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!