Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Postage Stamp Collecting Through the Ages & Some Info on Postage Stamp Bags

Many people who love to write and receive handwritten letters also enjoy using and collecting the various implements and ephemera that go with the experience. From postage stamps and vintage stationery to inkwells and furniture, many enjoy holding on to these pieces of history---many of which will probably never be revisited by modern manufacturers.

Recently, I was at the post office in Pendleton, Oregon, where I'm staying for the summer, and I noticed some metal post office box doors sitting on the counter. The post office was decommissioning some things and they were selling them for $5 each. The clerk said they had a whole box of them and let me sift through it to find the best one. Most of them were dated in the 1950s but this one from 1971 was the only one that still retained the box number. Obviously I'll never use this for its intended purpose---but I like to imagine this as a door which held many secrets and life-changing messages over the years. 

The first stamp collector was probably John Bourke, who served as Receiver General of Stamp Dues in Ireland in the late 18th century. He made a book of the revenue stamps he'd collected up until 1774, along with the hand-stamped charge marks that went along with them. Some revenue stamps were also used as proof of postage paid. {A revenue stamp was a label used to collect taxes or fees on various things like alcohol, legal drugs, firearms, playing cards and more. We don't use these any more as these taxes and fees are tacked on automatically through computerized check out and account numbers are used to track payments.} 

Le Philateliste by Fran├žois Barraud (1929)
The first postage stamp was used in 1840 and people began collecting them right away. By 1860, this new hobby had spread across the world and some countries began overproducing stamps to sell to collectors. Stamp albums began to appear in shops and catalogs, as well as literature about stamp collecting. Although collectors were mainly children and teenagers in the beginning, many of them grew up to continue their hobby as adults. 

For over 175 years, people all over the world have found stamp collecting to be an endlessly satisfying hobby. One is always receiving mail from which to glean more stamps!

I discovered stamp collecting about six years ago when I joined Swap-Bot.com.  One of my first swapping partners included a little bag of used postage stamps in the envelope she sent me and I was intrigued. What to do with these? Then I discovered several people who loved to swap out postage stamp bags to help build their collections. Genius!

Most any small envelope can be used as a postage stamp bag---but it's easy to make your own, too, using online templates or your own craftiness. The bag starts out with a certain number of (usually used) postage stamps inside. On the outside of the envelope, you write "return home to" and then your address. You also write how many stamps a person should take out to keep and how many she should put back in. Finally, you write out the numbers 1-5 and leave space for people to write their names next to the numbers. The person you send it to swaps her stamps, signs her name on the outside of the envelope, and mails it off to someone else the next time there is a swap. I usually include about eight stamps to begin with and write "take 3 add 5". The next in line always gives more than they take so, by the time you get the bag back, you've got a lot more stamps than you put in. It's a fun game and a great way to collect stamps from all over the world. In fact, if any Victorian Letter Writers Guild members would be interested in joining a postage stamp bag swap, I'd be happy to set one up! 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

How to Write a Fabulous Pen Friend Letter--Content vs. Aesthetics

Good morning, pen friends!

The Summer Pen Friend Exchange is in full swing---I hope you all are having a fabulous time writing and receiving letters. {If you didn't get a chance to sign up for the Summer Exchange, do fill out the Pen Friend Sign Up in my menu bar to be included in the next sign up.}

I was so excited to see participants from all over the world---women new to letter writing and many who said they'd missed the days of childhood pen pals. One thing I didn't anticipate {but should have} is that participants would be unsure of what was expected of them concerning what else to include with their letter. For most of letter writing history, it wouldn't likely have occurred to someone to include "stuff" with a letter {more on that in a minute}. However, in this day of online swaps, in addition to all the gorgeous mail art images on Pinterest and Instagram, I can see why some of you were concerned your letters might not "meet expectations".

These are excellent questions and things I also think about when writing a new pen friend. Of course it's never possible to know what your partner will be expecting---a few bits and bobs for crafting? A bookmark and bag of tea? A purchased and wrapped gift? Each exchange site and host has its own rules, but the only thing promised in the letter writing exchanges you'll find here at The Victorian Letter Writers Guild is a thoughtful, chatty, letter---anything else you do is completely optional.

I'm hoping that participants will make the content of the letter just as important as anything done to "pretty it up". The early Victorians paid additional postage per page sent so they didn't have a lot of room for extras---unless they could afford to pay. Content over aesthetics, I say!

I think the first priority should be a meaty, newsy, chatty sort of letter that your partner will enjoy reading and thinking about. Second to that, it's always nice to receive something pretty so try to use stationery, if you can find some. Or decorate notebook paper with stickers or colorful sketches. If you'd like to go further than that and include something extra, perhaps you could send a written recipe, bookmark, or some pretty fabric or paper scraps she could use in her own mail art. I know "mail art" is a big thing right now---but, in my opinion, it should never outshine the actual heart of the message we're sending. After all, the aim is to get to know one another and share our lives through the written word!

What constitutes happy mail, in your opinion? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Travel Writing Lap Desks: Some History

I'm super excited to be sharing something special with you all today! My kids and I have come out to Oregon to visit my mom for awhile this summer and she had a surprise waiting for me. This is my grandmother's travel writing desk---something my mom remembers her always having and keeping her poetry in. I believe it is made of cedar, but have no idea when it was made or how she came to own it.

I lost my Grandma Betty when I was just eight years old. My mom says I inherited her love for writing and creativity with words. I remember her poetry and am so honored to have this gift of her writing desk!

The Bronte's study, Haworth, England
I took this photo last fall in Haworth. Notice what I originally did not---the writing slope lying open on the table!
The lap desk, writing slope, writing box, or writing cabinet originated in the 17th century as a trendy accessory for the traveling gentleman. The box was small enough to be carried on his horse or by his valet and was designed to hold all his implements of correspondence.

Jane Austen's Writing Desk and Spectacles, British Library
It didn't take long for them to become fashionable for men and women alike. Portable antique writing desks had a hinged writing surface that was sometimes covered in leather or other material and flipped open to a storage space below. Compartments were revealed to house inkwells, pens, blotters, sealing wax, and more. Sometimes there were hidden compartments inside!

The use of portable lap desks gradually declined during the 19th century, as people began mass producing home furniture, as well as more convenient writing tools---and as the middle and lower classes became more literate, making correspondence a much more common activity.

However, vintage and modern lap desks can still be found for sale online. Here is a cute modern version, The Schoolhouse Cushioned Lap Desk from Victorian Trading Company. It employs the use of a cushion for added coziness and to help it stay put.

I'm excited to store my favorite stationery in my new-to-me writing desk. How do you organize your letter writing materials?

Linking with these sites:

Friday, May 12, 2017

5 Things I Didn't Know About Wax Letter Seals

In the 1880s, pink seals were used to send congratulations.
I love to use wax seals on my correspondence. It makes me feel so old fashioned and I enjoy the message it sends to my friends that they are special to me. It's fun to research how the Victorians and earlier ancestors used wax seals in their letter writing. Here are 5 things I didn't know about wax letter seals.

Image credit: Seller collectaprint via eBay.
1. A Matter of Manners

In the early years of the Victorian era, it was considered impolite to use a large seal on a letter. Smaller was better; small and glossy was best.

2. Office Space

Public offices collected a large quantity of mail in a short time. It was customary to always protect official correspondence with a wax seal, and measures were taken in earlier days to recycle the wax. Some offices in France did this in a pretty creative way. They'd gather all the mail into wire baskets and steam it. The wax would melt away from the paper and be collected to be reformed and reused as sealing sticks.

Cornelius Gijsbrechts: Qudolibet, 1675
3. Seeing Red

Close your eyes and imagine a very old sealed letter. What color is the wax seal? Red, right? Nowadays we have access to a beautiful array of colors to choose from, and the Victorians did too, but the most popular color for sealing wax has always been red. This is probably because Vermillion was the most common colorant, dating back at least to medieval times.

4. A Penny Saved

Before the advent of the postage stamp and Uniform Penny Post in 1840, the use of a wax seal was more than just a pretty way to decorate correspondence. Since postage prices depended on the number of sheets of paper used, letters that were sealed up in envelopes cost the receiver double since the envelope added another sheet of thickness. The wax seal ensured the letter traveled safely and undisturbed without charging the receiver excessive postage. {Side note: prior to the Penny Post, the receiver paid the postage, rather than the sender).

Medieval illuminated manuscript featuring document with hanging seal. Photo courtesy British Library.

5. Poison Pen

Researchers in the UK are using medieval wax seals to look for possible cases of forgery and other crimes by examining fingerprints and handprints left behind in the wax. Analysts are studying seals on documents dating from the 12th to 14th centuries, such as business contracts, land sales, and other financial exchanges. These transactions were as important and binding as our modern-day signatures, contracts, and credit advances. Read more about the project at Heritage Daily.

How many of these facts about wax seals were new to you?

Linking with:
Vintage Charm

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Summer Pen Friend Exchange

It's time to kick off the Summer Pen Friend Exchange! If you enjoy handwritten correspondence with like-minded people, The Victorian Letter Writers Guild may be for you! Check out my Welcome message in the menu bar then sign up now for our Summer Pen Friend Exchange! 
**The Summer Exchange is now closed. However, you can still sign up for the Autumn Exchange! Follow the instructions below and I'll notify you when I'm ready to assign partners near the first of September.

Here's what you need to know:
  • The Summer exchange will run from June 1st-August 31st. You will receive your pen friend's information by June 3rd.
  • This is an international exchange but introductory letters must be written in English. (If you and your partner decide to write in a more familiar language after, that is fine.)
  • A minimum of one letter to your partner is required. If you decide to continue the correspondence after that, wonderful!
  • I am not responsible for "flakers", but anyone who does not keep their commitment will not be included in further exchanges. 
  • Privacy Statement: Your information will only be given to your assigned pen friend. I will not use it for any kind of advertising, marketing, or other commercial purposes, nor will I publish it in any form. There is no fee to join the Guild---it's strictly for fun and fellowship. I will add your email to a list for my own purposes and will only send emails regarding the pen friend exchange or other Guild activities I think you might be interested in, such as giveaways or letter writing challenges. I will not add you to my blog subscription list but there is a link on the sidebar to do so if you wish. 

Are you ready for a new pen friend? Copy and paste the answers to the following questions in an email and send it to: sarah@classicalhomemaking.com.

Pen Friend Sign Up Questions
Send to sarah@classicalhomemaking.com

1. Full Name

2. Full Mailing Address including zip code and country

3. Email Address

4. What is your age group? 

5. Do you have a preferred age group to correspond with?
no preference

6. Do you prefer a pen friend from your own country or is any country fine?

7. Do you prefer a pen friend of a certain gender? 

8. What is your gender?

9. List some of your hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes.

10. What interests you about the Victorian Letter Writers Guild?

11. How did you learn about the Guild?

Welcome to The Victorian Letter Writers Guild!

Scattered amongst our fast-paced, stressed-out society, there is a special kind of people hiding in plain sight.

They come from all walks of life and possess varied interests and goals, but all hold one desire in common---a longing for a more relaxed and thoughtful way of life.

The Victorian senses of modesty, decency, and order required them to live in a way many of us desire to emulate today.

There are many benefits of structuring our routines to enjoy life at a slower pace. I appreciate the ability to be more authentic and attentive in my communications with others. One way I accomplish this is by composing handwritten letters, often sent with an accompanying poem or recipe.

If you enjoy handwritten correspondence with like-minded people, The Victorian Letter Writers Guild may be for you!

Here you will find:

  • Creative ideas for designing extra-special correspondence
  • Mail art techniques
  • Historical information regarding letter writing, Victorians, etiquette, and more
  • Quarterly pen friend exchanges
  • Writing-related swaps and giveaways

Be sure to follow us by email (see top sidebar), Instagram, and Facebook to stay caught up on the latest guild happenings and diversions. We're glad you're here!