This is the best time of year for my mailbox, and likely yours. Every day brings a holiday card or end-of-year letter. And there is glitter everywhere!*
Each year, I get so excited to choose my stamps for the 100 holiday cards I send out. This year, I knew nearly a year in advance which ones would be decorating my envelopes: the four images of Peter playing in the snow from one of my favorite childhood books, A Snowy Day.
These images, drawn in the early 1960s, still evoke a sense of fun and adventure through their simple design. But given the world we are in today, these stamps are more than that. They are a tiny but mighty way of affirming the beauty and innocence of children of color in a world that too often fails at this. As Andrea Davis Pinkney, recently wrote:
My hope is that the stamps bearing Peter’s image will usher forth positive perceptions, and will make even the most device-driven people glance up from their phones and newsfeeds to enjoy the beauty of a child’s adventure.
A black kid in a hoodie now stands proudly at the upper right corner of millions of envelopes. A brown-skinned boy brings comfort and joy during the holiday season. A child of color helps you and me pay our bills. He’ll bring smiles to people whose mailboxes will be filled with glad tidings. No one will see this kid as a menace, or as a scary societal hazard who portends danger.
Stamps are powerful. They shape narratives about who we see ourselves as as Americans, and show what we value–or should. So, while these stamps make great additions to Christmas cards, I hope they continue to decorate your letters in the coming year–each one sending a message of hope.
If you haven’t gotten yours just yet, you can still purchase them at your local post office or at the Postal Store online.
*Random trivia: glitter is called “flitter” by the card designers at Hallmark. I learned this from my pen pal at The Well-Appointed Desk.
Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express. It features a game that lets you be a Pony Express rider, picking up letters, switching horses, and avoiding the treacherous obstacles that faced these riders as they traveled across the U.S. in the 19th century. It is a lot of fun, especially when you fall off!
You can find the Pony Express Google Doodle archived here after April 14th.
And here is a great video on the making of the Doodle, with a little Pony Express history.
I just returned from a trip to the U.K. I visited London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland. While in Edinburgh, I stayed on the Royal Mile–a stretch of cobblestone street between the Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland).
While visiting the shops on the Royal Mile, I found Bonnie Blue–a delightful little gift shop with woolen tea cozies and purses and, my favorite, cards and notebooks! The shop carried a line of items by Wrendale Designs called The Country Set. I fell in love with the disheveled look of these woodland creatures!
I picked up note books with the hedgehog and the owl. Take a look:
My favorite feature is the back of the books that has another picture, usually of the animal running away and showing off its tush:
Then, I saw this delightful tea cup that had this crazy hare, with a little surprise inside as I sip my tea:
My childhood post office, a nondescript, cinder-block building on the side of Route 16 in Orma, WV, was shuttered on November 20, 2013 after 108 years of operation.
My parents–knowing my love for all things postal–were thoughtful enough to send me a note that day with the last day’s postmark!
I am sad to hear that it closed. The post office was already 5 miles from my parents’ house, and their new post office is 10 miles away. On curvy West Virginia roads, that’s a 20-minute drive. The post office connected their rural community to the outside world for more than a century and now it’s gone. Makes me wonder what the future holds for the community and for the postal service.
Yet Mr. Maisner believes that calligraphy answers a demand for beauty and vitality that technology, however advanced, cannot. Calligraphy, he said, “is not meant to reproduce something over and over again. It’s meant to show the humanity, the responsiveness and variation within.”
Yes! And that’s how I feel about handwritten letters versus email and texts. Beauty and vitality are precisely what I see in the letters I receive.
But any man who, like Maisner, charges over one thousand dollars to write 8 first names on small cards that can “act as a place card along with a take-home gift” is not really preserving calligraphy for the masses. He’s an artist and he, like many other successful artists, reserves his work for the super rich who can afford his services.
I have no problem with that, but I propose that we all let our artists within run free from our inner critics and just take up a dip pen and try it ourselves. I’m going to go play right now!
P.S. Check out these pictures of Maisner’s collection of antique writing gear. They are drool worthy!
P.P.S. And if you want a tattoo of calligraphy, you can get Maisner to design it for you!
Check out this New York Times article about Salinger’s letters to a Toronto woman years before Catcher in the Rye. The woman he wrote to is still alive and 95 years old.
As we document every moment of our lives through social media, I find there’s something elegant in how a few letters can bring to life a moment in time 70 years ago and leave a little room for the imagination. Will we sift through 70-year old Facebook posts in the year 2083? Or will the internet as we know it even exist then? I’ll stick with the letters, thank you.
Beyond the Perf has a great little post about Mr. Zip–the icon of a speedy mail man who educated 1960s America about the use of the new ZIP code system. Mr. Zip is making an appearance on the backs of a couple of stamps this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ZIP codes. Read more here.
A friend of mine recently showed me some of her grandfather’s stamp collection. He had some great First-Day Covers (FDCs) from the 1960s. Here are a couple of the beauties:
The interesting part about these FDCs is that they came through the mail with advertising letters in them! Check it out:
What a neat idea–a collectible first day cover that catches your eye entices you to open it up and read what’s inside. If advertising mailers today had the same flair, we might not call them junk mail!
My dad gave me his favorite magazine from his childhood–an issue of The Leather Craftsman dated September/October 1959. He always loved the image on the cover and the accompanying story that someone had written from the perspective of the cougar.
I love that the image is all tooled in leather! Look at that detail!
As I was reading through the magazine, I saw this little bit of wisdom:
I have been thinking about ways to move from artist to salesman, of designing my own stationery and selling it online and at craftshows. But as the “feet” concept suggests–it’s a lot of work to do when you already have a full-time, non-stationery related job!
Since my trip to the National Stationery Show in May, I’ve been thinking about the trend in the industry away from letter sets and toward cards only. I walked up and down aisle after aisle, looking in hundreds and hundreds of booths. I saw thousands of cards and fewer than five letter sets. I’ve heard from pen pals that they don’t find letter sets in stationery stores any more. They have to go online and find folks who still believe that we have something to say that won’t fit in a small card.
There are some companies that still do fun letter set designs (I like Peter Pauper Press, Crane and Chronicle). And there are a lot of great Asian letter sets out there. But it feels like there may be room for me, too. I may jump into the fray. If it get up the courage, you’ll be the first to know!