From the "Mailstrom"

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


"Letter writing was a common thing"

December 29, 2019

There might not be a category in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest handwritten correspondence, but if there is, the 60+ years of weekly letters between Ellen Glasgow and Sandra MacDiarmid might be a top contender. And not only are they handwritten, but hand-illustrated as well. Some of the letters have been featured in local magazines and at exhibits at local libraries, and this article includes a peek at some of the art.

Better late than never

December 24, 2019

A couple of entries ago we mentioned a sixth-grade girl and a somewhat unusual way to find a pen pal. Now here's a story about a sixth-grade boy who used a plastic film canister instead of a bottle to launch a search for a pen pal into the ocean. It worked - 36 years later - although it's not clear from the story if the launcher and the finder will continue corresponding.

An interesting idea

December 19, 2019

It probably won't bring a flock of tourists to Saginaw, Michigan - and for all we know, maybe you have to have a Saginaw library card to attend. But a stationery swap [link no longer active] is something almost any library, or almost any other place where people can gather for a social event, could easily host.

Not quite a sixth grade girl...but a lifelong pen pal

December 13, 2019

Programs connecting grade school students between countries have a long history, and many of us can remember such a correspondence, usually short-lived as interests change and letters gradually (or suddenly) cease. Here's an article about a slightly different connection, which a student began on her own, and ended up being a correspondence with a school principal instead of another student.

Between students and mentors

December 4, 2019

School pen pal programs traditionally have matched students with other students, typically in other countries. Recently there have also been programs that match students with seniors, especially those in group living. Here's yet another type of pen pal program, one which matches low-income students with scientists they would ordinarily have little contact with.

Rather than twiddle his beard...

November 26, 2019

Australia Post encourages teachers to help kids write letters to Santa [link no longer active], as a way of teaching them the art of letter writing. A present better than a toy train!

Both naughty and nice

November 22, 2019

35 years ago a German postal worker in a small town decided to answer a couple of letters to Santa rather than return them as "Addressee Unknown." The tradition of sending letters to Santa there has grown so much that Deutsche Post now steps in to help answer the hundreds of thousands of letters received each year.

Happy as a dolphin

November 18, 2019

Canada Post [link no longer active] says they have tips for writing a letter to Santa and getting a letter back. When you go to the "visit" link, though, the letter from Santa - quite a detailed and breezy one - comes up, but no tips, at least not in our browser...

A busy old guy, that Santa...

November 14, 2019

In the U.S. you can be sure that your child gets a personal response from Santa - but you have to do a little more of the work yourself...

Reindeer eat carrots?

November 9, 2019

Even with children getting into the spirit of emails and texting, writing a letter to Santa Claus is still a tradition in many families. And sometimes the jolly old elf writes back: if you're a parent living in the U.K., there's time to arrange with Royal Mail for your child to receive a letter from Santa, aka Father Christmas.

Receive more postcards...and maybe other good things?

November 1, 2019

Lots of articles on manifesting your desires over the last several decades have suggested keeping a journal as a way to tell the universe what you want to bring into your life, using the method of feeling as if it's already happened and expressing your thanks. Here's a slightly different way - sending yourself postcards with the gratitude and happiness for what you intend to receive.

Dear Tooth Fairy

October 24, 2019

Many of us remember writing letters as children - thank-you notes at birthdays and Christmas, maybe letters to an international penpal we were connected with in school. And we might remember putting our baby teeth under our pillows as our permanent teeth came in, hoping the no-longer-needed teeth would be replaced with a dime or a quarter by the Tooth Fairy in the night. Here's an article about a school principal who helped a child get due compensation by connecting the two activities - no mention of what the current exchange rate is...

More about the birth of postcards

October 15, 2019

An exhibition currently at the Museum for Communication in Berlin explores the origin of postcards, with examples both old and new.

Happy Birthday, postcards

October 7, 2019

Although some early ideas for cards with short messages go back farther, the official postcard medium is 150 years old this month. Here's a brief history [link no longer active] and an example of what the early postcards often looked like.

True or false? A little of both

September 27, 2019

Old postcards are often a treasure trove of historical information, both for their views of a landscape long since altered and for the news someone used them to send to a family member or friend "back home." Here's one where the view gives details of Seattle from more than a century ago, with hints of what the same area later became - and an illusory mountain. No information on how accurate the message on the back was...

Another purpose for a message in a bottle

September 18, 2019

Usually stories about a message in a bottle involve children who release bottles in the ocean for the fun and interest in seeing where they go. Sometimes the bottles are found a few weeks later, sometimes a few decades, and sometimes never. In this case, however, the message was found much more quickly, to the great relief of the people who released it for a very serious reason.

When more than the mail moves

September 9, 2019

Probably few of us have wished our envelopes could lunge at us. Well, the envelopes can't, but with the new T. Rex stamps released a week ago we can have the next best thing - a dinosaur that seems to come suddenly forward when the stamp is turned in the right way, thanks to lenticular technology. We haven't seen one of the stamps in person yet so we can't comment on how much it moves, but the idea is pretty cool in any case.

" for the cursive writing world..."

August 31, 2019

Here's a story about someone who's doing her part to keep cursive writing alive in the digital age.

Like (grand)father, like son

August 26, 2019

A Minnesota man decided to start collecting old local postcards, dating back to when they were what he calls "a way of life," relaying important news as well as the "wish you were here" vacation tidbits they've mostly become today. And along the way, he found a personal memento by searching the web, not in a family attic: a postcard written in 1906 by his grandfather.

"...very curious looks..."

August 17, 2019

Despite the prevalence of social media these days, people still write to pen pals. In this article one such writer discusses her experiences and ruminates about the differences between electronic and paper relationships.

A new meaning to Air Mail

August 10, 2019

A Royal Mail "postie" came up with a new way to deliver a package, in this story and short video about it.

"Some of us still write letters"

August 2, 2019

Poet and children's book author Willie Perdomo reminisces about his letter writing and urges people to "become human again" by writing letters in a digital world. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about this article.

" affectionate posterity..."

July 21, 2019

Shortly before the U.S. Revolutionary War, Judith Sargent Murray [link no longer active] began making copies of her letters and preserving them in "letter books," to be a testament to the turbulent changing times she lived in. She continued the practice for almost half a century. More than a century and a half after her death the books were found and donated to the Mississippi Department of History and Archives, and are being published little by little. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about this article.

The found art of letter writing

July 16, 2019

People have been writing about “the lost art of letter writing” since the 1800s, but there are also articles about the persistence and even increase in the activity in the digital age.

The Skagit on a stamp

July 9, 2019

A river preserved by the 1978 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is one of 12 to be featured on a recently released set of U.S. stamps. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about this article.

Sizing to fit

July 4, 2019

Ever finish a letter with a good bit of the last page still blank? It can be tempting to try to fill it up, but if you’ve already said everything… A Japanese product [link no longer active] attempts to solve that by putting stationery on a roll like wax paper - although for comfortable writing without knowing the exact length in advance, one would have to pull out a good bit more, and probably leave the roll on the floor at an angle, and then roll it back in for cutting once the endpoint of the letter is determined.

Connecting electronic acquaintances through paper

June 28, 2019

Here's an article [link no longer active] about a judge on a "court TV" show and her bailiff, who reconnected after he wrote her a letter. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about this article.

Giving back

June 22, 2019

Some people keep letters, some don’t. One of those who did is now, more than half a century after they were written, sending them back to the writer, a Navy veteran she corresponded with during the Vietnam War.

Trying to reconnect

June 9, 2019

That’s what an Australian woman is hoping for - finding a Canadian childhood pen pal [link no longer active] she lost touch with almost half a century ago.

Message in a bottle

June 2, 2019

A grade school teacher in Winston-Salem, North Carolina has been having her students put messages in bottles and release them in the ocean as part of studying the Gulf Stream current. Most of them are never found, but some are - here’s a story about the most recent one.

Scribbled messages and dachshunds

May 24, 2019

Speaking of postcards from a century ago, here’s an article [link no longer active] about a postcard collectors’ club and some of their prize finds.

Analyzing the introduction of postcards

May 19, 2019

A new book, Picturing the Postcard: A New Media Crisis at the Turn of the Century, reviews the history of postcards from their beginning in 1869 up to about a century ago. Its focus is on the social implications of this new way of writing: the effects on expectations of privacy, the differences between economic and social classes, and other consequences undoubtedly not envisioned by the medium’s creators.

Sometimes more than mail gets into the box

May 12, 2019

In Norfolk, U.K., a family of birds decided to take up residence in a postbox, and here are some pictures of the result, including three little creatures hungry for more than letters.

Carrying on

May 4, 2019

Some people who write letters have an elaborate collection of fountain pens, stationery, wax seals, and other accessories that increase the enjoyment. But what happens when one travels? In the past, people took wooden boxes known as portable desks or lap desks to carry it all and provide a writing surface, and they could get very elaborate as well.

"We kept writing our letters"

April 26, 2019

A few months ago we mentioned a 69-year pen pal correspondence. Here's one that, at 81 years and still going, just might hold the record.

Even better than a really cool Bratz

April 18, 2019

A newspaper reporter in Georgia reminisces about a childhood pen pal and a recent one in this column about the joys of slow, handwritten letters in an age of phoning and texting.

Reminders from an ocean away

April 11, 2019

Sometimes postcards from a century ago are glimpses into world history - and sometimes they're a spotlight into the private lives of the writers. Here's a story about one of those times, made possible by a fortuitous find on a Canada highway.

"... a fuller understanding..."

April 6, 2019

The letters of famous authors continue to interest many people, even when they're from several centuries ago and even when there aren't very many of them still around. Here's a review of a new collection of the 66 known letters of Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith.

The message that can't be deleted

March 30, 2019

Here's a brief ode to the travel postcard.

Darkest secrets and a brownie recipe

March 24, 2019

An artist in India decided to post an internet call for letters from strangers, and in send in return a sketch based on the letters. This article was written a couple of years later, and at that time more than a hundred letters and sketches had been exchanged.

An important part of a life

March 18, 2019

Many people in the mid-to-late 20th century were assigned pen pals from other countries in school, often from Japan. As the correspondents grew older, often the letters waned and ceased for one reason or another. Occasionally, though, the connection lasts a lifetime, and here's an article about one of those.

Canals and bonnets

March 11, 2019

In contrast to the seriousness of the post below, here's an excerpt from a chatty letter written by a woman traveling in Canada to tell her sister back in England about the town of St. Catharine's.

When snail mail is more than fun

March 4, 2019

Many of the letters of famous people written during the last few centuries detail their travels - through the Italian Alps was a popular topic. But less famous people also wrote from a distance, including friends and loved ones separated by war. Here's an article with a few of the letters exchanged during World War I.

Avoiding galactic objects on the way to heaven

February 27, 2019

In Issue 47 we featured a late Victorian popular song about a little girl asking the postman to deliver a letter to her mother in heaven. Now there's a real-life counterpart - a British Royal Mail postman who assured two young Scottish children that he'll deliver their birthday cards to their late father, despite the "astronomical" difficulties.

From exam worries to the Solidarity movement

February 21, 2019

It's common for someone to stumble upon old family letters, and some people who had pen pals in school have kept those letters, too. Here's a story about a man who found his letters from a pen pal in Poland dating to just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Postcards in the museum

February 14, 2019

Many collections and exhibitions of postcards focus on the ones sold to tourists, especially during certain periods - the "saucy seaside" cards of early 20th century Britain, the "Real Photo" period, or the 50s road-trip era. This one, however, emphasizes the time in the late 20th century when self-published art and political dissent joined forces.

Sealing in style

February 7, 2019

Sealing letters with wax imprints has a long history and is still fun, but it can be a bit messy. Here’s a little item aimed at minimizing the mess. (Remember, though, that envelopes with wax seals may require an extra non-machinable stamp, currently 15 cents in the U.S.)

Postcards on ice

January 26, 2019

Here’s another project involving children sending postcards for a larger cause - 125,000 of them put together on a Swiss glacier to call attention to climate change. A 3-minute video describes it, with footage of the giant result as well as some individual cards.

Letters from war

January 20, 2019

During the Vietnam war, one young woman became a pen pal to soldiers stationed there, and now, half a century after the couple of years that she wrote to them, she’s hoping to donate the letters they wrote back, which she’s saved through the years. This article includes a list of their names, in case any of their family members want to contact her.

Personal recycling

January 12, 2019

Many of us routinely put paper we’re through with (or never did anything with, such as junk mail) in the recycling containers, where hopefully it’s turned into something that can be used again (or for the first time). Here’s a couple who does it more directly - The Paper Plant in Asheville, NC, where old paper (and some new garden plants) are turned into stationery and bookpaper.

"Now, more than ever"

January 5, 2019

Here’s a passionate plea to return to letter writing, with examples from famous writers of the past.

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