THE LETTER EXCHANGE
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Tidbits, thoughts, this 'n' that about letter-writing from LEX editors Lonna and Gary.
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"Is it still there?"
September 26, 2014
Paeans to "the lost art of letter writing" have been around for quite some time - we've come across the phrase and the sentiment in articles from over 100 years ago. (And still it manages to hang on, if not quite as flourishingly as in the 18th century!) Here's a twist, though - a poem on that subject.
Many people send postcards to family and friends when they're on a trip, and some people keep a journal or other written record of what they're seeing and doing. Here's someone who combines the two activities: she sends postcards to herself with a bit of documentation of her journey in the country they're from.
Letters about Literature is a reading and writing contest for students in grades 4-12, sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Students write to an author about how a book, poem, or speech affected them. The authors don't need to have current mail delivery; the winner of the 2014 contest, Joshua Tiprigan, wrote a letter to Rudyard Kipling about the impact of the poem "If" on his life.
The New York Times has a review of a new book, Not Nothing: Selected Writings by Ray Johnson 1954-1994. Johnson, an unconventional artist whose career spanned much of the second half of the 20th century, is most famous as the founder of mail art. The new book includes 200 of his letters and writings that showcase his art as well as his correspondence - or as he once flirted with calling mail art, correspondance - with friends.
Letters about Literature is a reading and writing contest for students in grades 4-12, sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Students write to an author about how a book, poem, or speech affected them. The authors don't need to have current mail delivery; the winner of the 2014 contest, Joshua Tiprigan, wrote a letter to Rudyard Kipling about the impact of the poem "If" on his life.
The New York Times has a review of a new book, Not Nothing: Selected Writings by Ray Johnson 1954-1994. Johnson, an unconventional artist whose career spanned much of the second half of the 20th century, is most famous as the founder of mail art. The new book includes 200 of his letters and writings that showcase his art as well as his correspondence - or as he once flirted with calling mail art, correspondance - with friends..
There are a number of blogs about letter writing on the web, but at least one person took a different approach last year. Inspired by the upcoming sale of her local post office, she blogged throughout 2013 about being a postal customer.
In Issue 34 (June) we featured a new release of condolence letters sent to Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Of course, she wrote letters as well as receiving them. Here's a link to a special supplement to The Irish Times with numerous articles about letters she wrote to an Irish priest for almost 15 years in the time before and just after the assassination.
Back in 2004 (in Issue 5) we featured Mr. Little Guy, the 6-inch-tall Lake Harriet Elf who answers young kids' letters left behind the small door of his tree along the path around Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. Ten years later he's still going strong, responding to every letter (usually including his favorite phrase, "i believe in you"). Although he goes to an eastern castle to escape the long Minnesota winters, he answers more than a thousand letters during the summer months, and has been doing so for almost 20 years. Now the Minneapolis City Council is considering how best to recognize his efforts. Mr. Little Guy also has a website which features half a dozen articles and two videos from the media coverage over the years.
Recently we've featured a couple of organizations on the blog and in the magazine that help send encouraging mail to cancer patients; here's a blog from the Mayo Clinic suggesting mail the other way, from cancer patients to those who supported them.
If it isn't one thing it's another - which is better than the alternative, of course. Yesterday's forwarding made it to the mail today, thanks to a little four-footed beast that decided the wire to the Lexmobile's fuel pump would make a nice chew toy...
We saw one of these at a garage sale today.
Occasionally one hears about a piece of mail - usually a postcard, it seems, for some reason - that gets delivered years after its original mailing. Here's a story in which it took 74 years and a genealogical society's help to eventually get the postcard to a descendant of the original addressee.
Or crawls, at least. We're in the process of updating the PayPal options on the LEX website so you can order back issues and pay for extra words for listings, as well as start or renew a subscription or buy a single current issue as you can now. No firm estimate of when this will be accomplished, but it shouldn't be too long.
Oregonian columnist Tom Hallman recently wrote several columns about a senior center in the Portland, Oregon area and its experience with letters. The first was about the mail carrier who brought them and his interaction with the residents. In response to a comment on that article he suggested that if people would like to write to the residents of the center they could send letters to him for distribution; a couple of weeks later he wrote a column about the results. And today there's an update about the success of the program and how it might develop in the future.
A couple of entries ago we mentioned how professional letter writers in India are finding their jobs disappearing as people use digital technology instead of pen and paper to communicate. Here's a story about someone who's trying to turn that inside out, with an app that lets digital users write letters and send them to Lettrs, a company whose employees will put them on paper and take them to the local post office for mailing. (That's not a typo, by the way - the company name is really spelled that way.)
That's the theme of this year's Graceful Envelope Contest, sponsored by the Washington Calligraphers Guild. There's still time to enter, but don't delay - the deadline is just 3 weeks away.
As digital technology takes over much of the world's communication, one of the jobs falling by the wayside is that of professional letter writer in areas where many people are not literate. This article describes one of the writers, in India, whose job has gone from bustling to slow in a very short time as a result of mobile phones and other electronic methods. Ironically, the article also mentions that the telegraph, once a competitor to (short, at least) letters, is also on its last legs because of the many technological changes since its invention.
About a week ago the USPS raised the price of postage for letters mailed within or from the U.S. - about 3% for postcards, and over 6% for letters, with corresponding increases in other categories of mail. To put this in perspective, though: a dollar can buy enough gas for most vehicles to travel roughly 5 to 15 miles. That same dollar spent on stamps will allow you to send 2 letters or 3 postcards for hundreds or thousands of miles - and you don't have to pay for parking at the other end of the trip!
Recently the factory that printed the first postcards in the U.K. was demolished. The building, in Scarborough, also printed greeting cards and other materials, and around the turn of the 20th century moved into the newly-allowed business of commercial postcards. This article details a bit of the history and showcases four of the early cards; and be sure to check out the "Related Stories" links underneath the article for links to more vintage postcards.
The Dilbert comic strip, which mostly focuses on office life, more frequently commented on other topics in the early years. Here's an early one for letter writers.
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", 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.
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. Thanks to LEX #1378 for bringing these sites to our attention.
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."
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.
The current issue of The Lascaux Review 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.
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 where the doll writes, and one to a BBC video showing it in action.
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 will take care of the formatting so you can get right down to the message.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
A.M. Klein is hardly a household name, but to at least one reviewer his letters are "like small golden nuggets"...
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.
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 a...
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 - "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!
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 about a woman who's amassing a postcard history of her local beaches shows.
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.
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 about the letters focuses more on Salinger; this one on the young woman, Marjorie Sheard.
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 VintagePostcards.org. 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.
...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, "blame" Congress...
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, by Cole Imperi. There's a wealth of information, advice, and experience on a number of topics, including letter writing, contained here.
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 consists of a little under 100 letters, and includes both scans and transcripts.
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 before reuniting the envelope with the letter it once contained...
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!
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...
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.
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.
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.
Pining for the thrill of another countdown, given that the world didn't end last week? Check out the days/hours/minutes/seconds counter at the National Postal Museum, where they're looking forward to another momentous date: the opening of the world's largest stamp gallery.
According to an article in the U.K. Daily Mail, writing letters is among the activities that help keep the brain healthy as one gets older (as those of us caught up in the grip of time have a tendency to do). For the price of some stamps and envelopes, one can achieve demonstrable brain effects (we had no idea that the old cliché "water on the brain" meant it was perpendicular.) And although the article mentions several activities, including reading and playing games, we found it interesting that they chose writing a letter to be the top illustration!
Collections of postcards, such as the one in the entry directly below, typically focus on the photos or drawings that grace the front (or back, depending on how you look at it), but sometimes it's the writer or the circumstances that are the main interest, such as in the postcard from the moon mentioned just below that. Here's another case of the sender being more important than the card itself: a series of 15 postcards written (with the occasional illustration) by famous authors, including one in Anglo-Saxon from C.S. Lewis. Other senders range from Virginia Woolf to Franz Kafka to F. Scott Fitzgerald; recipients include Gertrude Stein and various publishers.
If you're going to be in Boston this winter, you might want to check out The Postcard Age: Selections From the Leonard A. Lauder Collection, an exhibit of about 400 postcards dating back almost 150 years. It's at the Museum of Fine Arts from now until next April 14. The MFA website for the exhibition shows 10 examples but doesn't give very much information about postcards themselves - for that, see the review in the Boston Globe.
With mail deposit boxes and post offices being closed, sometimes you have to go farther than ever to mail a letter or postcard. But to the moon?
...a 13-foot wall of water can cause a bit of problem. Many post offices along the East Coast are closed or on reduced service due to Hurricane Sandy. You can get an overview of where mail processing is being slowed or stopped at this USPS site. The post offices without power or with flooding are listed mostly by ZIP code, so this can be a quicker way than wading through the media reports of floating cars and balcony sharks to tell if correspondents might be affected. We hope all our subscribers came through the storm with no impacts other than impressive stories to tell!
One again we found ourselves having to mail from Rapid City, SD, on a family trip. All the issues were put in mailboxes yesterday at Baken Park Shopping Center, within sight of the famous dinosaur-on-a-hill, and then today we drove home (for hours and hours and hours...), so we're all ready to start the forwarding!
Guernsey is a small island off the coast of France near Cherbourg, and is associated with the United Kingdom although not a formal part of it. During World War II it was invaded by Nazi forces, and many of its inhabitants, particularly children, were evacuated to mainland Britain, sponsored by American families whose support included writing letters to the children. One evacuee, Paulette Le Mescam, was sponsored by Eleanor Roosevelt, and exchanged letters for five years. Her story was told recently by the BBC - here are links to an article and interview. The researcher who worked with the BBC, Gillian Mawson, has extensively studied and interviewed the surviving evacuees, and has written a book, Guernsey Evacuees, which will be published next month. She also maintains a blog with more information.
Most of us have had the experience of a letter or package taking a surprisingly long time to be delivered, sometimes for no reason that can be easily ascertained. But here's a way of making the interval between sending and receiving almost certain to be long, often many years - send a message in a bottle. As one of the comments notes, however, the record of 98 years may only be an officially-verified record - the article mentions a bottle that was launched during the 1700s and found in 1935.
Periodically we take a little time to surf the world of blogs for mentions of letter writing. Here's a nice one, from a new blog, mywhispersinthewind...
If you have a little time and a few postcards or sheets of stationery, you can brighten the day for a sick child. (And if you have lots of time and paper. . .) Post Pals is a registered charity in the U.K. which facilitates safely sending mail to children with serious illnesses.
The poet Byron once said, "Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company." Undoubtedly the "company" referred to the ultimate recipients of the letters. But as fewer and fewer write them, here's a new meaning: various venues are springing up to encourage people to come together on a regular basis in stationery stores, community centers, and libraries, for an afternoon or evening of writing letters. We've mentioned a couple before (see below for entries on March 22, 2009, January 23, 2012, and March 13, 2012); here's a new one, using typewriters, which meets once a month at Alphabet City, a creative community center in Auckland, New Zealand.
Soon to join the well-known collections of famous letters (Letters of the Century, Women's Letters, etc.) will be a new collection, Letters of Note by Shaun Usher, many of them taken from the larger collection at his updated-almost-daily blog of the same name. There you can read, often in both scans of the original and typed transcripts, over 800 letters, memos, telegrams, and faxes. They range from the emotional to the silly; from a letter a mother wrote to her daughter the day after the daughter was born, to Mark Twain's letter to a 9-year-old pen pal; from Hitler's nephew trying to join the U.S. Navy, to a defense of beavers who had built dams without getting the proper permits. Usher also maintains other sites including Letterheady, which presents examples of interesting letterhead.
A few months ago, one of the last letters written by Captain "Scott of the Antarctic" shortly before his death on the expedition to the South Pole was auctioned. In a few months, another letter related to the expedition will be auctioned - a letter written by a member of the search party when the bodies of Scott and the other expedition members were found.
Douglas Adams is reported to have said that technology is "stuff that doesn't work yet" (although it appears he was quoting a computer scientist, rather than creating that definition himself). One might also describe it as "stuff that stops working for no good reason" - or at least that's the way LEX is tending to put it these days. Between 8:00 and 8:30 one evening recently, our Internet computer just decided it didn't want to connect to the Internet any more. Modem works, Ethernet cable has a signal, network setup is right, everything a week of checking can come up with checks out OK, it just "doesn't work." Sigh. At least we have access in some other places, so we're getting e-mail (though not on weekends), and questions, comments, and subscriptions entered through the LEX website are getting through - again, with a hiatus on weekends. But it's frustrating...
We periodically try to sample some of the web sites that celebrate letter writing. In addition to those whose focus is specifically on letters, there are many others with entries extolling the virtue of letters. One such is Life in the Slow Lane, the blog of Elaine Rickett, who describes herself as a "dedicated grower of all things beautiful and edible."
A Lexington, North Carolina teen is starting a campaign to encourage letter writing, using his position as Teen Correspondent for The-Dispatch.com to spread the word. To join his project, go to the very new Tumblr site [link no longer active]. Jacob says "...remember, anyone can send a text. Be different. Write letters." We couldn't agree more. (Well, about writing letters...not sure we can send a text...)
Remember floppy disks? And the "floppy disks" that were smaller and not floppy at all? If you've got a stash of these, the blogger at mim4art has a new use for them: mail art. Kind of like a postcard... For a look at a more traditional format, checkout the mail art envelopes at Pinterest.
The Spellman Museum of Stamps & Postal History in Weston, MA is holding its third annual Letter Writing Day on May 20. If you're in the neighborhood, check out the fun -- write a letter to a friend, with the stamp provided by the museum, or create illustrated stationery and envelopes with children's book author and illustrator Jennifer Morris. Not in the neighborhood? Why not write a letter anyway? Heck, why wait for May 20th?
Are you a fan of Edgar Allen Poe as well as of letter-writing? An exhibition catering to both will be on display in Richmond, VA through July 11, 2012. In honor of the 90th anniversary of the Poe Museum, the Museum will host an exhibit of rarely seen or newly discovered letters and manuscripts written by Edgar Allan Poe. These rare works will be on loan from a number of private collections and will never be exhibited together again. Highlights include letters from Poe to Washington Irving and Edward Valentine, as well as a poem allegedly written through a medium after Poe's death.
Here's yet another proposal to save the U.S. Postal Service from going the way of the 8-track tape. It's interesting that despite the emphasis on raising stamp rates, complete with a chart of First Class prices in this article, there seems little effort by anyone to increase the volume of First Class mail - the proposals generally are on how to, as the article puts it, "get businesses to send more direct mail." One problem with that, of course, is that the more direct mail people get (often giving it a less diplomatic name), the more they look for opt-out lists and other ways of avoiding it. Perhaps if they reminded people of the value of real First Class mail?
We totally forgot to do a silly entry last Sunday, April 1. Well, we'll just have to start thinking up an especially good one for next year...
It's time once again for the Washington Calligraphers Guild Graceful Envelope contest. Entries are due by the end of April, and contest details and rules can be viewed here.
Some years ago there was Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence and its sequels, a tale told in the form of letters and postcards. Now there's The Pen Friend, a novel by Ciaran Carson. From the publisher's website:
"'I write to try to see you as you were, or what you have become. You left no forwarding address: that was part of your intention. For when we wrote those letters to each other all those years ago, we wrote as much for ourselves as for each other.' More than twenty years after the end of their love affair, Gabriel receives a cryptic postcard from an old flame. It is the first of thirteen cards from her, each one provoking a series of reveries about their life and love in 1980s Belfast. The Pen Friend is, however, much more than a love story. As Gabriel teases out the significance of the cards, his reveries develop into richly textured meditations on writing, memory, spiritualism and surveillance. The result is an intricate web of fact and fiction, a narrative that marries sharp historical insights with imaginative exuberance, a strange and wonderful novel that confirms Ciaran Carson as one of Ireland's most engaging and ingenious writers."
And if that sounds almost as cryptic as the postcards (which are reproduced in the book), here's a lengthy review.
Usually letters are written to be sent - but not always. LEX Issue 27's installment of Tamra Orr's "Writing between the Lines" examines "letters never sent," letters that one writes for the value of writing them, and then keeps or destroys without the person they're addressed to ever getting them. A recent BBC article about Virginia Woolf examines a halfway situation - writing letters and then thinking better of the hasty statements written in the heat of emotion and revising them before sending.
You've heard of a message in a bottle - but what if you're not near the ocean? A man in England found a solution to that - he released two balloons with a note, and apparently has a new penpal from the Netherlands as a result.
Grammar mavens - does that title mean snail-mail holders, or snail mail-holders? In the case of Rex McKeen, it means both. You can check out his creations [link changed], wooden holders made from driftwood and decorated with snail shells, on Etsy.
That might not be quite how you remember the old rhyme going, but it will be if you take up author Mary Robinette Kowal's "The Month of Letters Challenge" to mail a letter (or a card or other item) on every postal day of February (not counting Sundays or the Monday holiday). The above link is to her personal website; there are links there to a specific Challenge site and to her Facebook and Twitter Challenge pages.
There are still some around, even in working condition. Amherst College recently set up some for a late-night "letter-writing social", in which several hundred students spent Friday night writing letters on typewriters and with quill pens. Both participation and the enthusiasm generated were higher than expected.
Ever think it would be cool to correspond with a famous author? Some fan letters to authors have turned into lifelong friendships by mail, although the chance of any particular letter sparking more than a perfunctory response is quite slim. Stephen Elliott recently turned that idea around; for $5 a month he'll see that you get a letter from a different author every week or so. Will they want you to write back, and will you still be pen pals a year from now, or ten, or forty? The subscription price doesn't include any guarantees. The authors will write a letter that Elliott's website will copy and send out, so they won't be exactly personal letters, but authors will be free to encourage responses and a continuing correspondence if they want. Too soon to tell if any will want, of course...
The cost of sending mail in the U.S. and Canada will be going up in a couple weeks. In Canada, the increase takes effect on January 16, and will raise the price of a letter or postcard to 61¢ if mailed to the U.S. the price will be $1.05, and to anywhere else it will be $1.80. In the U.S. the increase takes effect a week later, on January 22, and will make First Class letters 45¢, postcards 32¢, and either item 85¢ to Canada or Mexico and $1.05 to anywhere else. Other types of mailings will also increase; see Canada Post or USPS for details. Stock up on those Forever stamps now!
According to an article [link no longer active] in the Taft Midway Driller, 19-year-old Casie Mobley is very ill with a very rare disease, and in hospice care with her family. She looks forward to receiving Christmas cards; very possibly for the last time, her aunt tells us. In this case it might not be true that words can save lives - but they can lift spirits. If you'd like to send Casie a Christmas card (or even a letter), the address is Casie Mobley, 321 Shattuck Ave., Taft, CA 93268.
Many letters are written to friends and family, for fun, to keep in touch, for emotional support or discussion of serious issues. In the latter vein, an organization that depends on letter-writers to advance its cause is Amnesty International. This month, for International Human Rights Day, they're sponsoring a Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon. The Write for Rights website includes tips on who to write and what to say, how to organize a letter writing event or where to find one near you. They're especially targeting the period of December 3-11, but writing any time is encouraged. The goal is 250,000 letters - they're almost there, but no need to stop at that number. As the website puts it, "Your words can save lives."
There are people who collect postmarks -- envelopes or cards with cancelled stamps. And people who like to travel. Blogger Evan Kalish has combined those two activities, visiting post offices around the country and documenting his journeys on his blog, Going Postal. He shares what he's learned with photos, maps, post office history and stories. Since he started a little over 3 years ago, he's visited 2,745 post offices in 43 states! The photos celebrate the colorful buildings and interesting architecture (and sometimes the relentless plainness of the post offices), the murals on the outside and (when not harassed by postal personnel) the inside, post offices in stores and colleges, and sometimes a few other interesting views along the way.
Lots of people have, or find, old family letters. Often they have sentimental value; sometimes they shed light on family matters that were never fully explained or the personalities of ancestors, and can be valuable sources of information about the details of daily life in times past. The present-day reader may understand the quirks of relatives and sympathize with the challenges they faced, and once in a while even regret learning something less than complimentary about a favorite aunt or grandparent. Occasionally, though, a letter surfaces with more than usual interest or strangeness. Such was the case with one written by former CIA Director Richard Helms to his 3-year-old son in 1945. An ordinary enough letter, one of many in which new parents tell children too young to understand yet about the war-torn world they were born into and the parent's hope and fears for their offspring's coming life - except that this letter was written on the personal stationery of Adolf Hitler.
The LEX mailbag recently brought us samples of stationery from a new venture featuring Canadian artists. TEO Stationery makes letter sets - writing paper and envelopes - in coordinated collections like "THE 67'S" or "FASHION FAVES", with colorful illustrations that leave plenty of room to write. Owner Deidre also offers her own photography on postcards - we particularly like the one of a horse peering around a door! A letter writer can never have too much stationery, right? And we'll have fun with these. Thank you, Deidre!
If you thought the issue 26 cover image was looking a little blurry in the last week, no need to get your eyes checked. The final tasks for this issue were a little glitchy - we needed to be out-of-state for a family situation, so we were going to mail a couple of days early, but there was a printing problem with the cover and it had to be redone. That meant we picked it up on the way out of town, taking the labeled envelopes with and mailing late at night October 14 from Rapid City. Unfortunately we didn't have a good way to scan the cover like we usually do, so we tried to generate an image from the layout software, adding color and shrinking to the proper size for the web. That more or less worked, except the file was huge (which means if you tried to view it on a handheld device it probably took forever and a day to load), and compressing to screen size seriously degraded the image. It's back to normal now, though.
A month ago we reported on the various opinions being expounded as to whether the USPS is facing serious cutbacks in service or worse. Since that time there's been a lot more talk and a little action, none of it conclusive one way or the other. For a passionate defense of mail delivery and details on some of the action, check out Carol Christmas' blog at writealetter.org.
Lexer Kathy told us about this article in the York Daily Record, You never write any more; well, hardly anyone does [link no longer active], which bemoans the rapid decline in letter writing since the advent of electronic communication, with a particular focus on the loss to historians. We especially like the last line of the article.
Letters can be found in the most unlikely places. We've heard of people renovating houses and finding old letters that had been stuffed in the walls as insulation, and a postcard from author Lin Carter to J.R.R. Tolkien that was discovered, only slightly burned, behind the mantel of a fireplace. Letters of mid-twentieth-century artist Charles Bannerman had a less adventurous temporary resting-place - they were found in a shed - but still caused a pleasant surprise when they were donated to the museum housed in the building where Bannerman once lived.
Is the USPS balancing on the edge of the cliff, in imminent danger of becoming a romantic anachronism like stagecoach travel? Not surprisingly, opinions abound. Here are just a couple of the many out there, one that says yes and one that says no. Of course, we prefer the versions that keep the mail flowing...
Do you have kids you try and try to make write thank-you letters to relatives? What if the experience was so enjoyable that they looked forward to the next chance to do it? Here's a description of one mother's thoughts about using Mariah Bruehl's book Playful Learning: Develop Your Child's Sense of Joy and Wonder to turn that activity from a chore into, well, playful learning.
It's all over the web: Writing makes you smarter than keyboarding does. People are commenting about recent studies that show that children who write by hand exercise (develop) parts of the brain related to motor control and cognitive development more than children who use the keyboard for the same project. Here's a comment by a fellow letter-writer at the Never Ending Story Project [link no longer active ]and a more detailed article at the Wall Street Journal. So pick up that pen and write a letter!
The Richmond Art Gallery in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada invites submissions to its International Mail Art Exhibition and Swap. The deadline for submissions is October 1, 2011, and the exhibition is scheduled for November 17, 2011 - January 8, 2012. More than an exhibit of Mail Art, the Richmond Gallery plans a cultural exchange and a swap of artwork among participating artists. Want to see examples of Mail Art? The Gallery includes links to some fun videos on YouTube: even if you don't plan to submit a piece you may be inspired to send some Art to a penfriend!
Wishing you could do more than look at the stamps on the letters you send or receive? Now you can - if you have a smartphone, and the stamps in question are the elephant or tiger image from the British Royal Mail's Forest Stewardship Certified commemorative stamps. Just scan with your phone and watch a video about endangered species produced by the World Wildife Fund.
Sometimes it seems the news about the fate of small post offices is grim and grimmer; but for an upbeat take on the subject check out Saving Armpit, the current Book of the Month on our Mailboox page.
Occasionally one hears about a letter, or more often a postcard it seems, that got lost somewhere in the depths of a postal building and was eventually delivered years later. But 99 years? That's what might have happened in New York, according to a story in the New York Times, but a deeper look makes it seem the postcard's spent the last century in more places than just behind an old cabinet or stuck to the bottom of a mailbag. Using research ranging from census records to high-tech equipment, the possible history of the postcard and the original sender and recipient were investigated; theories, if no certainties, abound.
An interesting sidelight is the comment by the USPS spokesperson that re-mailing a delivered letter could subject one to prosecution. We hope this doesn't mean that when a letter meant for someone with a similar address is delivered to you by mistake, dropping it in a mailbox in the assumption it will get to the right place on the second try is against the law...
If you've looked at this blog or tried to contact us by e-mail recently, you'll know we've been a little slow to respond. That's because another computer went Zzzzt and had to be replaced. We keep the LEX subscriber list on a separate machine that's never connected to the web, so it's out of the reach of hackers. The other one, that we use online - that's the one that went Zzzzt, and after delivery and discovering we don't have the proper cables to connect to the monitor and a few other bumps in the road, we're hoping to get hooked up tonight. Or tomorrow, or maybe Wednesday evening, because Issue 25 is back from the printer and it's time to stuff and seal and label for mailing on Wednesday morning.
Here's another blog we've found on letter writing, this one from Canada, where a postal strike has been averted for this week but is still a possibility. The site features high-resolution photos as well as thoughtful discussions of the various roles letters have played and hopefully will continue to play in people's lives. We've added it to the list of blogs we try to follow (see left).
If you're in the U.S., this Saturday, May 14, is the annual Stamp Out Hunger drive, in which postal workers pick up non-perishable food left at your mailbox. The country's food shelves are particularly low this time of year because Christmas donations have run out, and particularly low in the last year or two because of the recession. 50 million families have inadequate food, including 17 million children - here's an easy way to help.
If you write lots of letters - and people write you back - you may have what you need for a fun project: used stamps! The Summer 2011 issue of RubberStampMadness magazine includes an article on stamp artist Cheryll Wood who uses cut-up stamp pieces to create collage art. Her "Stamp Lady", printed in the magazine, is amazing - stamps for hair, hat, scarf, blouse, and background. If you look closely you can recognize the stamps! If your correspondence isn't prolific enough to provide all the stamps you need, RSM recommends two sources for used postage stamps: ebay.com (search for "used postage" in the Stamps category) and delcampe.net.
If April 15 was a deadline for filing your taxes, you may be breathing a sigh of relief that that's finally done. (It is, isn't it?) Now a more fun deadline is coming up - April 30 is the last day to postmark entries in the Graceful Envelope contest, sponsored each year by the Washington Calligraphers Guild and the National Association of Letter Carriers. This year's theme is "Time Flies", and as usual there are categories for children as well as adults. Entry is free, and the contest is open to anyone in the world. Complete contest rules are on the site, which also has links to view past winners.
Or postcard stamps? If you're mailing them from the U.S., you might want to do it this week, or you'll need to lay in a supply of 1¢ stamps. New prices taking effect next week will raise the price of mailing postcards by that much. Letters stay the same for an ounce, but extra ounces will now be 20¢ instead of 17¢, and letters to Canada are going up to 80¢. There are lots of other changes involving Media Mail, commercial mail, packages, etc. Check out the USPS charts [link no longer active]for a complete listing.
Why do pen friendships turn into e-mail friendships? We wonder that everytime we read a blog like this one: the great fun of pen friendship, but now it's e-mail and texting. Does the ease of e-mail crowd out the fun of real mail? Is it the lure of new technology (progress!)? We disagree, though, that "the younger generation is not aware of it, and surely not interested in it." So, we imagine, would Student Letter Exchange, a program that's matched students with pen-pals for decades and currently claims over a quarter million names of students looking for pen-pals. Of course, some of these correspondences will turn electronic, but it seems likely many will go on to "flourish all across the world", as the blog-writer fondly remembers.
A homeschooling family is soliciting 2011 letters from all over the world as a way to learn about other people and how they live. With only 50 letters so far, they have a ways to go. But, wow, what great letters! Pictures of the letters and postcards they've received are on the 2011 Letters blog.
Columnist Reg Henry, for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, captures the postcard experience wonderfully. You mail a postcard from Hawaii or Toronto or Bemidji to friends back home and it arrives days after you have returned home, like a message from the past. Counting on that delay, maybe you've even sent postcards to yourself.... we have!
That's the title of an audio/video project by Glass Completely Empty Productions in the U.K., and Rae gives complete instructions on how to participate here. She's looking for people who love to write letters, who've written articles or poems about letter-writing, or who just want to talk about the importance of letters in their lives. To be included, you need to e-mail Rae by Monday, February 28 (sorry for the short notice, we've just heard about this project this weekend). She'll then send you all the details.
Last October the LEX mail brought us three issues of The Pennant, the publication for members of the Pen Collectors of America. For many letter writers, pens and the mail are a natural pair, and the PCA agrees. The Fall 2009 issue had an article on a new partnership with the National Postal Museum, and the Summer 2010 issue described an event at the Museum, "Pens and the Post". You can learn more about the PCA on their web site, www.pencollectorsofamerica.com/.
Author Gloria O'Donnell shares her exchanges with former President Bill Clinton from Arkansas to the Presidency, in Letters From Bill: 20 Years of Correspondence With Bill Clinton. "Enthralled by the young law professor, Gloria became a devoted political operative, assisting in Clinton's campaigns from the Arkansas governorship through two presidential elections. Along the way, despite hectic schedules and life problems, these two friends from Arkansas maintained regular correspondence."
January 22, 2011
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has an online exhibit of letters, Battle Lines: Letters from America's Wars. Letters from generals, soldiers, sweethearts, and parents are organized by subjects like enlisting, love, and the end of war. Both audio and visual, the letters are read aloud as well as displayed. The letters - some more legible than others - can be viewed with an ingenious draggable box to see a transcription of the letter, line by line. In the related Legacy Project, people can submit letters or e-mails from current conflicts to become part of the Lehrman's collection. This project's attempt to save e-mail as well as letters is an interesting solution to the ephemeral nature of e-mail communication - not many people save it in a shoebox, tied up with ribbon.
The perfect thank you note
January 9, 2011
In an interview on National Public Radio, John Kralik, author of 365 Thank Yous: The Year A Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life, recounts his grandfather's lesson on writing thank you notes -- when you send a thank you note, you get something good in return. During his year of daily thank yous, Kralik found that to be true. You can listen to the radio story online, read an excerpt from Kralik's book, and learn his 10 tips for writing the perfect thank you note -- the perfect note is handwritten, of course. "With a handwritten note, a piece of you will be in the same room with the person to whom you write."
No Return Address
January 1, 2011
No Return Address is a short story written as letters in reply to postcards with no return address. In the story we read the letters written by a mother to a missing daughter. "Two months you've been missing, and now I get this. Just this. This postcard, with no return address, no note, just a postmark from Madrid, Spain, and your initials." The mother's letters display a range of emotions - angry, worried, matter-of-fact, humorous, reflective - as time passes and the communication remains one-sided: postcards with no return address and letters that can't be sent.
The writing on the wall
December 23, 2010
Are Facebook friends the digital equivalent of a pen pal? Liz Hover at the Content Management Connection thinks so. What distinguishes pen pals from other friends, she says, is that "you never actually met in person". Just like many of her Facebook friends; although as she also says, there's another important difference about the correspondence - "lots of other people get to see it."
Occasionally a pen pal becomes famous, and their early correspondents look at their letters in a new light; sometimes it's the other way around, and the famous comes first. Such was the case with a World War II child-evacuee from Guernsey, UK, who engaged in a correspondence with a "foster parent" in the US. Nine years old at the time, Paulette Le Mescam was not aware that her American pen pal was the wife of the President of the United States. You can listen to an interview on the BBC in which she reminisces about the exchange.
If an encounter with a snowplow has left you in the market for a new mailbox, or even if you just want a change, there's an astounding variety available. Here's one online store with a large selection; here's another. And if you're in the mood for, as Monty Python used to say, something completely different, check out the novelty mailboxes here.
Serendipity is not what's been reigning at LEX World Headquarters recently, hence the delay in posting another entry here. A dead tree, a roof, and a high wind - it probably comes as no surprise that the wind won the contest. We've been spending much of the time since trying to affect the outcome of another contest, this one a race involving the roof, a possible hole, and winter. As of last weekend, winter appears to be in the lead...
Ever notice how when you pay too much attention to a part of a house, the other parts get jealous and start acting up like a small child with a new sibling? This is not the time we would have chosen to have the well pump begin making a strange and ominous sound. Unfortunately this is the time the well pump thinks it's fun to start grinding and clunking...
In the midst of all this, though, we did find an interesting comic about the current state of postcards. Here's a link [link changed].
Serendipity reigns in this brief report of a postcard delivered to the grandson of the writer via an antique store in Sarajevo.
Despite the continuing tribulations of having a new computer and new software (the latest being inconsistent conversion of standard text from earlier issues), Issue 23 was mailed last Friday, October 15. Enjoy!
Another thing to celebrate, at least for those of us buying stamps, is the recent Postal Regulatory Commission decision to reject the USPS proposal to raise the price of First Class stamps to 46¢, with corresponding increases in other rates. The commission felt that the USPS didn't make a good enough case to justify raising the rates more than the rate of inflation (if the proposed increase had been less, approval wouldn't have been needed). It remains to be seen whether the USPS will appeal, or raise rates less than inflation, or keep stamp prices the way they are now.
Celebrating a "good mail week" is blogger Kaz over at I love letters. She writes that last week she achieved her goal of receiving letters from pen pals or friends every day of the week, Monday through Friday. How many of us letter writers can say that? In an earlier post (Sept 1), Kaz talks about a spreadsheet of her endeavors, and what she learned from it. Over a three-month period she wrote 53 letters (wow!) but received no replies from 23 recipients. She was a little surprised at that ratio, but it sounds like a good response rate to us. As Kaz says "...if you want to receive letters you've not only gotta write them - you've gotta write LOTS of them!"
Remember that old song that goes "the thighbone's connected to the kneebone..." or something of the sort? Computers are like that. A few weeks ago we reported on the shiny new computer that LEX had to get. First it turned out that the layout software we use to create issues doesn't work with the newer operating system that today's computers use, so we had to replace that too. Now we're finding out that the layout software sends a signal to the printer that overloads its memory...we hope the cascade of incompatibility stops before we end up needing a new refrigerator...
Feel like adding luxury to your letter writing experience? Choose between a pen with body and cap of black precious resin with gold-plated inlay or a solid gold fountain pen with a red lacquered barrel and cap, both created in honor of Queen Elizbeth I. Check out the limited edition Montblanc Queen Elizabeth I fountain pens and dream away!
You know how people figure a dog's age "in human years" by comparing the relative lifespans? Applying that to the LEX computer, which dates back to Issue 1 in 2003, we calculate it's about 175...which may explain why it's beginning to malfunction with increasing frequency. The problem started back last fall, but recently has been getting much worse - the Blue Screen of Death pops up at unexpected moments, sometimes multiple times a day. Restarting the computer after taking out and putting back in the memory chip (the only thing that allows it to restart) often results in a disconcerting message that the file we had open "may be damaged." As a result we're saving files as new versions frequently, and redoing whatever work we've done since the last save when the BSOD pops up.
A trip to the computer doctor gave the diagnosis that the motherboard is failing. This is kind of like saying the computer needs a heart transplant. Now if one of us, at age 175, needs a heart transplant, we'll go ahead and try it; but given that the cost in the case of the computer was estimated at 1/3 to 1/2 the price of a new one, and there are other problems such as a malfunctioning heat-control system, we decided it was time to let go. No service is planned, though if it damages many more files before we get the new one set up and figured out, there may be a ritual drop from a high place onto a hard surface...
A few decades ago Joni Mitchell sang, "You don't know what you've got til it's gone." That's more or less the inspiration behind Felix Jung's Dead Advice Project, where people are encouraged to reflect on their lives and share the personal wisdom they've learned before it's too late to pass it on. Site visitors can write a letter beginning with the sentence "Now that I'm dead, I want to tell you a few things." The site is still very new, so the number of letters posted is small but growing; Felix posts them unedited, but approves each one to prevent abuse by spammers. The letters can be to a specific person (living, dead, or unborn), or to the world at large, and the range of thoughts and emotions being expressed is already impressive.
A new postcard museum opened this month celebrating the career and postcards of Donald McGill. McGill created over 12,000 humorous postcards between 1904 and 1962. In the '50s he fell afoul of British law for his use of the double entendre--his postcards depict innocent scenes and the text seems so, too, unless you find the hidden risque meaning. The website is still new but a museum store is planned, which will sell vintage of copies of some of these oldies!
A new letter writing site launched in April: Writealetter.Org. As creator Carol Christmas says, "This site promises to be a hub of inspiration, information and connections to encourage the art of the handwritten letter". It features a blog on the home page, plus forums, activities, and a members' section. Check it out!
Clean it, of course! If you've run across an old fountain pen in the attic, at an estate sale, on the floor behind your uncle's desk, chances are it doesn't work. And maybe all it needs is a good cleaning. Check out this tip on how to revive a pen.
Staring in two movies featuring letters (Dear John and Letters to Juliet) has actress Amanda Seyfried thinking her generation is missing out on something. We know she is right!
"The Munchkin Wrangler", a fan of fine pens and writing paper, mentions the article below on his blog. He gives his personal observations on the significance of handwritten letters, especially the fact that the time it takes to get out the materials, write meditatively, and take the result off to mail is an additional gift to the recipient. We couldn't agree more...
A recent report on CNN entitled In e-mail age, still nothing like a handwritten letter interviews several people on the importance of receiving personal letters, including a couple half a world apart and a woman who received a letter from her grandmother at the grandmother's funeral. Comments on the article range from supportive to dismissive, and include discussion of the teaching (or lack thereof) of handwriting in schools. Thanks to LEX #12455 for bringing this article to our attention.
A hospital in Newcastle, Australia, sent follow-up postcards to people who had been treated because of suicide attempts. Compared to a control group, the rate of repeat attempts was halved. But it only worked with women. The experimenters speculate that it was the old-fashioned nature of postcards that made people feel cared for, and plan a text-message version in the hope of finding a useful outreach to men.
Indiana Public Radio station WFIU recently did a segment entitled "They're Keeping Alive the Lost Art of Letter Writing". WFIU staffer Adam Schwartz interviewed LEX's very own Lonna for a section on LEX!. Also on the program were Margaret Shepherd, author of The Art of the Personal Letter: A Guide to Connecting Through the Written Word; Professor Bruce C. Smith, who's developed the SmithHand method of handwriting which combines speed and legibility; Kathy Zadrozny of The Letter Writers Alliance and its associated stationery store 16 Sparrows; Rebecca Dolen of the Vancouver stationery store The Regional Assembly of Text, where once a month letter writers gather to write in a friendly group; and USPS spokesman Norman Scherstrom.
You've probably seen one or two of them: you're driving down the street and suddenly there's a mailbox high on a pole like a bird house, or down at street-level with a model-T car on top of it. Over at Sam's Mailbox Picture Collection [link no longer active] you can see dozens of them - a train, a fish, a pig; a kangaroo, a camera, and Uncle Sam. And if you've got a picture of a goodie, you can share it online. Meantime, over at the Ugly Mailbox blog, you can see more examples of the endless creativity of box owners.
If you haven't checked out the Zits comic strip today, here's a link [link no longer active]. It has a letter-writing theme.
The Letter Exchange announced today the release of a new hardware/software package designed to eliminate one of the most annoying things that can happen in the course of a correspondence - writing an eloquent, incisive letter in one's mind immediately upon receiving a letter, and then finding that when it comes time to actually get out the pen and paper, much of that eloquence and incisiveness has fled, never to be recovered. In 1813 Edward Jenner wrote: "scores of them passed through my brain in forms so airy, that they flew aloft before I could catch one to fix upon paper"; and that problem is still with us today. The new package, which makes this difficulty a thing of the past, consists of a sensory implant similar to an EEG pickup which is inserted through the top of the head (a handy plastic tube allows leaving the hole open to be re-used for future letters, and covered with hair in the meantime) into the verbal centers of the right brain. This is connected through a USB port to the computer running the software, which transforms the mental letter into digital form ready to be displayed and copied when it comes time to actually write the letter. The package will retail for $79; an optional add-on, available for only $1039, will edit out "uh", "um", "er", and other common hesitations, increasing the eloquence and incisiveness of the letter even more.
Do you enjoy the romantic, peaceful quality of vintage nature postcards? English artist Alfred Quinton is the source of over 2000 watercolors of picturesque places in England and Wales produced as postcards by Joseph Salmon around the turn of the 20th century. These and his other works are the subject of The Rural England of A R Quinton published by J Salmon Ltd.
The old message in a bottle trick still works...click here [link no longer active] to watch a news video about two women named Delores who live thousands of miles apart but "met" when one of them dropped a letter into the ocean from a cruise ship.
This week the mail truck brought us a colorful booklet from our alma mater explaining the importance of donations to the college and its students. If you've been to college or supported a charitable organization you've seen one of these: all the wonderful things that can be done with your support and how grateful they will be. This week's booklet featured pictures of handwritten letters from students to scholarship donors, on the cover and in a two-page spread. Obviously the brochure's writers know that handwritten letters are special. Typed letters can seem formal (or a credit card offer); e-mail is impersonal (and can be made to seem it's coming from somewhere it's not). But a letter written with pen and ink on stationery or plain paper comes directly from me to you and says that I care enough to write. To people who don't do it very often, part of the specialness may be the perceived extra work - hunting around for that pen and paper, envelope, and stamp. For those of us with a desk full of stationery and notecards it's still special - we convey our thoughts and feelings through words and handwriting in a way that a keyboard just can't.
Issue 21 was mailed yesterday a day after our usual mailing date because of the postal holiday on Monday. Of course, there's still plenty of time to get the issue it's still "current" until about when we send the next issue to the printer, and that won't be til the first of June. By then it's possible the snow will be gone...
Collections of letters sometimes pick and choose letters, or even excerpts, in order to illuminate an author's writings or some other topic that made a person famous. In the case of a new publication of Vincent Van Gogh's letters, all the more than 800 known surviving letters are included, as well as almost 100 letters written to Van Gogh. The reviewer for The Guardian calls the overall impression of the collection "quite simply life-affirming."
Last night we e-mailed the files for Issue 21 to the printer now we just have to wait a week or so, sometimes more, sometimes less, and boxes of shiny new issues will show up on our doorstep. Well, not quite they actually come to Lonna at work, and then they have to be brought home for stuffing and mailing. Come February 15 we'll be popping them in one of those remaining blue boxes, and then they'll start their journey to you!
It's not so noticeable at the moment, when the morning temperature is above freezing, but usually this time of year people in Minnesota fall into one of two groups those who huddle indoors grumbling "Why do we live here?" and those who head outdoors for winter sports and festivals such as the St. Paul Winter Carnival (which features ice sculptures in those years when it's actually cold). Among the second group are the creators of the Art Shanty Project on Medicine Lake in the northwestern suburbs of Minneapolis. Everything from astrology to saunas, from dance to story-telling to tea, happens for several weeks in "shanties" based on the ice houses used for fishing on frozen lakes in Minnesota. One of them is the ArtPost Shanty, which with the help of the USPS is an official, though temporary, U.S. Post Office. There's an official stamp, and visitors to the shanty can partake of mail art and postcard making, or send mail from what's described as "The world's only Post Office on ice."
...and now there's a Slow Media [link no longer active] movement afoot. The aims are similar step back from the rush of modern life and rediscover the joys of taking time to think, savor, and focus consciously on one thing at a time. Not surprisingly, one of the things those attracted to the movement enjoy focusing on is letters.
Boston Globe columnist Milton J. Valencia recently wrote a column in the form of a love letter to the personal letter. It's interesting reading, and perhaps even more so are the many comments from readers, some agreeing that letters are the best form of communication, others extolling the virtues of e-mail, and some calling for the best of both worlds.
So says a review of Yours Ever: People and Their Letters, a newly-published book by Thomas Mallon that's been almost 20 years in the making. From Abraham Lincoln to Sigmund Freud, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Ann Landers, Mallon explores the world of letters, in commentary and examples. The publisher says "Yours Ever is an exuberant reintroduction to a vast and entertaining literature a book that will help to revive, in the digital age, this glorious lost art." We have it on order at the local library and we'll be reporting more on it soon. We're excited to check it out, not only for the book itself, but because LEX is mentioned in it!
Could it be that Santa's gotten fed up with the weather at the North Pole? That would be one explanation of why the USPS' traditional Operation Santa program has been changed this year. A darker one is that the way the program was run almost allowed a registered sex offender access to the addresses of children writing to Santa. And simple mail volume is also being blamed for moving the postmark of "North Pole" mail from Fairbanks (15 miles from the town of North Pole, Alaska) to Anchorage. Opinions on the changes range from the straighforward [link no longer active] to the outraged [link no longer active].
That's the focus of a recent article in the (Toronto) Globe and Mail about people in their 20s and 30s who write real letters. The article focuses on finding pen pals through Internet groups, but touches on some of the well-known advantages of writing by paper, including longer communications, learning about the lives of people one wouldn't have the chance to know in person, the thoughtfulness of taking time to write and mail letters, and the honesty that can come from sharing with compatible strangers (a subject that's continued in the reader comments below the article) .
Mention "classic letter writers", and many people (including the editors of letter compilations over the years) think of Jane Austen. So it may come as a surprise (it did to us) to know that only 160 of her letters survive, about 5% of those she likely wrote. Most were written to her sister Cassandra, who destroyed the majority of them and censored many of the rest, apparently fearing that her sister's freewheeling way with words would cast a negative light on the Austens. The Morgan Library & Museum in New York has almost a third of them, and they're featured in A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy through next March. Click on "Selected images" to see several of the letters in thumbnail form; clicking on the thumbnail brings up a full view. The cross-written letter (at the bottom of the first page of images) is especially interesting. There's also a review of the exhibition in The New York Times; thanks to Lexer Diane who alerted us to this article.
Sometimes it can seem like the USPS isn't very interested in real mail, the kind that includes letters. From the corner mailboxes being taken out, to the low rates for bulk advertising, one can sometimes get the impression they'd be happier if bins of commercial flyers and brochures were all they had to deliver. But that's not true of everyone in the USPS, as this article from the Waynesboro NewsVirginian shows. Kevin Blackford, the Postmaster of Stuarts Draft, Virginia came up with an idea to get kids writing he gave fourth-grade students stamped envelopes, and their teacher encouraged them to write letters. The result was so positive that Blackford is presenting "A Letter is Better!" at state conventions [link times out as of October 2012] of the National Association of Postmasters of the United States.
Does the idea of swapping things through the mail appeal to you? If so, check out Swap-Bot [link no longer active], where you can join swaps of anything from decorated envelopes to cemetery photos to craft supplies to postcards to chocolate to healing stones to stationery to handmade earrings to magnets to stickers to teabags to insights to ATCs to matchboxes to recipes to...
There are hundreds of swaps going on at any one time, most with a very small number of participants, usually 5 or fewer. Swap partners are randomly assigned from those who sign up as interested, you can start your own swap, and a rating system helps keep problems to a minimum. There are groups and forums and a blog, too. Just reading through the list of swaps is fascinating and should whet your appetite for getting into the action.
If you've been to this page in the last week or so, you may have noticed the entry below, about sunspots and things going wrong, being dated October 27. Not quite... it must be the cool weather and early snow this year that makes it seem that late...
Often when it seems lots of things are going wrong at the same time, whether mechanical failures or odd behavior, someone will say "It must be sunspots." Well, that can't account for it at the present, with the sunspot count the lowest in a century. Personally, we think objects get together at night and coordinate their malfunctions that's what all those odd little creaks and groans in houses and apartments are, it's their stifled laughter as they make their nefarious plans. Luckily we had two backups of the LEX subscriber data base, since among the current string of breakdowns we're experiencing (we're up to 7 in the last few weeks) were a flash memory backup drive on Sunday, followed by the Blue Screen of Death and a day of total unresponsiveness on the LEX computer on Monday. (Another fortunate thing is that Issue 20 was sent to the printer Monday morning, so that day didn't delay us; it will be in the mail next Thursday.) We may have revived the computer, but you can bet we'll be updating those two backups every time we make any changes to the data base!
There are many types of paper one can use for letters and notes from lined tablets to handmade sheets, from the blank sides of junk mail to self-enhanced greeting cards. For some people in New York, custom engraved stationery is where it's at. Called "social papers", with price tags to match the name, they can cost several dollars per card and envelope, often more, in part because of the individual dies used. The result, for those who can afford it, is sometimes compared to a wardrobe and like a wardrobe's contents, much of the fun can be had with a smaller bite out of the checkbook.
Recently we were leafing through the book Flea Market Finds in search of inventive ways of using items we see at garage sales. One of the suggestions caught our eye mounting old mailboxes on the wall in a child's bedroom. Socks and underwear, or rolled up magazines, can be stored inside; the hook on the hinged door can be used for hanging up coats. (Of course, there's another use write so many letters that you have to put up an extra box to hold all the replies!)
For most mail artists, the activity is fun and challenging, but not particularly profitable, and usually not meant to be. But for David Dube of Montana, what started as a hobby has turned into something a bit more. Dube now draws cachets for first-day covers, and has a subscriber base among stamp collectors.
Tired of starting your letters with "Dear [Name]" and wondering how to end a letter without sounding like an impersonal business? Consider some of the more elaborate and flowery openings and closings of the medieval era, reproduced here.
Each year we receive a notice about our college reunion coming up sometimes a month or so in advance, sometimes much more. This year is one of the much more, and features a new twist we haven't seen before it's a packet of 6 postcards, each featuring a letter of the word "Reunion" (one postcard has 2 letters) and a snappy slogan ("R is for Reconnect", etc.) On the message side is a phrase related to the slogan ("Let's Reconnect at Reunion 2010!") and room for a message. Instructions on the outside of the packet tell us to add a note of our own to each one, find the addresses of 6 of our classmates at the college's alumni site, and mail them the postcards. Of course, if the addresses are on the site, that means the alumni people have also mailed the packet to those 6 addresses. We're assuming they hope that getting personal mail will make a bigger impression than the bulk-mailed packet. They may be right!
Across the U.S. the familiar blue mail boxes are being removed. In one town, though, people decided not to take it lying down. The town officials of Otisfield, Maine waged a campaign that included blocking the mail box with their bodies in the daytime and machinery at night; last week the USPS decided after a review to leave the mail box in place.
Usually when one writes a letter, the intent is to clearly communicate something to the recipient. In the case of Robert Patterson and Thomas Jefferson, however, it was exactly the opposite. Both men were interested in codes, and Patterson developed what he considered a perfect code easy to write, easy to figure out if one knew the key, and impossible to make head or tail of if one didn't. Transcribing an approximation of the beginning of the Declaration of Independence using his method, he sent a letter to Jefferson in his code, and as far as is known it took until this decade (with the help of a computer) before anyone deciphered it. There's an article about the code with a photo of the letter in The Wall Street Journal.
It's not just the current recession that's causing post offices to be closed, although apparently there's no big rush of people turning to the mail for affordable entertainment or communication. E-mail, text messaging, and all the electronic "social networking" is taking its toll, too. (Oddly, we haven't noticed any big decrease in the amount of junk mail being delivered but most of that goes through Bulk Mail Centers, not "regular" post offices.) About 10% of the local post offices in the U.S. are being considered for closure, and a list of 700 was recently generated and posted online. It's not entirely clear from this story that these are particularly at risk, but that's probably the case.
Mark Twain is reputed to have said "Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint." We've recently been making a data base of information from a health newsletter we get, and doing a spellcheck this week we find we've invented various new foods (bet your mother never told you to eat your croccoli) and diseases (hormoon imbalance, which we figure is the cause of werewolves). One record is particularly relevant to letter writers we find that supplemental flax oil can help with the problem of thin mails...
Next time you need an excuse because you didn't mail something on time, you can let the recipient know it'll be along... eventually. Maybe in 35 years [link changed] or so. Recently a thank-you note that was written in 1974 and mailed within a city in Iowa was found in a park in Brooklyn, and sent, belatedly, to its original addressee. So the next time the mortgage or rent payment is overdue... well, maybe that's not such a good excuse to try after all...
Katy Wolk-Stanley challenges everyone to write a real letter. Sounds like a good idea to us!
With the start of a new month, we're starting a new feature on "The Mailboox" a Book of the Month, where we'll feature a book related to letter writing. July's book is Mule Train Mail, a children's book that tells, in wide pencil-and-pastel illustrations, the story of the only mule train mail delivery route in the U.S., down the steep slopes of the Grand Canyon to the town of Supai. It's a book that would make a great gift for a child or for an adult interested in art. Watch for a new book on the first of each month.
Well, we're not sure what it keeps away, but that's what Carla is doing over at her blog writing a letter a day during 2009. Along the way she's also sharing her thoughts on letter-writing in history and in the present, stationery, stamps, and other topics familiar to anyone who's serious about letters (or just finds them fun!) There's lots of good reading there, and lots of links to other interesting sites, so when your fingers are tired from holding a pen, let your mouse do the walking and check out some of her great site content.
According to some web sites, a weather expert is predicting our area will be having "a year without a summer." The actual article being referred to seems elusive, but the June temperatures make it easy to believe whether anyone said it or not. In any case, as far as LEX is concerned, Summer is here: Issue 19 is back from the printer. That means we'll be labeling and stuffing this weekend, and dropping it in the mailbox on Monday.
That's the tentative title of a new national magazine being planned by Jackie Flaherty. It will debut late next year or early in 2011, and be about can you guess? letters and journals. As part of the preparation for the launch, Jackie's put together a couple of surveys about letter and journal activities to help shape the magazine. To fill them out, go to the survey pages of her blog; you can be anonymous or you can sign up to be notified when the magazine's coming out. Also check out her main blog for more information about the magazine and her related activities, including visits to stationery stores and the National Stationery Show.
If you are in the New York area, there's still time to take in the exhibit of 9000 postcards collected by photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975) showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 25. Or you can view a selection of postcards online the men's bathhouse at Hot Springs National Park in the 1920s, a birds eye view of Lincoln, NE in 1906, and a futuristic vision of New York skyscrapers with building-top trains and hovering airplanes. The exhibit also includes some of Evans' own photographs taken in postcard style, such as a a view of Easton, PA in 1935.
This Saturday, May 9, is the annual "Stamp Out Hunger" day, when letter carriers will be picking up donations. Just put non-perishable items (no glass containers) in a paper bag by your mailbox, and your carrier will pick it up and deliver it to local food shelves. In some areas a a blue plastic bag for food donations will be delivered in the mail this week. Here's one of many web sites with more information.
There's still time to enter Samara O'Shea's National Card and Letter Writing Month Essay Writing Contest [link changed]. Write an essay about a letter that you've kept for a long time, and you could win a gift certificate for personalized stationery, or signed copies of Ms. O'Shea's books on letter writing and journal keeping. The contest closes May 1, so there's only a few more days to send in your entries. The author also has a web site which tracks her resolve to write a letter or a card a day this month as well as other letter-related topics.
Canada and Australia are among almost 30 countries issuing stamps designed to raise awareness of global warming (increasingly called climate change, as the melting polar ice caps may actually decrease temperatures in some areas due to increased clouds and precipitation). The Canadian stamps feature wildlife photography of a polar bear and an Arctic tern (an amazing bird that migrates from one pole to the other twice a year), and the Australian stamps highlight a snow petrel and an iceberg. The stamps are part of an international effort initiated by Chile and Finland to use postal stamps to remind people of the imminent threats faced by wildlife in polar regions, and ultimately other species connected in the web of life.
Reading comic strips like Zits, where the characters sometimes text-message each other in the same room, one could get the impression that young people don't even know what a letter is. But a recent book, Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones, shows otherwise. Caught in a thoroughly unpleasant family and school situation, the teenage protagonist copes and finds her own "true grit" by writing letters to John Wayne. According to teenage reviews it's a powerful contemporary novel, told through letters.
After the success of last year's initiative to expand its letter forwarding service beyond the planet Earth, LEX today announced plans to move into another frontier the correspondence of non-humans. "The idea came to me when the bank returned a deposit," said Chief Accountant and Head Bricklayer Gary Marvin. "They said, 'We can't read your chicken scratches', and I thought, nobody's addressing the mailing needs of chickens. Or guinea pigs, or sparrows, or any of the other species tragically under-served by the U.S. Postal Service." Plans are to begin with smaller creatures, and if that proves successful, move on to larger animals such as eagles, whitetail deer, and armadillos. "We won't be including dogs, though," said Director of Marketing and Picnics Lonna Riedinger. "We don't think their communication style fits with our vision, and besides, they already often use mailboxes on their daily walks."
Interested in how many rubber bands the USPS uses, what some of the strangest items they've delivered are, and other tidbits from the U.S. Postal Service? Check out Your Postal Podcast, a monthly compendium about 8 or 10 minutes long of various things postal.
You know those family afternoons you can go to at historical societies, where you take part in some pioneer activities that hardly anyone does anymore, like making a broom by hand or turning rose hips into jelly? Apparently letter writing has joined the ranks of those bygone pursuits. Historic Deerfield, a mile of houses from the 18th and 19th century turned into museums, is sponsoring two letter-writing workshops in the next month or so. In The Lost Art of Letter Writing, you can write a letter with quill pen and seal it with sealing wax; the program is on most weekend afternoons from next week through the end of April. During the week of April 20, Paper, Pen and Ink: The Tools of Letter Writing has a different letter-related activity each weekday, from making paper and ink to using quill pens. Deerfield is in western Massachusetts and includes a historic inn and many nearby bed-and-breakfasts; the mile-long complex features self-guided tours as well as organized activities and numerous collections, including family letter archives.
Allegedly Samuel Beckett once said that he couldn't come up with a reason to get out of bed in the morning but he apparently had lots of reasons to write letters, because there are more than 15,000 known to exist. While parts of some have already been included in biographies, now there's a new collection [link no longer active], the first volume of which was recently published.
Australia Post is celebrating its bicentenary this year it was in 1809 that the first Postmaster, who operated from his home, was appointed. There's a web site [link no longer active] with historical information, including a collection of letters spanning the years, a page where you can submit your own historical letter, voting for the favorite Australian stamp, and other activities. The page with links to the actual letters is a collage whose elements move at different rates as you click through the decades, giving a rather strange 3-D effect, perhaps somewhat like the original theatrical dioramas.
By now you've probably heard that U.S. postage is going up again in May and we're not the only country where that's happened recently or will happen in the near future, of course. This will probably cause a run on Forever Stamps, that can be bought for 42¢ now and used for 44¢ postage after the increase. There's another way to get discount postage, though, if you're willing to spend a little time looking (and being careful), and an advantage is that you're not limited to the designs on current stamps. People sell lots of older stamps on eBay, and as long as they're not canceled they're still usable you just have to mix-n-match a little to come up with the right amount for an envelope. (We see this sometimes on letters for forwarding, where people have used a group of 2 or 3 or 6 stamps, years or decades old, to add up to 42¢.) For example, yesterday an auction for $27.84 worth of unused 1992 Elvis stamps sold for $19.32, including shipping. Just find some 13¢ stamps to add and you're all set or, having saved 9¢ each on these stamps, you can add a current 17¢ stamp and you're still saving. And if you or your recipient is an Elvis fan, that's even better. If you're not particular about the design and write a lot, you might find some big groups someone yesterday won an auction for $420 worth of 42¢ stamps for $359. Of course, the older the stamp the more likely it's being offered at higher than face value to collectors. And if it seems like too much of a bargain, make sure it's covered by eBay's various guarantees, check the seller's feedback, and if the price looks like it's going to end up amazingly low, don't be surprised if the seller ends the auction early because of "an error in the listing".
Local artist Amy Rice is inspired by letters, and one of the ways her inspiration finds expression is in paintings. In these examples she pays homage to Mary Cassatt and Vermeer, both of whom used the theme of reading letters in their paintings. Ms. Rice uses items ranging from pillows to desks in her artwork; in these cases vintage envelopes form the backgrounds. You may recognize Mary Cassatt, by the way, as being on the 23¢ stamp of a few years ago.
Probably 9,000 people haven't written essays on this topic since February 3...but the same Google search now yields 27,800 hits. We won't mention them all one by one (which would take, at our usual rate of adding notes here, until roughly when the next millenium is approaching), but here's one with a rather different slant comments on, and excerpts from, the letters of Arthur Conan Doyle by a man privileged to be reading the originals.
If you type "lost art of letter writing" into Google, it says there are approximately 18,900 hits. Many of them maybe even most, from a quick tour through some of the hits are odes to the joys of letters, often with tips for people who aren't quite sure how to start, or restart. Here's one [link no longer active], chosen more or less at random, from the student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse...
No, that's not a reference to the annual postage increases, but a series of stamps to honor the International Year of Astronomy. Designs range from constellations (the Big Dipper is popular) to space exploration to cityscapes with the night sky. Numerous countries are issuing stamps for the occasion, and you can find links to some of them here.
It's common for journalists and essayists to write about "The Lost Art of Letter Writing". But musicians? Australian composer Dean Brett has written (and won a prestigious prize for) a concerto for violin and orchestra entitled The Lost Art of Letter Writing, first performed in 2007. Four historic letters (two by composers, one by a painter, and one by an outlaw) are interpreted by violin, which takes the role of both writer and recipient. Each movement begins with an excerpt from its letter we're not sure if it's spoken or musically interpreted because we haven't heard the entire work, but you can listen to an excerpt from the concerto here.
This year's Graceful Envelope contest theme has been announced Address the Environment. It's open to anyone world-wide, with exhibition of the winners online and at the National Association of Letter Carriers headquarters in Washington, D.C. Sometimes the winners are also printed in Scripsit magazine, the journal of the Washington Calligraphers Guild. There are categories for children as well as adults; entries are due by April 30, so there's plenty of time to be creative.
...or even if he didn't, you might want to check out the Fountain Pen Network, an extensive (20,000 members, over 800,000 posts) online forum discussing these writing instruments. There are sections for various brands of pens, the history of pens, pen repair, inks, paper, buying and selling pens, clubs and meetings, and other topics relating to fountain pens and their use. To give just one example of the size of these discussions, the forum for reviews of inks contains over 1000 topics with over 10,000 posts.
Recently we mailed a small First Class package from near downtown Minneapolis to an inner-ring suburb. According to MapQuest, this is a distance of less than 11 miles and should take 16 minutes to drive. The package was mailed Monday morning and arrived on Friday....
Amidst all the assurances that letter writing is a lost art, there are some passionate groups devoted to practicing it as an active and worthwhile part of daily life. One of these is the Letter Writers Alliance, which features a blog of correspondence topics, links to related sites, stationery downloads for members, and more. While there, check out the nice mention of LEX on December 1!
Wendy Russ, whose impressive site Letters, Letter-Writing and Other Intimate Discourse [link no longer active] you may have seen, is migrating the information, and much more, to her new site, A Passion for Letter Writing. It contains an active blog [last updated 2009], interviews, photos, and an amazing collection of links, lists, and other resources. Books about letters, thoughts about letters, the history and future of letters if it has to do with letters, chances are you can find it here. The site is well worth some extensive time, and well worth bookmarking to return to often.
That's a comment we overheard exchanged between two staff members at the exhibit "More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of Art" [link no longer active] yesterday at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum [link changed] in Wausau, WI. Almost five dozen letters were on display in low illumination (though it looked normal enough to us) to minimize fading a few were in covered cases with sliding doors to protect them from light except when actually being viewed. Several classes of young children were being given tours of the exhibit while we were there, and the adjacent indoor "Art Park" included a station where kids could write letters on bright blue paper with erasable colored pencils and stamp them with a Bates-type stamper with rubberstamp-like designs "Writing letters can be a fun experience for the writer and makes the receiver happy, too" said the poster at that station. The museum, which has a specialty of "Birds in Art", also was displaying a couple of mail art envelopes it had received decorated with fanciful birds, including a Dodo carrying "Air Mail"!
The artists whose letters were on display ranged from the famous (Andrew Wyeth, Alexander Calder) to the (at least to us) obscure (J. Kathleen White and William Trost Richards), from verbose correspondence illustrated with a few small sketches to collages to elaborate diagrams with a few words, from vacation reports to descriptions of current art projects, and the drawings ranged from informal doodles to surprisingly detailed miniatures. The exhibit, arranged in six categories, filled two rooms and we could easily have spent more hours there than we did (the museum is 200 miles from home, and we wanted to (but didn't) get back before dark). It's just started at the Woodson and will be there into January, then there are two more stops on the tour Louisiana [link changed] in the spring and Florida [link changed] in the summer. It's well worth the time if you're able to go, and look for a more detailed report in Issue 18.
Have you finished your holiday shopping?
November 12, 2008
If you live in the U.S. and you're sending packages by Parcel Post to military addresses, the USPS thinks you have, or should have. Tomorrow is the deadline for APO/FPO delivery by December 25. If you choose a pricier method or are sending to non-military international addresses you have another 2 or 3 weeks before more dates start looming. See the USPS 2008 Holiday Shopping Calendar [link no longer active] for more info.
When you care enough to send the very smallest
November 2, 2008
Ever wonder what would happen if you addressed a postage stamp and put it in the mail? Well, no, we haven't either. But probably Lea Redmond has, because she offers a service almost as unique. Send her a letter (up to 6 sentences long) and she'll write it on a sheet of stationery roughly the size of a horizontal postage stamp and mail it to the recipient, or to you for mailing if you prefer. Comes complete with envelope, sealing wax stamp, and magnifying glass in case the recipient doesn't have telescopic eyes. See her site, The World's Smallest Postal Service, for details and examples. She does greeting cards, too!
(Pea)nuts to you
October 22, 2008
Perennial comics favorite Peanuts is in apparently endless rerun rotation see Snoopy.com [link changed]. This week the strip returns to a topic that shows up on occasion (though not as often as baseball!) Charlie Brown's attempts to write to his penpal. Needless to say, he's not much more successful at that than he is at pitching or flying a kite...
Here it comes
October 15, 2008
Issue 17 is in the mail! A new issue of LEX is usually achieved by late nights and looming deadlines. Before Issue 1 we read that it takes "way more time" than you expect to put together an issue of a magazine: imagine "way more time" and then imagine "way more time" than that. And it's true. It does take way more time than we ever imagined. But somehow this time we got LEX to the printer early and us to bed on time. After five years and 16 issues perhaps we've finally figured out the secret: we had ideas, articles, and pictures in mind well in advance, and we worked steadily on LEX throughout September even when it seemed like we had "plenty of time". We also stayed current with our record-keeping and as a result the label/label/label stuff/stuff/stuff went smoothly as well. We even had time, while LEX was at the printer, for a flying trip to the Black Hills where the weather was lovely and the fall color gorgeous. Back home in Minnesota the weather also smiled on us and we drove LEX to the post office amid sunshine and falling leaves: a perfect Autumn day!
Won't be long now
October 3, 2008
Issue 17 is at the printer, and should be back in about a week or so. Then a little flurry of label/label/label, stuff/stuff/stuff, stamp/stamp/stamp, and it will be time for the October 15 mailing!
The write stuff
September 22, 2008
If you're interested in the paraphernalia of writing pens, inkwells, etc. and you're going to be in London next month, you might want to check out the Writing Equipment Show, sponsored by the Writing Equipment Society, an organization formed "to promote ownership, conservation, study and use of writing equipment", both new and vintage. Fountain pens are a central theme, but according to the group their approximately 500 members are interested in "everything connected with the world of writing from papers to inks; from writing slopes to slates; from stamp boxes to pencil boxes; from steel pen nibs to quill cutters". Their online site includes a discussion forum and links to other organizations focused on writing instruments and related materials. And their website gallery includes Victorian inkwells in the shape of snails!
"My efforts did make a difference"
September 12, 2008
A couple of years ago, Liz Mann decided to write a letter a day to heads of state, entertainment celebrities, and ordinary people whose lives she read something interesting about in the news. She wrote to the Pope, to a woman trying to keep her phone number, to the CEO of Philip Morris, to the Chicago Police Superintendent, to a couple protesting taxes, to a soldier protesting sexual harassment, to the FDA... and in many cases posted replies she received. She was inspired by The Lazlo Letters, but although many of the "Liz Letters" are satirical or downright sarcastic, her intention was generally not the humor but to make a point about something she believes in. After writing a letter every day in 2006 her writing became more sporadic, and it's not clear if she's continuing, since the last entries are from February of this year. If you enjoy her writing style, which often combines a breeziness with a serious intent, you'll probably hope there are more to come!
"Traditional communication must be preserved"
August 30, 2008
Sometimes in the rush to improve efficiency, important small details can get lost, and such was the case recently in Hagerstown, Maryland, when the USPS removed some corner mailboxes to save on the costs of picking up the mail. People can mail at work, and buying goods and paying bills online means fewer physical items of mail, according to the USPS. But for some senior citizens living near the suddenly-missing mailboxes, limited mobility and limited income [link no longer active] can mean the other choices are not so much options as obstacles to mailing. After complaints, the USPS decided to return some of the mailboxes. Fittingly, one such return [link no longer active] may have been spurred by a letter, written to the Congresswoman for the district.
Fu spells fun
August 20, 2008
Looking for an easy, inexpensive way to send decorated envelopes? Try Letterfu. Or you could call them decorated letters, because the letters are the envelopes in these designs. You print them out on an ordinary computer printer, then write your letter on one side and fold them into a mailable shape. You don't need glue, because the stamp goes over two edges to keep the design from unfolding in the mail, or you can use a bit of glue for more security. There are several designs on the site, and there's a blank template with the folding marks and instructions so you can make your own designs as well. The designs are free as long as you aren't using them to make money, or modifying them without giving credit, so all you need to buy is paper and ink.
On the road mail
August 9, 2008
If the history of the picture postcard in Issue 16 caught your interest, you might want to check out the National Park Service's online exhibit "Lying Lightly on the Land" [link no longer active]. The physical exhibit closed ten years ago, but dozens of vintage postcards of national parks, mostly focused on the park road system, are featured in "postcard tours" of eight national parks, plus four additional tours of Yellowstone. If you're an old car buff, there are plenty of those shown on the postcards as well.
On the air mail
July 25, 2008
This Sunday, the Canadian Broadcasting Company's "Cross Country Checkup" show [link no longer active] will be on the topic of letters and e-mail, specifically significant letters (written or electronic) people have sent or received. It's a 2-hour call-in show broadcast on CBC channels, on Sirius satellite radio, and podcast. If you can't tune in live, check the web site later and you can hear the audio stream, as well as read comments by listeners.
Talk about lucky
July 12, 2008
Recently a demolition company has been in the process of removing parts of a small house J.R.R. Tolkien lived in for several years before he died, which is being demolished (to the anguish of many fans who feel it should be preserved as a historic site), and found several postcards, including one addressed to Tolkien, probably from American sword-and-sorcery author Lin Carter. The finder says he has permission from the Tolkien estate to sell it at auction, along with the fireplace it was found behind, and expects it to go for a large sum. Here's a link to an article [link no longer active], and a shorter article with a picture of the postcard can be found here.
"The surprises of an ongoing exchange"
July 6, 2008
A while ago we found an interesting discussion of the similarities and differences between conversation, letters, and blogs on a blog named UFO Breakfast. The wide-ranging discussion touches on letters and orality, epistolary novels, and the different assumptions about the privacy of letters in the prolific correspondence of the eighteenth century. We had hoped to reprint it in the last issue, but the blog is no longer current and we were unable to find a contact address for the author in order to ask permission. It's still available here, though, through the auspices of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.
Speaking of numbers
June 26, 2008
A couple of recent entries mentioned numbers 42, 22. Here's a bigger one 170,000. No, that's not the speed of light in miles per second, though it's close. It's the price, in pounds sterling, that a letter by Albert Einstein recently sold for in a British auction. Interested in seeing such a valuable piece of paper? There's a picture of it (or at least part of it the writing isn't clear enough for our schooldays German to easily read it) here.
Neither rain, nor sleet...
June 7, 2008
...but sometimes there are situations, from flooding to strikes to political situations, that interfere with the mail delivery. The UK's Royal Mail keeps an ongoing list of world areas where these interferences are occurring. The same page lists postal holidays in various countries as well.
May 24, 2008
No, that's not the condensed meaning of life, not even according to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it's the number of days til the next issue of Lex comes out. Actually, it will be even less than that, because June 15 is on a Sunday, so we'll be mailing on Saturday, June 14. The layout of the issue is all set, except for the "From the Editors" page which we always leave til the last minute for some reason, and the fine-tuning of the columns so they line up and look nice, and the proofing, and the tweaking of the graphics to print well, and the final check of spelling, and probably a few other things we'll discover when we go through our checklist before sending the files to the printer...
May 11, 2008
No, that's not the meaning of life (well, it is, according to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), it's the new First Class postage for U.S. letters. Did you use up all your 41¢ stamps yesterday? Get a supply of the Forever Stamps while they were still 41¢? Yeah, we forgot too...
Stamp Out Hunger
May 7, 2008
That's the theme of this Saturday's collection of non-perishable food by the National Association of Letter Carriers. Food shelves tend to be low this time of year, as the donations given during the winter holiday season run out, and as the NALC press release notes, summer can be a critical time for children especially. Food left next to the mailbox on Saturday before delivery will be collected and delivered to local food shelves (except in Chicago and New York, where food can be taken to post offices all week). Last year about 70 million pounds of food was collected, and this year, with gas prices squeezing family budgets and driving up prices of anything that's transported, including food, the need is even greater an estimated 12 million children and 23 million adults don't have access to a consistently adequate food supply.
Better later than now?
April 27, 2008
Occurrences such as the one below aren't (we hope!) intentional, but what if you actually wanted to delay a letter? Sent From The Past [link times out as of October 2012] says it will do just that for you and unlike the USPS, you can choose the date, up to 15 years in the future. You might want to record your thoughts on the birth of a child as a present for their confirmation day; write to your spouse on your wedding day and have the letter delivered for your tenth anniversary; or write to your future self at any time setting forth your hopes and fears for the coming years. According to their website, you buy a stationery kit from them, themed or generic, and after you (or someone you give the kit as a gift to) send it to them they store it in archival materials in a temperature controlled environment, and then mail it on the date you specify. Just remember that you wrote it, in case you change your mind (or your spouse!)
Better late than never?
April 16, 2008
Today we received a returned postcard in the mail one of our listing deadline reminder cards, with a USPS label attached indicating it couldn't be delivered because the addressee was no longer at that address and they didn't have a forwarding address on file. This is not unusual except that this was the Issue 12 listing reminder, which we mailed November 20, 2006!
April 10, 2008
We've passed the 10,000 mark 10,000 letters forwarded since we began our stint of forwarding letters! Let there be hoopla! Let there be fanfare! Let there be dancing in the streets! (Well, maybe after the sleet stops...).
War Letters: Lost & Found
April 9, 2008
The National Postal Museum, in association with Andrew Carroll's Legacy Project, has an online exhibit of recovered war letters. These letters, which were on display at the Museum a couple years ago, were written during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War. All of them were lost or thrown away and then later found by strangers at garage sales, in attics, or simply in the garbage. The site includes text excerpts as well as photocopies of the original letters. (Carroll has published a number of books of war letters; his book Behind the Lines was featured in Issue 11).
April 1, 2008
LEX today announced plans to extend its market. "We've focused on the Earth for a long while, and we're ready for expansion," explained Chief of Surgery and Advertising Lonna Riedinger. "We're especially reaching out to Mars, Venus, and Jupiter, but anyone in the Solar System is welcome to subscribe." Transterrestrial endeavors are always a risk, but even more so in the case of letters. "The postage needed for these letters will be slightly higher," said Vice President of Orchid Gardening and Finance Gary Marvin. "A First Class letter to Mars, for example, requires a $32,837.15 stamp. But we're confident that there's enough interest in alien correspondence to overcome this slight impediment." An added incentive is that letter writers on other planets are often especially enthusiastic. E-mail has barely started to become widely available on Jupiter, and the length of the day on Venus leaves many Venusians with ample time on their hands. "There's only so many episodes of Gilligan's Island you can watch in a 2-month evening," said G'norh'k, one of LEX's first new subscribers. "Eventually you want to do something more meaningful while waiting for bedtime, and letter writing is a great choice." Stay tuned for future expansion plans to Alpha Centauri and other nearby star systems.
Whole Lotta Writin' Goin' On
March 27, 2008
Do you believe that Elvis Presley didn't die in 1977 and is still alive? A lot of people do, and they still write him fan letters, as this site shows. Another site is run by the director of the documentary film The Truth About Elvis, where you can read letters [link no longer active] meant to eventually be published as a book, which the director says will be sent to various family and friends of Elvis in the hopes that it will eventually get to him. And if you'd like to read letters written to Elvis by newlyweds at The Elvis Wedding Chapel of Las Vegas, check them out here [link times out as of October 2012]. We don't guarantee a response from The King, though...
Now C here
March 14, 2008
The theme for this year's Graceful Envelope Contest, conducted by the Washington Calligraphers Guild and sponsored by the National Association of Letter Carriers, is "C's the Day". Envelope designs can involve anything that starts with the letter C, and need to be postmarked by April 30. "C" the contest website for suggestions and the exact requirements for submitting an entry, as well as displays of winners from previous years.
Onward and upward
March 2, 2008
Or at least upward. Yes, U.S. postage is going up yet again, in May. First Class and postcards will rise by 1¢, letters to Canada by 3¢, and International letters by 4¢. At the same time, as happened last May, some classes of bulk mail (what many people refer to with a different name) will be going down...
The first Adams family
February 24, 2008
You may have noticed some words faintly peering out from the postmarks of letters recently, sometimes more readably than others. It's a quote from John Adams: "Let us dare to read, think, speak and write." The postmark is being used in February and March to advertise an upcoming miniseries on HBO about John Adams, a prolific letter writer. The USPS refers to its promotion as "The Power of the Letter" [link times out as of October 2012], and includes a link to the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Family site, which presents the text (with scans of the original pages) of well over 1000 letters between John and Abigail Adams, from 1762 through 1801.
Spreading the Word
February 17, 2008
Would you like to help spread positive feelings? There's a new site devoted to doing just that, using... handwritten letters! It's Elphos.org [link no longer active], "a not for profit community literacy project dedicated to spreading words of hope, appreciation, and happiness to those around us". It's quite new and the site navigation is still in progress (here's a link to the blog [last updated 2008] that explains more about the vision and history), but it looks like it has potential. Here's how it works you download their letterhead and write a positive letter to someone. That someone can then go to the Elphos web site printed on the letterhead and respond or comment. You can also write a letter that you don't mail to a deceased loved one, or a public figure, for example and send a copy or scan to Elphos to be posted on the site.
February 16, 2008
Remember a few weeks ago when we were trying to decide between Martian Green and Lift-Off Lemon for the Issue 15 cover? Well, when you get your issue (and that should be soon, since we mailed it yesterday), you may notice that it's the same color as Issue 11. We were trying not to repeat colors until necessary, using all the possible cover stocks first, but there was a mixup with the printer and we were distressed to open the newly-delivered boxes of Lex to discover Vulcan Green. We're quite upset about it but not $1450 upset, which is what it would have taken to have it redone. The problem occurred because we gave the specifications over the phone, and apparently were misheard. We should have written them a letter...
Keeping the memory alive
February 1, 2008
Letters have appeared in many songs, often in light-hearted form ("Please, Mr. Postman", for example). Sometimes, though, the full power of letters comes through. According to most reviews, this is the case with the album "There's No Love In This War", by The Gunshy, the musical pseudonym of Matt Arbogast of Chicago. The 17 songs on the album are each based on a letter sent by Matt's grandfather Paul Arbogast to his wife Julia during the latter half of World War II. Reviewers use terms like "personal and profound", and "heartbreaking" to describe the result. You can hear an extensive interview with Matt on NPR here, and also see a page from one of the letters.
Yellow or green or...
January 24, 2008
It's cover color decision time again. Issue 15 is nearing its journey to the printer after a few more layout fixes it will be proofing week, after which we send off the files and wait eagerly for the boxes of LEX to arrive. That means we need to tell the printer what color the cover should be. Originally we thought of matching the colors to the seasons various greens for the Summer issue, red and yellows for Autumn, and blues for Winter (though this year white might be more appropriate), but there are only a few shades of each readily available in cover stock, plus that wouldn't allow scope for colors like purple.
Recently we've been working through the colors in the Wausau Astrobrights® line, with such fun names as Venus Violet, Celestial Blue, and Fireball Fuchsia. Combined with LEX's new "stamp" cover, some of the bright colors are actually not the best choice for readability, although we're experimenting with a lighter gray inset in the stamp design. We're trying to avoid repeating colors from the first few years too soon, as well as avoiding colors too similar for consecutive issues, so it looks like the choice this time comes down to Martian Green or Lift-Off Lemon.
More and more
January 13, 2008
The Smithsonian traveling exhibition More Than Words, [link no longer active] which includes numerous examples of the hand-illustrated letters of American artists (see "The Art of Letters," Issue #11), has added yet another venue, the J. Wayne Stark University Galleries at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. This show begins next month, after which it moves to Kansas and then has a 2-month as-yet-unscheduled period. We'll update here if that's filled in.
The healing power of letters
January 7, 2008
Sometimes letters are just fun, but they can also be an important part of resolving emotional distress, expressing unexpressed feelings, or simply enhancing a relationship. Bonnie Birnam and Sharon Alworth, in their book Letters to Fathers from Daughters: A Pathway to Healing and Hope, present several hundred pages of real letters written by daughters to their fathers. They're now collecting letters for a second volume, as well as letters from daughters to mothers and from sons to fathers and mothers. You can submit letters for the upcoming books at their web site, or use their guidelines to write your own letters, either to send or for your own benefit. They also have an upcoming book of tips, Putting Your Heart on Paper: A Guide to Writing Letters for Healing.
Neither snow nor ice nor hungry eagles...
December 30, 2007
In some places this time of year, various forms of frozen water laying around on the ground can make the mail a harrowing adventure. Not so for the residents of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, though. They rise above the situation by sending and receiving letters by Owl Post. Of course, various forms of frozen water falling down from the sky can be a problem for mail carriers with wings...
The first Christmas card
December 18, 2007
If you've ever found a box of decades-old Christmas cards in an attic, you know how different they used to be from the cards being sold today. Ever wonder what the very first ones looked like? Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University has a copy of what is generally thought to be the first mass-produced Christmas card, dating back to 1843; handwritten versions go back several more centuries. A history of Christmas cards with numerous early examples can be found at the web site of the Livaudais family. And to see some non-English examples, check out the Odessa Numismatics Museum's online collection.
The Oblinger Letters
December 12, 2007
There are lots of books collecting the letters of the famous literary, political, and scientific figures but sometimes the most interesting are the everyday letters of ordinary folks, those who had no hint that their writing might ever be of interest outside their family and circle of friends. Many of these collections are online at the web sites of historical societies, personal web pages, and academic institutions. One such is the Oblinger family letters from the Nebraska State Historical Society's collection. About 3,000 pages of letters written by Uriah and Mattie Oblinger and others from 1862 to 1911 are presented in both text and image format some are cross-written, like the example presented in LEX Issue 8, a method of writing 90 degrees across the main body of the letter in order to add more without needing another sheet of paper, a valuable commodity on the frontier. The letters are searchable by subject, and the site includes interpretive material as well.
Getting to be that time, part 3...
November 25, 2007
Mailing Christmas cards or letters from Canada? Canada Post has a 3-part chart [link no longer active] showing the recommended dates for them to be in the mail in order to get where they're going in time. Still plenty of time (but it's always amazing how quickly the sands run through the hourglass) if you're mailing by Letter-post within Canada or to the U.S., but if the envelopes are going farther you might want to hurry, since tomorrow is the International send-by date.
Getting to be that time, part 2...
November 18, 2007
If you're mailing holiday cards or letters from the U.S., the chart of mailing dates isn't as much fun to use as the U.K. version, but it's online too go to the USPS Holiday Press Room [link no longer active] and click on the November 9 press release to see when mail is recommended to be in the system for Christmas delivery.
Getting to be that time...
November 12, 2007
Yes, soon it will be that time when many people send the most personal mail of the year (or the only personal mail of the year) the Christmas card season. British Royal Mail has a cool way of making sure your cards get delivered on time an online calculator [link changed]. Just pick the destination and the type of delivery, and the calculator will tell you when you need to have the cards in the mail. Some of the deadlines are coming up already if you want to mail from the UK to the USA by Surface Mail, for example, to be sure of delivery by Christmas you should have the cards in the mail by two weeks ago. Air Mail, and First Class within the UK, has a little more leeway.
October 31, 2007
Remember the Canadian "Supernatural" stamps that we mentioned in last year's Halloween blog? (See below.) Those aren't the only ones Belgium and France issued some in 2004, with a more cartoony feel than the Canadian stamps, although those from Belgium do have a little eeriness about them.
Now that postage is available from private companies, you can also find quite a number of designs, ranging from Edward Gorey-inspired line drawings (Gothic Postage Stamps) to the painted (artist Gina Signore's black cat) [link no longer active] to poster-style [link times out as of October 2012]. If you're used to getting stamps at the post office the custom stamp prices are a little scary, but well within reason for a special effect for holiday letters, or just for fun.
So long, R2-D2
October 23, 2007
If you've been meaning to check out one of the USPS mailboxes painted to resemble the Star Wars character, better be quick, because on (or perhaps beginning on, the press release isn't clear) October 25, they'll be moved to US military bases. A bit late, we've finally tracked down a map [link no longer active] of all or most of the locations created by fans we don't have the software plugin needed to view it (we're very cautious with security on the LEX computer), but it's followed by a list of the addresses/intersections where people have found the mailboxes.
The S weekend
October 12, 2007
Issue 14 is back from the printer! The color pages look great, and we think you'll like the photo spread too we've been holding our breath, but one of the benefits of professional printing is that graphics come out much better than on the laser printers we use for checking as we work on the layout. Now come the S tasks stuffing, sealing, stamping, and stickering (labeling, actually, but that's not as euphonious). Monday we'll be mailing or perhaps we should say sending, to keep the alliteration...
October 2, 2007
Despite the vagaries of computers lots of trouble uploading the files to the printer this time, perhaps because the color pages increased the size significantly, or maybe it's the lack of sunspots Issue 14 is beginning the print process. We're eager to see how the color comes out, having never had anything printed in color before. Timing is good for this issue they should be delivered approximately on October 12, a Friday, giving a couple days to sit and flatten a bit before being mailed on Monday, October 15.
Fun with words
September 25, 2007
Did you know that LEX helps to "find the parts of big persons"? That's one of the results of putting our front page through the Babel Fish translator at Alta Vista. Hours of hilarity await as the computerized program translates words and sentences without the benefit of a live interpretation. Here's one way to play: put a web site's URL into the "Translate a Web page" box and choose a language to translate it to. When the result pops up, copy some of the text, go back to the main Babel Fish page and put it into the "Translate a block of text" box, choosing the reverse language, i.e. Greek to English if you chose English to Greek in the first step.
If you were using human translators, the results should be pretty close to the original some different wording due to the colloquialisms and shadings of meaning that make languages not exact duplicates, but the actual information should be accurate, and the grammar should be right. With the machine, though, the grammar can be wildly off ("They know palling never are, what represents above!"), and the actual facts way off the mark ("Helen Keller the contractor"), including the introduction or deletion of "not" changing the meaning entirely. Sometimes the result is even an improvement, such as this rather poetic description of Ghost Letters: "The letters of the phantom leave you in character". [2012 update - this link nows goes to a sire owned by Microsoft, and although there are still some oddities, the translations are much more accurate, even when a block of text is taken through several different languages. It can still be fun, though, resulting in such phrases as "brag about contemporary events to your cat."
The power of words?
September 16, 2007
We noted in a recent entry how seldom people seem to be selling stationery at garage sales notecards, greeting cards, yes, but seldom actual stationery. So guess what we started finding, at more than one sale, the next week or two? Hmm. Let's see if we can extend that. "Ahem. You know what we seldom see people selling at garage sales? $50 bills at half price..."
LEX in the news
September 6, 2007
Today's Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune features a nice story entitled "For the love of letters", about "a passionate group devoted to writing and receiving personal snail mail." Guess who the group is? Yes, it's LEX! The story came about when the reporter found Wendy Russ's wonderful site [link no longer active] about letter writing; Wendy, who's also featured in the story, suggested the reporter interview us too. Thank you Wendy!
Spunge tents and gidness
September 3, 2007
History buffs, healthcare workers, and hypochondriacs might be among those interested in Patients' Voices in Early 19th Century Virginia: Letters to Doct. Carmichael & Son, an online exhibit by the University of Virginia, consisting of approximately 700 letters written to Dr. James Carmichael and his son, Dr. Edward Carmichael, mostly by patients. They describe their symptoms, ask for house calls or delivery of medicines, offer free turkeys... The letters are organized chronologically, with a scan of the actual letter next to a transcript. One can search for names and places, by symptoms and treatments (a strong stomach helps here), or read an analysis by Laura Shepherd, M.D. of what the letters indicate about the way health and medicine were viewed almost two centuries ago.
Still more "More"
August 25, 2007
Another venue has been added for the Smithsonian traveling exhibition More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art [link no longer active] (see "The Art of Letters," Issue #11) the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, FL in early summer 2009. The exhibition is currently at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia; it will be moving to Texas in November, with stops in Kansas, Wisconsin, and Louisiana before winding up at the newly-added Florida show; still open for possible booking are late winter/early spring and late summer/early fall of 2008. We're looking forward to seeing the exhibition in Wisconsin at the end of next year.
Paper, paper everywhere
August 18, 2007
Yesterday we were pawing through some notecards at a garage sale looking for interesting ones (we're pretty picky), and we realized something there are large amounts of notecards and greeting cards at garage sales, but very little stationery we're still using some that we probably bought at least 5 years ago, and we've seen almost none since then. Not just none that we like, but close to none at all. So we started wondering do people buy less stationery, or do they sell less because they've used it all? Our theory is that notecards are one of those things that people get lots of as presents, and since most people don't do all that much writing these days, a lot of them end up at garage sales. We'll bet that Lexers don't have large amounts of either type to try to get rid of unless, of course, they came as presents from people with seriously different taste!
August 8, 2007
Read all of Jane Austen's many letters and wishing more would be found? Check out this new letter [lonk no longer active] from Jane to her sister Cassandra (you might or might not have to register). Well, not exactly newly found, and not exactly from Jane, who probably never gave opinions on young ladies named Britney or the rise of "chick lit"...
We're touched by your concern
August 3, 2007
Some people have e-mailed to make sure we're OK after the incredible bridge collapse in Minneapolis this week. Yes, we're fine a little spooked like most people in the metro area, since like much of the local population we had driven over the bridge fairly recently. In fact, a common topic of conversation at work, after checking that no one knows anyone directly involved, has gone along the lines of "When was the last time...?" And many people have said they feel an uncharacteristic nervousness driving over bridges these last couple days.
We didn't use the bridge daily, like many people the last time we drove on it was probably a month ago, although we did drive under it on the parkway it fell on, on the south side of the river, 6 days before the collapse at about that time of day. Even spookier, Lonna drove under the bridge on the north side of the river just before it collapsed. Literally a minute or so before she had gone about a third of a mile past it when she heard the crash of it falling, though neither of us knew what had happened til we got home and looked at the news to see why there were emergency vehicles going in that direction from more than 20 miles away. I went over there after work tonight to see if it had fallen on the street she had been on it hadn't, although one span with multiple crushed cars had landed no more than 50 feet from that street. This was the northern edge of the collapse, about half a block north of the railroad car that was crushed.
Some of you may remember the historic railroad bridge pictured in Issue 6. The 35W bridge was about 1500 feet east of that bridge. It's quite eerie to look at that area now, because even from a distance, where the remains of the bridge in the water and on the river banks aren't visible, the open area and unobstructed view of the 10th Avenue Bridge a block east of where 35W was are quite a shock. It will take a long time before the sense of unreality completely wears off even for those of us not really involved, and we can hardly imagine the trauma for those who were on the bridge at the time, or the people who saw it happen and went to help pull people out of the water, or worst of all those who knew someone who was traveling in that area and couldn't contact them.
More "More Than Words"
July 25, 2007
The Smithsonian traveling exhibition More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art [link no longer active] (see "The Art of Letters," Issue #11) has added another venue, the San Antonio Museum of Art in San Antonio, TX. The exhibition there will run from November through January. This leaves three more time periods open for possible booking early spring and fall of next year and summer 2009. We'll let you know if these spots are filled in or if any currently listed are cancelled.
Another art of letter writing
July 14, 2007
If one of the things you enjoy about letter writing is the tactile pleasure of paper, you might want to check out Envelope and Letter Folding, a web site with instructions on how to fold paper into letters and envelopes. There are more than 30 designs, including many origami-inspired ones such as crane, hawk, butterfly, or jumping frog. The graphic instructions are very detailed, although those of us not familiar with this activity might find them rather confusing possibly a more 3-dimensional form of drawing, with verbal description, would be nice.
These designs are by John Cunliffe, who founded the Envelope and Letter Folding Association in 1988. ELFA published several booklets of designs, and as of 2003, he was apparently either sending or selling them; this site [link no longer active] gives an address in England as well as the history of ELFA. There is also a more recent group in The Netherlands, ELFA-e, whose site includes diagrams, history, and links to their Yahoo group. If you become proficient at this skill, you may never have to lick an envelope (except the ones that come with bills) again!
"The letter always arrives at its destination"
July 3, 2007
The newest marketing slogan for USPS/Canada Post/Royal Mail/Australia Post/et al.? No, this is a statement famous in the field of epistolary studies, by Jacques Lacan. Frequently couched in terms of postmodernism, structuralism, and/or literary critique, the study of letters past, present, and fictional is an active field at a number of colleges and universities. The discourse is often distinctly academic; a review of Thomas O. Beebee's Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850, for example, notes that Beebee proposes "a 'pan-European' metaphysics of the letter, its feedback loops, power-gradients, and white-noise effects."
Reading the future
June 24, 2007
Several years ago there was a short web discussion on the pros and cons of writing letters now to be given to members of one's family in the future a not-yet-met spouse, a not-yet-born child. The consensus was that there were some if-I-knew-then advantages (as the page sub-heading notes), but also some serious risks, particularly in the future spouse scenario. The full discussion can be seen here.
Reading the present
June 17, 2007
Issue 13 was mailed on Friday some First Class subscribers (you're all first class to us, of course, but we refer to the postage...) could even have it now, although most should see it arrive this week. The USPS site no longer gives estimates for International delivery times, but toward the end of the coming week or slightly longer should be a good guess for most people, depending on location. Standard Mail is the most variable, with some coming this week and some possibly as late as the first week of July ZIP codes starting with 0, 3, and 9 seem to be the slowest, but it all depends on the volume of mail going to any particular place. Whenever it arrives, we hope you enjoy our bright cover and find a lot of good reading inside!
Reading the past
June 12, 2007
Do you have letters or diaries from your ancestors? Or do you enjoy reading books or web sites of such, either for research or enjoyment? Then you might be interested in Making Sense of Letters & Diaries, an extensive online guide to using letters and diaries as historical information, by Steven Stowe, who teaches history at Indiana University. Topics include the differences between the two formats, the value for historians and those interested in the emotional life of people in the past, how to interpret them (including such details as the meaning of "D.V." in the middle of a sentence), the conventions of letters in particular eras (for example, why a 19th century girl named Mary might be addressed as Athena in a letter), and others. Many passages from letters and diaries are included, and there are links to more information, a list of web sites to visit, and sample exercises in text interpretation.
Forevermore or just more?
June 3, 2007
By now you've probably seen and been using the new "forever stamps", the ones that can be bought now and saved to be used any time in the future, no matter what the First Class postage is at that time. The convenience of not having to buy stamps in little "make-up" denominations is obvious, but overall are these a good deal? Perhaps, but it depends a lot on how long they're kept before being used and how much the postage increases. Here's an interesting calculation we just made:
If forever stamps had been available 10 years ago, when the postage was 32¢, a roll of 100 would have been $32, obviously. Today they could be used to mail 100 letters for a cost less than stamps sell for now. But if that $32 had been put in a money market account at 5% interest, it would have increased to $52.12, and would buy 127 of today's 41¢ stamps...
May 24, 2007
True to its number, Issue 13 is being a bit uncooperative in making its journey to the printer. Nothing insurmountable, just little inconveniences coming one after the other for example, a book ordered from University storage is missing the one page we wanted it for, a scan of a handwritten letter we intended for The World of Letters. But the voting for the haiku contest is in and the prizes ordered, so all in all things are pretty much on track. Now we just need the weather to cooperate we're working on the "Summer" issue with a space heater in LEX World Headquarters!
Higher and higher...
May 14, 2007
Today postage increases in the US. First class mail (i.e. most letters) goes up to 41¢ postcards to 26¢. Most other charges are changing too, usually upward, although a few, such as the additional-ounce First Class rate, are actually going down. New Postal Pricing in 2007 [link changed] highlights some common changes and includes a link to more detailed info.
Did she or didn't she...
May 6, 2007
Of course, we all know letters are priceless... but sometimes they have a price. Recently a note written by hand in 1557 by Mary, Queen of Scots, at the age of 15, was sold on eBay for about $3200.
Not everyone in Scotland was happy to see this letter won by an American bidder. This isn't the first time there has been controversy over Mary's letters, however. A royal inquiry into the possibility that her second husband was murdered by her third husband (presumably with her involvement) revolved around eight Casket Letters [link no longer active] she allegedly wrote to him (the name comes from the silver box they were claimed to have been found in). The authenticity of these letters is in question, and some historians are convinced they're fraudulent, due to the handwriting and to mistakes in French grammar that she would have been too well-versed in French to have made, as well as the suspicious timing of their being found.
Less "More Than Words"
April 25, 2007
If you were planning to visit Arkansas next year to see the Smithsonian traveling exhibition More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art, [link no longer active] it looks like you'll need to find another reason to go to that fair state. The Arkansas venue has been dropped from the tour's itinerary recently; it's still scheduled for California, Georgia, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Louisiana, with 4 more dates available in 2008 and 2009.
"Dear Friend: Why Writing Letters Still Matters"
April 16, 2007
That's the name of a very nice article which appeared in various publications last week. It's always heartening to read about those who enjoy writing letters, and in this case there's an extra attraction for us LEX co-editor Lonna was interviewed for this article. Our e-mail brings us a wide variety of inquiries, from requests for LEX information to offers to share secret tips about hot stocks (for a price, of course). And a couple of weeks ago a freelance writer asked if we would electronically chat with her about our experience in the world of letters. We're always glad to do that, and we hope you enjoy the resulting article as much as we do. Here's a link to one of the sites printing it.
Another "More Than Words" exhibit
April 8, 2007
The Smithsonian traveling exhibition More Than Words, [link no longer active] which includes numerous examples of the hand-illustrated letters of American artists (see "The Art of Letters," Issue #11), has added a seventh venue, the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, CA, from May 15 through July 17 of this year.
And today is...
April 1, 2007
LEX today announced a new location-based pricing structure. Beginning immediately, the cost of an annual subscription will be calculated by converting the ZIP Code of the subscriber's location to dollars for example, if you live in Avalon, CA, with the ZIP Code 90704, your cost for one year of LEX would be $907.04. Conversely, a subscriber in Warren, VT, where the ZIP Code is 05674, would only pay $56.74. "We think this new procedure will more accurately correlate with the economic realities of the country, such as the higher gas prices in the West," said LEX co-editor Lonna Riedinger. Another way to look at it would be that your subscription rate will be the same as your ZIP Code in pennies. That person in Avalon would owe 90,704 pennies, in other words. "Of course, we won't be insisting on pennies only - we'll also accept nickels and dimes, as well as quarters if they have your specific state on the reverse," said LEX co-editor Gary Marvin. Subscriptions outside the U.S. would work the same way, with the addition of currency conversion a Lexer in New Malden, England, would need to convert £KT33.RQ to US$ at prevailing bank rates.
Also, in accordance with truth in marketing principles, from today on we will, to match the name of the magazine, be forwarding only letters T, for example, or H. "This will be a great boon to my correspondence," said Lexer Coral Hargatter. "My life isn't very interesting, and under the old system I ran out of things to say quickly. Now a single incident can be talked about for months." This new procedure will be welcomed especially by those who use text-messaging as they already are familiar with words such as "u" and "yr". We do recommend, however, dispensing with the traditional salutation at the beginning of an epistle if you write as often as once a week, it will take you a month to start out with "Dear."
May the Force be on your envelopes
March 28, 2007
If you went to the USPS [link changed] home page today, you might have thought at first glance that you were at a Star Wars site, complete with character images, a place to vote for the Galactic Empire or the Rebel Alliance... it's part of a huge merchandising effort for the Star Wars stamps that will be available beginning May 25, the 30th anniversary of the premiere of the first film. For the last 2 weeks 400 mailboxes across the country have been painted to look like R2-D2; there will be Star Wars Express Mail envelopes; you can vote for your favorite of the 15 stamps, and the winner will be released later this year as a single issue. You can even enter a sweepstakes and become a Jedi Shipping & Mailing Master (we're not making this up...really...)
Notice how they never go down...?
Mail early, mail often
March 23, 2007
On May 14, First Class postage in the US will go up to 41¢, and postcard postage will go up to 26¢. So if you've been thinking about responding to listings in LEX, now's a great time. And before you use up all your 39¢ stamps, remember to send in new listings for the Summer Issue, because letter writers aren't about to let 2¢ stop them. Send in your Letters to LEX on the topic of memorable letter-writing experiences (the good, the bad, and the funny), and your haiku for the special contest, too – the deadline of April 15 is fast approaching (which reminds us of another little item that has to be in the mail by that date... sigh...)
"Letter Writer, Main Post Office, Saigon"
March 15, 2007
Before literacy was widespread, people who needed something written a contract, legal document, or important letter often went to a professional scribe who would write for them. In today's global world, the need is more often for a translator between languages. Last week's edition of Der Spiegel has an article about 77-year-old Duong Van Ngo, the last professional writer working at the main post office in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, writing business letters, love letters, and mailing addresses, using a fountain pen to connect people across continents.
Perhaps Francis Bacon wrote his letters
March 7, 2007
The controversy over whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays and poems attributed to him goes back more than 200 years among several writers often mentioned as possible authors, Francis Bacon is particularly popular at present because of claims that he inserted various codes into the works to reveal his identity to those who could solve them. Various reasons are given as grounds to question whether Shakespeare wrote the works, from mistakes in geography to questions of his family's literacy; it's also suspicious to some that there appear to be no surviving letters to or from the most famous writer in the English language.
Album stamps for stamp albums
February 25, 2007
British Royal Mail recently issued a set of postage stamps that in only a month has become the most popular non-royal stamp set ever sold. It's a series of 6 designed to look like stacks of Beatles albums, each stamp having a different album on the top and thus fully visible. Here's an article [link no longer active] about the stamps. These are by no means the first Beatles stamps here's a site [link no longer active] that lists dozens of different designs, including a pun that may or may not be intentional the Republic of Abkhazia's set featuring Marx and Lennon (Groucho and John)!
An 'interest'ing thought
February 12, 2007
If you sent us a check a while ago, even as far back as December, and are wondering why it hasn't cleared the bank yet, not to worry. We're even farther behind than usual in mundane things like deposits; we've both been working extra hours at our day jobs, and spending most of the rest of the time on Issue 12. We'll be depositing everything tomorrow, and we apologize for the long span but the silver lining is that you get a little more silver, i.e. an extra month's interest on the amount we haven't put in yet!
Issue 12 is at the printer!
February 6, 2007
We sent the files for Issue 12 to the printer yesterday there's one file for the cover, and one for what we call the "issue" and the printer calls the "guts". We hope everyone is looking forward to it there'll be well over 200 listings, 4 extra pages, LEX history material, a (slightly) new cover design, and an announcement about the first of two special contests this year. No bathtubs, though...
Ever read your mail in the bath?
January 31, 2007
Most postcards have landscape scenes, famous buildings, or other outdoor subjects but here's a site devoted to the art of the bathtub, [link no longer active] including hundreds of bathtub-oriented postcards, both historic, contemporary, and handmade. Bathtub cakes, articles on bathtub races and bathtub boats, and other surprising bathtub fun too!
It's not just for fun
January 21, 2007
As enjoyable as letter writing is, it can also be a means of therapy for psychological issues, including child abuse, cancer, eating disorders, and other serious situations:
Many other web sites and several books are available on this subject, for example Letters Home: How Writing Can Change Your Life by Terry Vance (a book which some feel provides a means for a healing catharsis, while others, including some therapists, find its focus on expressing anger a potentially destructive device).
Snail mail as the precursor of the modern age
January 15, 2007
"Before we became a nation of e-mailing, text-messaging, Blackberrying technology addicts, we had to become a nation of letter writers." So begins the press release for a recently published book, The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America by University of Berkeley associate professor of history David M. Henkin. The book examines the popularity of long-distance postal communication in the 1800s and argues that it laid the foundation for an interconnected culture long before computers or telephones.
Those Christmas pens
January 7, 2007
Did you receive colored pens for Christmas like we did? If so, here's a suggestion for using them. The Graceful Envelope Contest (mentioned below in September and March) is now accepting entries for the 2007 competition, with the theme A Mailable Feast. Envelopes will be accepted until April 30, 2007. Last year 41 envelopes were selected out of about 375 submitted, so everyone has a good chance.
The rarest of the rare
December 29, 2006
Not having any luck in the lotteries? Here's another way to get rich just find a rare stamp and sell it! Well, maybe easier said than done, because the big money goes for stamps so rare that only one or two are known to exist, and the prices can be astounding. Most of the really rare ones are printing errors that were caught before more than a few stamps were made, but others were extremely limited releases to begin with. Lee's Illustrated Stamp Listopedia has photos of some examples. The alleged second copy of the magenta stamp at the top is now widely believed to be a fake; the Three Skilling Banco was declared a forgery by Sweden Post a few decades ago, but later examined by experts and pronounced real. Can you imagine spending more money than many people make in a lifetime on a stamp, only to learn later that it's a common stamp that's been tampered with?
Let the celebration begin!
December 20, 2006
Whee! LEX's 25th birthday is generating enthusiasm many Lexers who've been taking a break for a few issues are re-subscribing and the Winter Issue will have lots of listings. There'll be letters of reminiscence, and several generous Lexers have sent in articles and memorabilia about LEX history; we've started work on a timeline. Watch for the first birthday issue in February!
Are you ready for 2007?
December 11, 2006
The list of 2007 stamps is out actually, it's been out for several weeks. There's a wealth of new images coming chocolate love, Oklahoma Statehood, Ella Fitzgerald, James Stewart, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Northern Lights and Southern Lights, Jamestown Settlement (which looks to be a triangular stamp we don't recall ever seeing those before), a wedding symbol, 4 different wildflowers being pollinated (one by a bat!), 10 images of tundra, 5 lighthouses, 20 Marvel superheroes, a Tiffany image, 4 mahogany speedboats, 4 Disney cartoons, an early desegregation lawsuit, jury duty, 4 holiday knits, and a Madonna. You can see color pictures [link no longer active] and a detailed discussion of the topic depicted on each stamp at the USPS website.
When Christmas stamps aren't enough
December 5, 2006
Again this year you can have your holiday cards postmarked from Frost, Rudolph, or almost 100 other cities with holiday-sounding names. Or you can have your child (of any age) write a letter to Santa and get a reply from the Big Red Guy. Information and a list of the holiday cities is available at the USPS Holiday [link no longer active] website. You'll need to hurry cards should arrive at the post offices by December 14 in order to be delivered by Christmas.
By the buy...
November 27, 2006
We've added some shopping links to our resource page, The Writer's Block stationery, pens, etc. We've looked for sites that have something a bit out of the ordinary, and tried to focus on independent or family-owned businesses that aren't well-known. Most of the online stores have an affiliate program, so if you go to them through our links, we'll get a commission on everything you buy a great way to help support LEX. And if you don't see anything you want now, check back later, because we'll be adding more links as time goes by.
Speaking of snails...
November 23, 2006
It's always good to allow a little extra time for mail delivery around the winter holidays...but 14 years? A letter to the editor [link no longer active] of the British newspaper The Independent reports on a postcard mailed from Israel in 1991 that arrived at its destination in Hampshire, UK in 2005!
Not so lost after all
November 13, 2006
While it's become almost a mantra in some parts of our culture to say that writing letters is a thing of the past (a Google search for "art of letter writing" brings up 314,000 hits, 236,000 of which also come up for "lost art of letter writing"), others know better. Today's Rose is Rose [link no longer active] comic strip is a fun example (hopefully the theme will continue in the next few days). Or take a look at the write more letters section of 43 Things, a website whose users encourage each other to achieve their goals, and see what hundreds of people are saying about writing letters. There are also sections for write more letters by hand and find a pen pal we have an idea how they could do that!
Voting by mail
November 7, 2006
For those who live in the U.S., today is Election Day, traditionally known as "going to the polls". Increasingly, though, voting is being conducted through the mail. Absentee voting, when one is away from home at election time or has a disability making it difficult to get to the polls, has a long tradition, but the new trend in some places is to encourage mail voting for everyone. One state, Oregon, has eliminated polling places altogether, and another, Washington, has a high percentage of voters with "permanent absentee" status. In all, 23 states have some form of "no excuse absentee" voting, which allows a person to choose to receive ballots by mail without having one of the traditional reasons. Usually ballots can be mailed back or taken to election offices, which often have drop boxes that look like USPS postal drop boxes except for the paint. Supporters (including a national movement, the Vote By Mail Project [link no longer active], say it increases voter participation, saves money, and avoids the potential mechanical problems of voting machines; opponents express concern about the possibility of fraud.
New Zealand uses a similar system in local elections, and the U.K. has trialled such a system, but experienced some logistical problems and accusations of fraud, as well as substantial opposition from voters. Canada, Spain, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark have allowed voting by mail for years or decades. In Germany and Ireland one can apply for permission to do so, and in Sweden one can go to the post office to vote early. A summary of postal voting by country can be found at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance's web site.
Is it real, or is it...?
November 5, 2006
In the very early 1900s, Kodak issued a small pocket camera, pre-loaded with film, with which people could take photographs to be printed onto mailable postcards, starting the "Real Photo Postcard" movement. Soon many people were sending real photos of their vacations and family milestones, and traveling photographers were going from city to city, documenting people, places, and events. Today these old postcards are valuable to historians (many show ordinary people in real situations), architectural restorers (they document buildings, including houses that may not otherwise have been photographed), and others, especially since cameras contained a small metallic pen with which the photographer could write the name, date, or other information describing the photograph onto the negative. Many can be found in antique shops for small prices, in attics and basements, and in family photo collections. But are they authentic or reproductions? There are two ways to tell, using a strong magnifying glass. If the picture is made up of a series of tiny dots, rather than a continuous image, then it's not a real photo. Also, a real photo will show a smooth rather than abrupt transition from one tone to another.
When the mail gets scary
October 31, 2006
Goblins and vampires and werewolves, oh my! (Ghosts too.) In 1997 Canada Post issued a series of 4 "Supernatural" stamps. Contrary to the cute effect one might expect on a postal stamp, these designs by German-born Louis Fishauf are actually quite eerie. You can view them (if you dare) on the 1997 page of the Postal Archives at Library and Archives Canada's web site. They're in the next to last row, and clicking on each stamp will bring up a larger picture and a description of the creature depicted.
When the mail gets dirty
October 26, 2006
The decrease in personal mail and the increase in postal deposit sites in supermarkets and malls aren't the only reasons that the traditional blue boxes are gradually disappearing. As this article [link no longer active] reports, abuse is also taking its toll. Apparently some people think it's fun to put things other than letters in the boxes, and sometimes that can result in the need to clean the mail before it can finish its journey.
Buy 'em once...
October 19, 2006
Canada is joining the growing list of countries with a permanent stamp that doesn't have a specific amount printed on it, and can therefore be used for current basic letter-rate mail even after a rate increase. Three designs can be viewed at the Canada Post press release [link no longer active]; it's not clear to us if all three will be available as permanent stamps when they go on sale November 16.
The Autumn issue is in the mail
October 12, 2006
Usually when our mailing date of the 15th is on a Sunday we mail the day before, but this year we have a family gathering on the weekend, so we popped everything in the mail today, the 12th. Rather than compete with the reds and yellows and oranges that have been festooning the landscape in Minnesota for the last couple of weeks, we chose a nice green for the cover, complemented with a blue special insert. First Class subscribers can start looking for it by the first half of next week, maybe even this weekend depending on distance and mail loads; the holiday catalog season has begun so some mail delivery might be a little slower than at other times of the year. International subscribers could see it show up by the end of next week. Standard Mail is more variable and more affected by mail volume; anywhere from next week through the end of October is possible depending on location. Whenever you get it, we hope you enjoy Issue 11!
The Autumn issue is in sight
October 6, 2006
Are you eagerly anticipating Issue 11? We hope so! We sent the files to the printer on Monday, approved the proofs on Tuesday, and expect to have boxes of issues by mid-week at the latest. We replenished our stamp supply today, so this weekend will see some stamping and labelling in preparation for next week's stuffing. And before we know it, it will be time to start on Issue 12!
Progress marches on, part 2
September 30, 2006
It's not just after a letter is collected that technological and social changes are causing some old traditions to fall by the wayside the collection process itself is changing, as this article in the Los Angeles Times reports. The ubiquitous blue box with its pull-down handle and list of collection times is becoming less common, particularly in residential neighborhoods, as mail deposit slots and even post offices sprout in malls and grocery stores and people conduct more transactions on the web. (This is not entirely a recent trend. We remember an official post office counter at The Basket Shoppe, a gift shop a block from college in the late 60s. But it had a blue box on the sidewalk outside for when the store was closed.)
Progress marches on
September 24, 2006
If you've looked at the outside of delivered mail in recent months, you've probably noticed there are many fewer envelopes sporting the traditional circle postmark. The USPS is switching to a 2-line style here's an article about the change. As it points out, the traditional circular postmarks have been getting less frequent for some time, due to postage meters and permit imprints (which have also reduced the number of actual stamps used, to the dismay of collectors), and the consolidation of processing and delivery centers has blurred the exact origin of even postmarked mail for some time it's been a while since one could look at an envelope or postcard and know the exact town it was mailed from. Something the article doesn't mention is that the new postmark lines, especially from areas with long names, are so wide that they can print partially over the return address on a standard postcard or small envelope looking through recent LEX mail we see several examples. Will these smaller items be phased out, will return addresses increasingly go on the back of envelopes (immune to the USPS machinery so far), or will the 2-line postmark be modified to take up less horizontal room? Time will tell.
To scroll or not to scroll
September 17, 2006
You might be familiar with our Issue-Related Links pages, where we put a few links to more information about the various topics covered in each issue of LEX relevant Web sites, books downloadable free from Gutenberg or available at libraries, and books you can buy at Powell's (which gives LEX a commission we can use to advertise for more subscribers). We've recently reformatted the Issue 10 links in a way that we think will make it easier to find items of interest not quite as compact as the way they were arranged for Issue 9 and before, but more organized. We think it's an improvement do you?
And the winners are...
September 11, 2006
You may remember that back in March we mentioned The Graceful Envelope Contest. Did you enter? About 375 people did, and the judges picked approximately 50 adults and a dozen children to have their envelopes exhibited on the Washington Calligraphers Guild's web site and elsewhere. This year's theme was "A Fine Line", and the winning envelopes range from the whimsical (including some puns on the word "line") to the serious. Winners from past years are there, too. It's obvious that a lot of careful effort went into the envelopes wouldn't you love to get one of these in your mailbox?
Fonts 'R' Not Us
September 1, 2006
Have you ever searched for us on the web and found yourself at the site of The Letter Exchange, a British "society for professionals involved in the whole spectrum of the lettering arts and crafts, from calligraphy and letter-cutting, through design for print, publishing and typography, to signage and architectural lettering"? They were founded in 1988 to support quality in the design of written, printed and manufactured language through exhibitions, art college courses, and a magazine called Forum. They have slightly over 100 professional members, of whom several dozen show examples of their work on the society's web site, www.letterexchange.org (note the ".org").
Put a what on it?
August 25, 2006
Each year since 1998, Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Public Affairs Director Ron Nief of Beloit College have released the Beloit College Mindset List, a list of the cultural paradigms that have shaped the outlook of entering college freshmen from the fact that the Soviet Union didn't exist in their lifetime to the ubiquity of ATMs to their probably never having made popcorn in a pan. This year, #36 on the list [link no longer active] is "They have rarely mailed anything using a stamp."
What price letters?
August 19, 2006
Many of us involved in this correspondence activity would say that letters are priceless, but there's a group that puts a price on them collectors of historical memorabilia. At an auction late last year, Geppi's Memorabilia Road Show sold a handwritten letter from General George Custer for $87,750; one from Abraham Lincoln went for $26,325, and John Wilkes Booth was not far behind at $22,230...
"...the men have not done too good a job..."
August 12, 2006
Abraham Lincoln on whiskers, Herbert Hoover on women as Presidents, Harry Truman explaining the difference (in his view, of course) between Democrats and Republicans these are some of the topics that Presidents wrote about in replies to children's letters. Connect For Kids [link no longer active] prints excerpts, from Washington to Nixon, from a book collection of such letters, Dear Young Friend: The Letters of American Presidents to Children by Stanley and Rodelle Weintraub.
How do you say "penpal" in Bosnian?
August 5, 2006
Are you learning a new language or brushing up on an old one, or would you like to try? Penpals can help! You could ask your current penfriends if they speak the lingo you're interested in and then try out your rusty French or beginning Turkish in letters. Or you could let My Language Exchange match you with a native speaker e-mail pal. You practice your new pal's language and your pal practices yours. Sounds fun!
There's a house on a hill...
July 28, 2006
In the mid-1970s Jane Roberts and her husband Rob Butts, who had been producing the "Seth" books for the last decade, were searching for a house in New York and Pennsylvania. They detailed their use of intuition in the search process in their books, especially The 'Unknown' Reality, Volume 2 and Psychic Politics, and in these and later books they referred to their eventual choice as "the hill house" because of its location on a hill in the outskirts of Elmira.
Shortly after Jane's death a decade later Rob wrote in the introduction to Seth, Dreams and Projection of Consciousness: "Eventually mail began to arrive addressed to us simply at 'The Hill House, Elmira, N.Y.' The people at the post office still see to it that such pieces are delivered."
Einstein on life, love, and relativity
July 19, 2006
The daughter of Albert Einstein's second wife bequeathed more than a thousand letters from and to Einstein to Hebrew University when she died in 1986, with the proviso that they not be made public until this year. They're now being released and reveal details about Einstein's various marriages and love affairs, as well as his relationship with his family, his thoughts about his flight from Nazi Germany, and his fear that he would become "fed up with relativity". An article about the letters' release can be found here.
Random acts of postcard
July 13, 2006
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Postcrossing, a free Web site dedicated to connecting random postcard senders around the world. Headquartered in Portugal, it operates in English and has more than 10,000 registered users in well over 100 countries who have sent close to 200,000 postcards. When you register you can request up to 5 random addresses at a time, and when your recipients register that they received your postcard (you'll be given code numbers to write on the cards), then your address will be given to the next user requesting addresses. The Web site includes statistics, maps, a forum, and a link to a users' gallery. The BBC has written a short article (scroll down) and a long article about Postcrossing. Check it out!
July 9, 2006
I've been thinking about the variety of letters I receive so many different styles of correspondence. Letters written with an orange calligraphy pen, letters with newspaper clippings included, letters on pretty stationery, letters on lined notebook paper, letters with sketches in them, handmade cards. I love it! I also like to organize ideas so I decided to plot the styles on a grid the kind with an X axis and a Y axis making four quadrants.
For the vertical Y axis I chose words/pictures. Some letters are all verbal and, at the other end of the axis, some letters are mostly visual (I'm thinking of some handmade holiday cards I get). For the horizontal axis I chose found/original as the two ends. For example, a newspaper clipping is found a separate inclusion while a handdrawn sketch within a letter is original.
So quadrant I, top left, is mostly words, letters alone, with clipped articles or book reviews, or printed in fancy fonts; quadrant III, bottom right, is mail art illustrated letters, handmade cards, decorated envelopes. Quadrant II is letters with calligraphy or with the words laid out creatively; quadrant IV is stickers and inserts of cartoons and photos.
I'm lucky to have penfriends from each of the four camps. I tend to be a quadrant I or IV person and I wish I had more talent for quadrant III. Where do you fall in the grand letter-writing scheme? Lonna
Letters of van Gogh
July 1, 2006
WebExhibits, an online museum, has a searchable and annotated collection of the letters of (and many to) Vincent van Gogh, some written in English and many of the originals translated into English by van Gogh's sister. They span the period from 19 years old to a letter written 6 days before his death at the age of 37, found on him after he died. The index to the letters allows the user to search for over 16,000 individual words or 62 topics, or well over 1000 artwork citations, as well as to read entire letters. Many of the letters not from Vincent are to him from his brother Theo (who is also the recipient of the bulk of the letters), and a few are from his parents to his brother. The site can be found here.
Insight from the comics
June 20, 2006
I ran across another one of those articles recently, about the importance of prioritization and time management. Essentially they say that what you do is what you really want to do, not what you say you want to do. Recently a Lexer sent us a Peanuts cartoon that illustrates the point perfectly. In the first panel, Charlie Brown is writing to a "pencil pal". In the next two panels he says he watches too much TV and wants to write more letters. In the final panel, he closes the letter by saying he has to go because his favorite program is coming on. And I have to go now, dear reader, because I'm going to go write a letter! Lonna
Issue 10 is here!
June 16, 2006
Issue 10 was mailed out yesterday First Class in the morning, and Standard Mail at the bulk station in the afternoon. We had some concerns about the weather and had the Standard issues wrapped in black plastic bags so they wouldn't get wet in the predicted heavy rain, but it held off til today so we didn't need them after all. This weekend we'll be updating the Web site with the issue-related links and a cover scan and table of contents and then cleaning LEX World Headquarters, which always looks like a windstorm has swept through it by the time an issue is carted off to the PO...
Issue 10 is getting near...
June 11, 2006
The Summer 2006 issue should be back from the printer within a day or two, ready for its June 15 mailing. This issue marks the beginning of our fourth year it's a cliché, but it really doesn't seem like it's been that long.
May 29, 2006
Heather Piper has started a very worthwhile project finding old letters that are being sold (in antique shops, on eBay. etc.) and returning them to the descendants of the original authors. If you have any letters to contribute, or want to see if she has a letter from one of your ancestors, her Web site is The Epistolary (Letter) Project.
May 22, 2006
Issue 10 is making progress we have all but one page completed in its rough form. Now comes proofreading (listings have gone through 3 proofs before they're even put in the layout, but sometimes we find something anyway), fine-tuning the spacing so everything lines up nicely (which was easier back in the pre-word processor days, when there weren't different sizes of fonts and blank lines), and trying to get the best look to the drawings and photos (which is partially guesswork, since the final result is pressed from plates). We're aiming at having the copy to the printer by June 5 June 2 would be even better, but we like to let it sit for a week while we pretend not to think about it and then check it one final time to see if there's any trees we couldn't see for the forest when we were immersed in it...
Stamps forever or at least a "forever stamp"
May 13, 2006
The USPS is proposing another rate increase for next year, due to the rising cost of gas and health care they have 42 cents in mind. At the same time, they're suggesting issuing a "forever stamp", which would be sold at whatever the going rate for First Class is at the time of sale, and then be good for First Class postage forever. So a forever stamp bought at 42 cents could be used when the price rises to 45, or 50, or $1.89 (just kidding...we hope). No information yet on whether people could hoard forever stamps and later sell them at a rate between their original purchase and some future price...
A good cause
May 2, 2006
On Saturday, May 13, mail carriers in many areas will be picking up donations of non-perishable food from residential mailboxes for delivery to local food shelves. Here's a description from last year's press release:
"Letter carriers in more than 10,000 cities and towns across America will collect non-perishable food items donated by postal customers on the second Saturday of May. They will be participating in the annual National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Food Drive the largest one-day food drive in the nation. Almost 1,500 local NALC branches in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands will collect food donations left by mailboxes and in Post Offices and deliver them to local community food banks, pantries and shelters.
'The NALC Food Drive makes a difference for thousands of disadvantaged Americans, and we are proud to be a partner,' said Postmaster General John E. Potter. 'The drive is a wonderful occasion for us to join forces and collect millions of pounds of food for distribution to community food banks and other charitable organizations.' In 2004, the drive collected a record 70.9 million pounds of food for the needy, making the total amount of donations to community food banks and pantries from the NALC Food Drive over the last 12 years well over a half billion pounds.
The NALC Food Drive has received numerous accolades, including two Presidential Certificates of Achievement, a Special Appreciation Award in 2003 from America's Second Harvest Food Bank Network, the annual Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2003 from Bon Appetit/Food Network and the annual World Hunger Year/Chapin Award in 2004.
More than 110 million postcards were mailed to customers in towns and cities throughout America letting them know how they can help. Customers who may not have received a postcard can check with their local Post Office to make sure it is a part of the drive this year, and then just place non-perishable food items next to their mailbox before the letter carrier delivers the mail. The letter carrier will do the rest by taking the food to the Post Office where it is sorted and delivered to an area food bank or pantry.
An estimated 30 million people face hunger every day in America, including more than 12 million children. This drive is one way you can help those right in your own city or town who need help."
Horses and letters
April 25, 2006
Recently I read another article comparing letter-writing and e-mail and attributing the decline of one to the rise of the other. I've said in an earlier blog entry that I think the phone started the decline in letter-writing, but I keep worrying at the idea, egged on by more articles. And remembering those standardized tests of my youth ("a is to b as c is to ___"), I'm inspired to compare relationships: I'm thinking that letter-writing today is to e-mail as horse-riding is to airplanes. Yep, that's it. For a long time horse-riding was the method of transporting people across distances but then there were trains and steam ships, automobiles and airplanes. Today horse-riding is more likely for fun. It might be the fun of riding or the fun of racing and betting or some other satisfying activity known to the members of the horse-loving community. Just so, letter-writing is a method of communication and for a long time was the method of keeping in touch with family and friends (and doing business) at a distance. Other technologies have largely replaced letters for that the telephone, e-mail, cell phones, text messaging (with a detour of exchanging video tapes and cassette tapes). Today people write letters because they want to, not because it's the only game in town. It might be the satisfaction of getting to know new people, the novelty of doing that at a distance, the pleasure of the paraphernalia like pens and papers, the comfort of reading or writing a letter at leisure, or the creativity of illustrations, stamps, enclosures, or envelope art. It's not a lost art (yeah, the articles like to say that, too), it's a new focus: no longer primarily utilitarian, letter-writing can expand and morph and meet many different needs and desires. Lonna
On the other end of the spectrum from extra millions...
April 16, 2006
Well, the LEX taxes are finally done. They were so much fun that we hate to see it end but it's almost time to start putting together Issue 10, so we had to wrap things up and get them in the mail...
Have an extra million?
April 5, 2006
$1,187,000, to be exact. That's the price of the Peace Pen, the world's most expensive writing instrument, a one-of-a-kind pen made by Montegrappa, an Italian company renowned for its artistic pens. Crafted of platinum and crystal and decorated with 1259 diamonds (at least one of which is functional, exposing a hidden clip), the pen is engraved with 184 doves and yes, it works!
"Handwritten letter-writing is very much with us"
April 3, 2006
That's the opinion of A. Michael Noll, professor of communications at the University of Southern California, quoted in a recent story on CNN [link no longer active]. He reports being surprised that more than half the students in his class say they send handwritten letters.
A Mailbox Comic
March 25, 2006
If you haven't already seen it, check out today's Rose is Rose comic strip... [link no longer active]
The Graceful Envelope
March 19, 2006
There's still time to enter The Graceful Envelope contest the deadline for the 12th annual contest is Friday, March 31, 2006. This year's contest is sponsored by the Washington Calligrapher's Guild and the National Association of Letter Carriers with the theme of The Fine Line. From the call for entries: "...design an artistic envelope around any kind of line: lines from movies, songs, books, poems and plays, fishing lines, subways lines, check-out lines, tan lines, chorus lines, foul lines, even felines."
The theme for 2005 was things starting with a P and the winning envelopes are stunning! Wouldn't you love to get one of these in the mail?
Eating in the Post Office
March 8, 2006
Postal clerks do it all the time but handmade ravioli stuffed with roast butternut pumpkin, spinach and nutmeg, topped with pinenuts, plus a nice bottle of Chardonnay to finish? That's on the menu at The Letterbox Restaurant, situated in a renovated historic Post Office in Terrigal, Australia.
Social Change and Letter Writing
February 25, 2006
I've just started reading Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, subtitled The Collapse and Revival of American Community. In an early section on how social change and generational change are related, Putnam uses letter writing as an example. He says social change can happen when many individuals change their ideas and behaviors at the same time. Putnam's first example is SUVs Americans of all ages began to buy SUVs in large numbers in the 1990s. Putnam says social change also happens when, over time, generations think and act differently. This change is slower, showing its effects as generations pass away and are replaced by successors. Putnam attributes the decline in letter writing to this kind of generational change. People who grew up writing letters to distant family and friends as a way to keep in touch continue to write letters. Younger generations grew up with the phone as an easy means of distant communication and never developed the letter writing habit. I see that in my own life, where my mother wrote hers every Sunday night, sitting at the kitchen table with her portable, manual typewritter, tapping out a long retelling of the week's activities. When I left home, Mother hoped for the same from me but I preferred to just pick up the phone. Interestingly, I took to letter writing much later, not as a way of keeping in touch but as an enjoyable pastime "meeting" new friends and looking at life from different perspectives. I like the paraphernalia of letter writing and the slow pace of pen across page. I think this is social change, too, when an activity changes its function and appeal. Letter writing is for fun! I think I'm going to enjoy this book, especially now that it's mentioned letter writing on page 34. Lonna
February 24, 2006
...finally. After the first time that we uploaded the book photos for the Issue 9 related links page, some of them were rather strange mottled dark blobs would be a good description. We figured out that we can't upload both HTML code and graphics in the same step and fixed things but a day or two ago we noticed that they had reverted to the blob effect. So we uploaded yet again hopefully this time they'll stay.
Long-lost stamp surfaces
February 14, 2006
A recent story on National Public Radio reports that an envelope that was lost for 38 years was recently found. What makes the envelope so exciting to stamp collectors is that it's the only one known to contain an 1869 90-cent Abraham Lincoln stamp. Here's a link to the story, including a photo of the envelope and an audio file of the story.
Issue 9 is ready it will be in the mail tomorrow! Watch for issue-related links coming soon we have an interesting bunch this time, including a photo from LEX World Headquarters.
February 5, 2006
We sent Issue 9 to the printer on Friday it should be back next Friday, with luck, giving time for a little flattening and then stuffing. This time we'll be including cards, so we hope we'll have the weekend for it, but one never knows exactly how long the print process will take. First they send us a PDF file for verification, then printing plates are made with 4 pages per plate. These are then printed, the pages dried and assembled, then folded, trimmed and stapled and finally boxed for delivery to us. The cards are being printed with raised ink how that's achieved is a mystery to us.
So more good mail will be on its way shortly. How about the unwanted mail, though? Many people decrease the amount of junk mail they receive by writing to the Direct Marketing Association this will result in significantly less, because many marketers use the DMA list to filter their mailings on the grounds that anyone on the list isn't a good prospect. Much less well known is that if a marketer keeps sending unwanted mail, you can file a Prohibitory Order, USPS Form 1500, that will almost always stop it from coming. More importantly, perhaps, they're also supposed to take you off the mailing lists they sell to other marketers. The form is designed to stop adult-oriented material that you find offensive, but the courts [link times out as of October 2012] have affirmed that the USPS must process the Order on your sole determination of the content, and thus it can be used for any unwanted mail that won't stop coming. People who use the form report that it's best to mail it in to the processing center rather than take it to a local post office, where the clerks may balk at accepting it if the material is not the sexually-oriented ads the form is more commonly used for.
LEX Number cards
January 31, 2006
Two weeks that's when Issue 9 will be in the mail, 2 weeks from tomorrow, including an article rather appropriate for the cold weather... By popular request well, there was at least one suggestion we'll be including a small card with each issue, listing your LEX Number and reminder dates for listing deadlines and mailings. Be sure to look for it before sending the envelope on to the recycling bin!
This 'n' that
January 21, 2006
Issue 9 is coming together nicely. The pages are filled, now there's just the proofing and the task of making everything line up nicely, seeing if the photos are dark enough always a challenge because the actual printing process involves etched metal plates that can't be previewed and the final result differs from a laser proof.
Last week was Universal Letter Writing Week did everyone celebrate by writing at least one letter?
When letters stop
January 19, 2006
I like to think, off and on, about an experience I assume all letter-writers share letters from a pen friend simply stop coming. The reasons can be anything from life changes to boredom I like to muse about the possibilities without actually wanting to be told my letters are dull or I didn't write back quickly enough or we have a fundamental difference that makes me unacceptable as a correspondent. There seems to be a grey area where some letter writers fall; we don't have much in common but still aren't different enough to be interesting. The letters stop, and I'm just odd enough to find that interesting. Postcard writers follow the same pattern. Intriguing! What could I possibly have said on a postcard is the question that comes to mind. Although the reason that letters and cards stop coming may well not have anything to do with me at all, it's fun to wonder, and look for patterns...so if you know, don't tell me! Lonna
The first entry
January 10, 2006
Welcome to the LEX Blog! This will be more or less an enhancement of our From the Editors page, with between-the-issues comments on LEX and letter writing. We'll include links to articles we aren't able to print in the magazine, notes about the ups and downs of running LEX, whatever comes to mind.
First up, we have some new pages on the LEX Web site (in addition to this one!). Issue-Related Links shares some of the fun stuff we find while putting an issue of LEX together. The Writers' Block is a set of resources for letter writers postage information, organizations, references, etc. There's both useful information and interesting sites; like all the pages, it's likely to be updated periodically as we find more information and have time to add it. The Mailboox is a page of books about letter writing some historical, some current, some fictional. There will be books with links to Powell's bookstore and books with links to free sources like Gutenberg, which has the text of thousands of books for free online reading or download, or WorldCat, a data base that will show you which nearby libraries have the book in their collection; just enter your ZIP code on the page the link takes you to. If you follow a link to Powell's and then buy anything at Powell's not just the books we list but anything in their vast inventory LEX will get a commission which we can use to advertise The Letter Exchange.
If you have Issue 8, you may remember that we were embroiled in a logo dispute with Microsoft. We're happy to report that that's been resolved, the day after we sent the issue to the printer.
How it Works
The Letter Exchange 855 Village Center Drive #324, North Oaks, MN 55127-3016 USA