From the "Mailstrom"

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


Texting, 1979 style

December 29, 2021

Here's an article about one of "a plethora" of postcards that John Lennon sent to Ringo Starr after The Beatles went their separate ways.

Beam it down, Scotty...

December 21, 2021

It's not quite a Star Trek transporter, but drone delivery of packages [link no longer active] is coming. Can regular mail be far behind?

When the who and the what is known...

December 14, 2021

...the price can be spectacular. Here's an article about an auction of such items as a postcard from Gandhi, a letter from Tchaikovsky, and other writing-related items (not all of them correspondence, perhaps). But don't start counting pennies to participate - the auction was almost 2 years ago, and undoubtedly many of these items went for big figures.

Finding the who and the what

December 6, 2021

Remember the old TV show What's My Line? A member of a club that specializes in historic photographs of a Massachusetts town used a postcard found on the Web to play a modern version. The postcard, mailed over a century ago from the club's city, is a photograph of a man in his laboratory, and the person who saw it managed after a little effort to find the man's identity and "line."

One side of a correspondence

November 29, 2021

A couple of years ago, letters written by poet T. S. Eliot, to someone whose importance in his life had been speculated about by literary historians, were made public after decades of being kept secret. (But not through publication, just by being available to read the originals at Princeton University). The letters to him, however, which might have answered the speculations even more so, were probably destroyed at his request.

Keeping it safe

November 22, 2021

You drop a letter in the mailbox on the corner (or somewhere a mile down the street, more likely), and at some point a letter carrier gets it along with any others in the mailbox and takes it to be postmarked and delivered. But what if the keys are lost and it's feared they could be found by someone not authorized to take the mail? That's the situation that Royal Mail had to deal with a couple of years ago in Essex.

The letter thing

November 16, 2021

In this article from a couple of years ago, a newspaper columnist reminisces about letter writing in her family and the letters she's kept over the years.

When the mail turns funny

November 10, 2021

When was the last time that mailing a letter (or a bill, for that matter) made you laugh [link no longer active]? A couple of years ago, Royal Mail helped make that possible for a short time. And if you missed it, or even if you didn't, you can get stamps [link no longer active] that might do the same, although not as audibly. Click on the right-hand picture for a look at the stamps themselves.

Not quite as long

November 4, 2021

This postcard only took 26 years to be delivered - to the right address, but not the people it was addressed to. The person who got it managed to track them down, however.

Where was it?

October 28, 2021

A couple of years ago a postcard was delivered 112 years after it was dated. But did it take that long to go through the system, or did it fall out somewhere and stay obscure until someone found it and mailed it? No way to tell...

Safe mail, safe mail carriers

October 20, 2021

Have you driven a car for 70 years? That's how long it would take the "average" person to drive a million miles, according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. And most people would probably consider that doing it without even a minor accident is a pretty good record. To these 19 California mail carriers, it's all in a day's work.

The mysterious thank-yous

October 10 , 2021

Anonymous mailings sometimes have a bad reputation, but here's a case that's just the opposite. Throughout much of the last decade, people and organizations began receiving thank-you postcards allegedly from "Postcard Underground." Most blogs that mention receiving postcards that claim to be from an organization of that name conclude that it's destined to remain a mystery. Some point out that many of the cards are postmarked St. Paul, Minnesota, and many are from Sue; but there are also many signed with other names and postmarked in various places across the country. Minnesota Public Radio investigated a couple of years ago, and they came to the same conclusion - there are hints but no definite facts. In a current search of the web the most recent blog post [link no longer active] we could find that mentions the group was just about a year ago. Are they still active? Given how many people credit Postcard Underground with lifting their spirits [link no longer active], we hope so.

Letter book

September 29, 2021

Well, not exactly. That's actually the term given to historical collections of letters, usually ones that the writers made by keeping copies of the letters they sent. But today there are occasional novels written in the form of letters, often (as in this case) with the addition of diary entries and other writings of the characters, with the author in the background. Here's one [link no longer active] from a few years ago.

When "jump to it" is taken literally

September 23, 2021

Through the years mail has been delivered in many ways other than by mail trucks and walkers with mailbags. Some of those have included mail carriers on stilts, skis, and of course horses and horse-drawn wagons. Here's a new method, though (at least to us - it's been going on for a century): mail jumpers who leap off a boat onto a residential dock and deposit the mail into a mailbox on or near the dock, then leap back onto the boat before its cruising takes it too far toward the next house. Thanks to Lex #13215 for letting us know about this story.

Looking for a million letters

September 13, 2021

It might take a lot more effort to amass than the not-quite-a-million postcards described a couple of blog entries ago, but historian Andrew Carroll is on a mission, which he calls the Million Letters Campaign, to find and preserve a million letters written by U.S. military personnel during various wars. And the passion for the project described in this article makes it clear that if he manages the million he won't stop there.

Letters on a timeline

September 6, 2021

The Goulbourn Museum in Ontario is preparing to open an exhibit of the World War I letters of a local soldier, and its publicity campaign includes a giveaway of pre-stamped postcards for local residents to pick up and mail. They are also showcasing the soldier's letters home one by one on the museum's Facebook page, on the 105th anniversary day of each letter.

Looking for a million postcards?

August 29, 2021

Well, you won't find that many in Jerry Peterson's collection, but close enough - it probably tops out at 750,000. He's still selling them one at a time, but he's looking for a buyer for the whole amount so he can retire. This article mentions some of the history of postcards and describes the wide range of subject matter they've had over the years - not just tourist "wish you were here" types, but much more, from fairies to fires, from mermaids to military humor and just about everything in between.

Postcard victims?

August 23, 2021

It's been a cliche for decades that people on trips send postcards saying "Wish you were here." For a man in Texas, however, postcards have another use - sending insults, at the rate of 30 or more a day. And because he makes the cards so interesting, with mail art and weird news items, people are happy to get them.

An inside job

Augsut 15, 2021

There are numerous programs that connect seniors with pen pals, most typically grade-school students but sometimes people in the surrounding community. This program, though, started by connecting seniors within one senior facility and then expanded to the company's other facilities.

Not just in books

August 6, 2021

Many books of letters from (and to) well-known people have been published over the last few centuries, and there continue to be more. But there are also new collections of such letters online, such as the one described in this article.

Speaking of museums

July 29, 2021

Speaking of postal museums, the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum remains closed due to the pandemic (planning to re-open in a month), but meanwhile, or for those who can't or don't want to go in person, there's a lot to see online. And this article from last fall details much of it (including much more than stamps), with many pictures and links to the museum site.

151 years

July 20, 2021

Speaking of postcards, and speaking of Britain, here's an exhibit (with online pictures and information too) entitled "Wish You Were Here: 151 Years of the British Postcard". Why 151 years instead of the more usual 150? We're not sure, but we suspect it was originally scheduled for last year and was postponed because of the pandemic.

" leaning in to a dropped voice..."

July 12, 2021

Here's another thoughtful article [link no longer active], this one from Britain, about how the isolation of the pandemic is encouraging people to write more letters. Thanks to Lex subscriber Adam Schwartz for letting us know about it.

In praise of the picture postcard

July 4, 2021

Here's an article that discusses the picture postcard, with an emphasis on the postcard as art, including illustrations ranging from a vintage seaside card to contemporary artist-designed cards to gallery installations of postcard groupings.

"...images of anything..."

June 26, 2021

Here's a story (with a few typos) about a collection of more than 2,000 postcards featuring scenes in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like a lot of articles about postcards these days, it compares postcards to social media; but the real interest is in the online exhibit, which can be found here. Some of the cards are blank on the writing side, and some have the original messages, addresses, and postmarks. They span many decades, and include scenes ranging from the mountainous countryside to the airports, the ubiquitous motels, residences ranging from mansions to one-story houses, shopping malls, canyons, and many other subjects.

Cognition, creativity, connection

June 17, 2021

Those are among the benefits of writing letters, according to this article from Forbes magazine, written by a professional life coach.

Now that's long!

June 10, 2021

Here's a brief story about a man who wrote what might be the longest letter ever - over 1,200 pages.

The answer to success?

June 3, 2021

Many articles over the last decade or more have bemoaned the drop in letter writing, especially among younger people. Here's one, though, from a couple of years ago, that says things may be turning around, or at least could be with proper marketing on the part of the USPS. And along the way, it also suggests that the telephone, rather than email as articles are fond of saying, was what led to the rapid decline.

Better late than never

May 26, 2021

Usually when people try to find pen pals, it takes a relatively short time, whatever the result. But for one person in the Chicago area, the effort finally paid off - 28 years later.

"Sincerity is the key"

May 20, 2021

That's what a pair of pen pals who have been writing for 70 years say. They began writing as teenagers, have never met, and continue to write regularly as well as sending cards and mementos in between letters. This article gives the details.

Virginia Woolf not being anxious

May 10, 2021

Recently we featured in Lex a letter from Mozart to his family, falsely reporting that his mother who had just died was still alive but in serious poor health, in order to soften the eventual news. Virginia Woolf did a somewhat similar thing, telling a close friend that her brother, who had just died, was not only still alive but doing fine. This brief article seems to suggest she may have been trying not to accept it - but since the friend had contracted the same disease on a mutual trip, we wonder if her intent was to avoid scaring the friend. Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about this article.

From then until now

May 3, 2021

The Smithsonian Institution, which includes the National Postal Museum, recently put up a brief history of the United States Postal Service, including vintage photos of delivery vehicles and other infrastructure. To see many more, check out the many online exhibitions at the Museum site.

"Perhaps if we all sent more..."

April 25, 2021

Here's a recent paean to real mail, and it doesn't even use the word "pandemic..." Thanks to Lex subscriber #12534 for letting us know about this article..

Me? I?

April 18, 2021

One of the early 20th century's most famous writers was F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby. But despite the accolades for his finished works, he apparently had some difficulties with spelling and grammar, and we know that because of his letters. Two of them were auctioned recently, and this article includes scans of them, one typed and one handwritten.

"We saw there was a letter"

April 9, 2021

Mail delivery is starting to become more timely once again, although there are still delays in places. One way of communicating that's always been uncertain, though, is putting a message in a bottle. It may be found within a week, as happened in southwestern Great Britain earlier this year - or it may take decades, as in the case of this bottle in eastern Canada last fall.

"...they still matter..."

March 31, 2021

Over the last months there have been many articles about the uptick in letter writing during the pandemic, from communicating to people who were already isolated to burning out on electronic methods. This article from the Guardian is one of the longer and more thoughtful ones.

"Although antiquated..."

March 22, 2021

Here's a column that contrasts the advantages of letter writing with the exhausting effects of conducting all one's socializing online during the pandemic, with special focus on the benefits for people with ADHD.

"...the power of letters..."

March 15, 2021

Many of the articles that wax nostalgic for "the lost art of letter writing" oppose physical letters to electronic communication. Here's one, though, that describes a combination of the two - an anime series about letter writing! Thanks to a Lex subscriber for letting us know about this article.

More secure than sealing wax

March 6, 2021

Today we put letters in envelopes and lick or press to seal them shut - but envelopes are a relatively modern invention. How did people keep their correspondence safe from inquisitive eyes in earlier centuries? Sealing wax, of course, but there was another and more imaginative way. This article explains some of the elaborate folding and tucking that turned a letter into a closed package, and the modern technology that's allowing historians to read such letters without destroying the original work that went into them. Thanks to a Lex subscriber, who comments "origami for letters?", for letting us know about this article.

"...on and on and on..."

March 1, 2021

Many messages launched into the ocean in bottles probably end up on the bottom, their corks having come off or deteriorated, and others wash ashore and are covered with sand. But some are found, and in the case of the bottle that gave rise to this story, it started a correspondence friendship that's still going strong more than half a century later.

Asking Santa for vaccines and visits

February 20, 2021

In France there's a post office that gets, and responds to, thousands of letters to Santa Claus per day. This most recent Christmas many of the letters were a bit different than the usual, with concerns over Santa being OK (at least one child sent him a mask), and asking the jolly old guy to do something to ease the pandemic.

Do you live in a chocolate box?

February 13, 2021

A couple of years ago, Britain's Royal Mail did some research on addresses, and found that a house or street name related in some way to romance, broadly defined, occurs in more than 20,000 house names as well as many street names.

Literary treasures in many places

February 6, 2021

Many people over the years have sent quickly-scribbled postcards from vacations, even when not very far away. And most of them disappear not long after communicating their brief message. But if the sender later becomes famous and the card avoided being thrown away after being read...

Still going to write

January 29, 2021

Now and then one reads stories about pen pals who decide after writing for some period of time - sometimes a few months, sometimes decades - to meet in person. In the case of a young girl and a nursing home resident, however, the pandemic put a damper on that idea, so they met in a Zoom session - but as this article [link no longer active] notes, they intend to keep writing on paper.

When a little says a lot

January 19, 2021

Even before the upheavals of the last year, there were times when a handwritten message made a major positive impact on the recipients, as this article about a postcard [link no longer active] sent to a library in Michigan a couple of years ago shows.

"Everybody's experience matters"

January 12, 2021

A museum in Washington has a new project - postcards addressed to the year 2020 telling it what people think of it now that it's over - focusing on the personal, including both the positive and the negative of a year that many people will remember for a long time.

Mailing clay and papyrus

January 4, 2021

Recently mail services around the world have been handling record volumes of packages, due to people buying online rather than going physically to stores. Most of these packages are probably fairly standard in size, shape, and contents, although that's not always the case - photos from the past show unpackaged tires and other objects waiting to be delivered, and some people over the years have successfully mailed everything from unwrapped beach sandals to children. But what if some really, really old and valuable items were to be mailed? Here's an article about how the USPS would handle mailing ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets and similar objects, including the real mailing of the Hope diamond half a century ago.

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