is done.) As they're being scanned the cards are added to an online searchable collection, and the class also has a blog in which they feature and discuss some of the cards. One category of cards involves an interesting feature - transparent windows and doors which show details only when held in front of a light, including one the students call the "scary baby" because its eyes are closed in normal viewing and open when held up to a light.

Wonder where it was for over a century...

March 30, 2018

Throwing a message in a bottle into the ocean is a time-honored tradition, and it wasn't always just for fun. In the 19th century the German Naval Observatory dropped thousands of bottles overboard in an experiment into ocean currents with an eye to shipping routes, and recently one of them was discovered on a beach in Australia, making it the oldest known message in a bottle to be found.

Not always a best friend

March 19, 2018

Articles about dogs and the mail usually focus on the problem of dogs biting the mail carrier. But sometimes they bite other things, as reported in this article.

A big use for those little pictures

March 4, 2018

Collecting vintage postards is a popular hobby, but in Britain a couple of collectors found a new and most likely unique use for such cards - covering the ruins of a burned building.

" handwriting is a part of me..."

February 20, 2018

Do you remember having a pen pal in school? Electronic communication is making such connections less likely these days, but there are still schools that find ways to encourage letter writing between students in different countries. Here's a story about one such program.

"... you never wrote back..."

February 8, 2018

Do you write to family or relatives and find it frustrating that they don't respond in kind? You're not alone. Recently a letter written on papyrus by an Egyptian soldier serving in the Roman army was deciphered, and it seems the soldier had the same complaint.

A royal haul

January 29, 2018

Many people get lots of Christmas cards, Christmas letters, and other holiday mail. But how many get so much they have their own mail truck designated to deliver it?

A postcard bides its time

January 22, 2018

Historical letters such as that mentioned in the blog post below may give more detailed information, but postcards can also add to the knowledge of a family and the community they lived in. Here's a story about a postcard that turned up after more than a century, with information the finder received from a descendant of the woman the card was originally sent to.

" language can describe..."

January 13, 2018

...but many people tried, and the result was a legacy of letters about San Francisco in the Gold Rush years. Here's a National Park Service article about the letters of two of the hopeful miners and their experiences, with scans of parts of their letters.

Keeping track

January 4, 2018

If you do a lot of letter writing to a lot of people, it can be a challenge to remember who's eagerly or anxiously awaiting your next installment. Liz Chan, who co-owns a stationery shop in Toronto, has a great idea [link no longer active] - simple enough to keep up, and portable enough to take with you in case you write in coffee shops or other "desks" away from home. Plus, you can see at a glance who's been waiting the longest.

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