From the "Mailstrom"

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


Getting the letters on their way

December 29, 2023

Ever wonder how those familiar letter boxes in Britain got started? Here's an illustrated history. And for even more pictures of the various designs still around, click on "A Curator Explores" near the bottom left of the page.

A different way of social distancing

December 22, 2023

From some of the offhand comments seen on the web and in printed matter in recent years, one might get the impression that children have no clear idea about what mail is because they never get anything personally. But this comic, from earlier this year, obviously doesn't agree.

Working and playing

December 13, 2023

There are a number of post offices around the world that position themselves as the headquarters for Santa's mail - this one, in Finland, is next to a resort that offers a chance to dress up like Santa's helpers and help sort the mail he gets.

Not as cold as the North Pole

December 5, 2023

Want to mail a letter to Santa in his own mailbox? In southern California, a bit east of Los Angeles, you don't have to trek through the snowdrifts. For the last ten years or so a family there has had a Santa mailbox in front of their house - and Santa answers the letters.

“…put your essential self on paper…”

November 29, 2023

The article in the last blog post focused almost entirely on women letter writers, but here’s one from a few years farther back that, after talking about the value of letters to historians, also mentions the value of such personal writing to one’s ability to express onself, and gives Abraham Lincoln as an example.

“…a strange power to say things…”

November 22, 2023

Here’s an article from a few years ago discussing the way that women in recent centuries increasingly began to to express personal thoughts to friends and relations in letters, and in so doing widened the scope of letters beyond the official and business reasons that men had been mostly using them for. It also suggests that this increase in personal writing began to change the English language in subtle ways; and that writing private letters was a way for people to become more introspective and self-aware.

A letter that survived more than 200 years

November 14, 2023

Much of the correspondence between Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale (later Piozzi) in the 18th century has been in print for many years, but Johnson also wrote at least a few letters to Hester's daughter Sophia. The only one so far known to have survived was recently discovered [link no longer active] - it was printed in at least one collection, but the survival of the original was a surprise.

"Joy for less than a dollar"

November 7, 2023

As in many places, postage in Singapore keeps going up as mail volume declines. And as in many places, people who value the personal touch of letters and postcards compared to e-communications keep sending them anyway.

"...learning cursive is really helpful..."

October 31, 2023

There's been a trend for some years now for schools to stop teaching cursive writing...but in some places it's making a comeback.

At the speed of air

October 21, 2023

Mail is carried much faster these days, but around 1900 through 1950 in New York City, one of the fast ways was an underground pneumatic tube system. Here's a look back at that system, complete with a vintage photo of workers posing next to the equipment, and artifacts from The Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum including a map from the years shortly before the system was abandoned.

Writing in water

October 11, 2023

Ever want to send a postcard home from a scuba-diving trip? Be sure to take along your ion-exchange microbead.

Remember the comic strip stamps?

October 3, 2023

You can tell from the price shown on this one that it was a while ago.

Waiting for something special

September 26, 2023

Isolated during the pandemic, a fifth grader learns that letters can help make a special relationship, with prompting from his mother.

Mail art, India style

September 18, 2023

Here's an article about an exhibition in India showcasing paintings on postcards.

Almost faster than the eye can see

September 11, 2023

Ever wonder how all that mail - well over 100 billion items a year in the U.S., although only a tenth of that is "First-Class single-piece" mail - gets sorted and postmarked? Here's a site with a history of mail sorting, including lots of photographs from the past. Another installment of this ongoing series includes a vintage video, and promises more installments to come.

"...just wonderful."

September 4, 2023

A school pen pal program in 1948 began a lifelong correspondence between the sister of a U.S. soldier who died in Belgium and a pair of brothers in Belgium, and after 75 years it's still going and has started to involve the next generations.

"...little bits of happy..."

August 26, 2023

Last year a Louisiana newspaper columnist asked people to send postcards from places they traveled to, and reported the results in a column this spring. This summer there's a new "Postcard Project," as it's called, and although it's not quite over yet, earlier this month there was an update.

Finding a lost penpal

August 17, 2023

Penpals found through school programs often lose track of each other as they get older and move, get jobs, start a family, and for other reasons. The woman in this story, however, remembered her childhood/young adult penpal during the almost 30 years since their last correspondence, and with the help of the Internet and a curious person, found him again.

"...a life well traveled." - and well mailed

August 9, 2023

It's not unusual, even to some extent in these digital times, for people to send postcards back to family and friends while on a vacation or other trip. But here's a story about a woman who's spent the last 40 years mailing travel postcards to herself..

Curiouser and curiouser

August 1, 2023

Alice had it easy with labels saying things like "Drink Me." This Flickr page by The Postal Museum showcases half a dozen envelopes whose addresses are, one could say, a bit unusual. If you click on any of the envelopes, you can see more information, including the address in a more normal version.

“…the awesome one…”

July 23, 2023

In addition to pen pals found through a school program or in other ways, kids sometimes write letters to celebrities and other public figures. And the celebrities don’t even have to be real, as this story about letters to a comic book character illustrates.

83 years and counting

July 15, 2023

Have you been writing to someone for a long time? A very, very long time? These women have, and the Guinness Book of World Records celebrates it.

Across the ocean

July 6, 2023

Although there are faster ways to find pen pals, an old standby is the message-in-a-bottle method. In this case, it took nearly 35 years, but succeeded in making a connection between Canada and Norway.

A present fit for a queen

June 28, 2023

It's not uncommon for someone to discover an old letter, or an old postcard, or an old Christmas card, that was stuffed away somewhere and forgotten for years. In this case, however, where it was stuffed away is of interest as well - a letterbox once used by Queen Victoria, who may have received it as a Christmas present in the 19th century.

"Suddenly, out of nowhere..."

June 19, 2023

The US Postal Service website includes a page of blogs and a page of podcasts, and the most recent is about the problem of dog attacks on mail carriers. It's available both as text and podcast.

"A letter from someone you care about"

June 12, 2023

From a couple of years ago, here's a reflection on the "focused and private" pleasures of writing letters.

Another analog experience

June 4, 2023

Paeans to handwriting are easily found these days despite our overwhelmingly digital world. But fountain pens and similar writing instruments aren't the only way people sometimes find to communicate by hand. Here's an article about the resurgence, small though it is, of typewriters as a way to write slowly and thoughtfully. Fittingly, the research for the article was conducted largely through typewritten letters. Thanks to Lex #1550 for letting us know about it.

Years of letters

May 28, 2023

Some of the pen pals that children get through school matching programs fall by the wayside in a few years, as they grow older and develop other interests. But sometimes the correspondence goes on for decades, as in the case of the women in this article who have been writing for 66 years.

"...gone to the bottom."

May 22, 2023

Often postcards contain information about a person's travels, what hotel or motel they stayed in, where they ate, etc. In this case, however, a postcard reported a more momentous event - the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

The pen pal that wasn't

May 13, 2023

Sometimes, unlike in the school pen pal programs mentioned in recent blog entries, things just don't work out, at least not for everyone participating. Here's an example of one of those.

"Everything dairy"

May 6, 2023

Sometimes pen pals for children begin with letters and occasionally progress to in-person meetings later in life. And sometimes they begin with nothing specific in mind and progress to a shared topic of interest. Here's a case, though, where both of those worked the other way around.

"I just loved your letter."

April 29, 2023

Often when people write fan letters to authors, actors, or other well-known people, they get a form letter in reply, which may or may not even be signed by the actual person. In the case of children's author Judy Blume, however, at least some of the letters not only got replies, but turned into lifelong correspondence and personal friendship. This article, about a documentary on Blume and an upcoming movie release of one of her most famous books, focuses particularly on two kids for whom the author was not just an author but a confidante, friend, and even college graduation guest.

"We've kept it up for a long time"

April 21, 2023

Sometimes people who starting writing to each other - such as through a school pen pal program - eventually decide to meet. In this case, however, it went the other way around - two women who met at work started writing when one of them moved out of state, and they've been doing it for 50 years now.

Books that celebrate letters

April 15, 2023

Children's books, especially - that's the focus of an exhibit at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The exhibit itself isn't exactly online, but most of the books featured have a link to a page with the cover and synopsis.

Special Delivery

April 8, 2023

As April moves on, the near-record snow here at Lex World Headquarters is melting surprisingly rapidly. But in other places, and not too long ago, winter was in full command, as shown in this photograph of snowed-in mailboxes in March. Thanks to Lex #423 for letting us know about it.

"...super excited to receive letters..."

April 2, 2023

Do schools still sponsor penpals for kids? According to this article, it's not common because school curriculums have so much content and no more time than they did decades ago. But in this case they made time.

A serendipitous switch

March 29, 2023

Sometimes things work out differently than planned - here's an article about a long-term correspondence that started out when a student pen pal exchange went slightly astray.

A paean to postcards

March 20, 2023

Here's an article [link no longer active] describing the pleasures of postcards - with the emphasis on how the process of sending them can be a major part of the fun.

A nutty twist on mail art

March 13, 2023

Mailing items other than envelopes and packages has a long history, and as long as they're not hazardous, too heavy (70 pounds is the limit in the U.S., 30 kg in Canada and Great Britain, and similar amounts elsewhere), or illegal items, chances are they'll get to their destination. In one case, a post office helps by providing color markers for decorating a coconut, and sometimes even provides the coconut.

The hidden meanings of running and walking

March 6, 2023

Letters to and from people in the military, especially during wars, have often been subject to being intercepted and read before being passed on, to prevent military secrets from being revealed. At the same time, the people writing to special recipients such as present or future spouses wanted to say things for the recipients' eyes alone. In many cases the solution was a personal code, as this exhibit sponsored by the National Cryptological Museum highlights.

From cows to chickens

February 27, 2023

Here's a new twist on the venerable tradition of matching young school kids with pen pals - in this case the pen pals are animals, literally.

(Un)forbidden postcards

February 19, 2023

Recently a new post office was opened in Beijing's "Forbidden City" area, complete with commemorative postcards and stamps. This site has pictures, mostly of people sending first-day mail inside.

Even wayer back in the day

February 11, 2023

This article describes the way letters were written approximately a millenium ago (give or take a few centuries) - not the mechanics or tools as summarized in the last blog entry (except a brief mention of sealing wax), but the structure and etiquette of letters, with translated examples ranging from the 6th to 15th centuries throughout Europe.

Way back in the day

February 1, 2023

Writing a letter today, even a handwritten one that involves pen and paper, is a breeze compared to what people needed to do several centuries ago, as this abstract from a book on letters in early modern England describes.

The advantages of saving letters

January 24, 2023

Well, one advantage at least. The columnist in this article finds that a letter from her mother written three decades earlier is valuable - and not just for the memories.

"...doubt, pain, hope, and confidence..."

January 16, 2023

The Morgan Library & Museum has an online exhibit featuring nine letters from Charlotte Brontë, written between 1836 and 1854. (The tenth mentioned in the exhibition title is actually to her.) They reveal, among other things, her thoughts about her work as a governess, her writing, and the illnesses and early deaths of her sisters Anne and Emily. In the last letter in this exhibition, written several months before her own death, she says "I never thought of attaching importance to them," but their preservation over the years suggests that other people have.

"The Queen has asked me..."

January 8, 2023

Like other heads of state, Queen Elizabeth II received many letters, and sometimes replies were sent. (How many were personally composed by Her Majesty may be an open question.) Here's an article that describes 4 of them.

Happy ending

January 2, 2023

Now and then one comes across a story about a letter, or more commonly a postcard, that was finally delivered years after it was mailed. But a century? In this case, apparently, and no one knows where it was during that time.

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