Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Keeping Track of Pen Friends --- Some Organizational Tips

Happy New Year! I'm so excited about all 2018 has in store! 
Many people practice spring cleaning and organization but for me, the organizing bug bites at the new year. I feel like I want everything in its place before I can really jump into new routines and plans.

This year I've acquired several new pen pals and have also started up the Letter Writing Guild. That means I have a lot of addresses to keep track of! Today I want to share some of the ways I organize my pen friends' information.

The pink file box above is what I've used to organize Guild members' address cards and keep track of who is paired with who. I organize the cards by the person's last name and include any notes and preferences I want to remember. This system would also work great for keeping track of pen friends' addresses, birthdays, family members' names, preferences, and more. I found the box and colored index cards and Walmart. The dividers came in the box but you could make some from cardstock.

Until now... My husband got me this gorgeous Card Catalog box for Christmas. It's made to look like a vintage library card catalog box and came with dividers and reproduction cards from the Library of Congress, featuring 30 great authors like Jane Austen, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the Brontes. 

I am SO excited to organize my addresses into this adorable box! If you want one too, look on eBay or the Victorian Trading Company website.

Another way I organize my pen pal writing obsession is by keeping a record of mail sent and received. I use this little journal and organize everything according to what was sent or received each month. This really helps when I find that I've not heard from someone in awhile, because I can write another quick note to make sure they've received my letter.

Here's an example of how a couple page entries might look:

December 2017

*wrote to Louisa May on December 3

*received from Catherine Morland on December 5
-responded December 7

I'd love to hear how other members organize their letter writing hobbies. Let me know in the comments or tag me on Instagram: @victorianletterwritersguild

Monday, December 18, 2017

New Year Pen Friend Exchange

This exchange is now closed. Please visit the Pen Friend Sign Up link at the top of this page to be put on the list for the next exchange.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Holiday Season 2017 Pen Friend Exchange --- Now Accepting Applications!

Hello Guild Friends!

This exchange is closed but please do still send in your application for next time. New partners will be assigned in early January 2018!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

An Autumn Pen Friend Exchange at The Victorian Letter Writers Guild

We had such a wonderful time corresponding during the Summer Pen Friend Exchange and now it's time to kick off the Autumn 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 Autumn Pen Friend Exchange! 

If you've participated in the past: Please note that you do NOT have to give up your former pen friends! This exchange is for an additional pen friend, so if you're enjoying corresponding with your match from an earlier round, please continue to do so!

Here's what you need to know:
  • The Summer exchange will run from September 1st - November 30th. You will receive your pen friend's information by September 1st. (Please be patient with me as I'm moving to our new home this week! Yay!)  Sign ups close August 29th.
  • This is an international exchange but please expect to write your partner in English. (If you and your partner decide to write in a more familiar language, 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. {Please let me know if your previous partner(s) did not contact you during a previous exchange.}
  • 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?

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?

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