April 30, 2010

Friday Night Favorite Reads

Map Envelope at Letter Writers Alliance

The (small) World of Ring Tops at Stylophiles Online Magazine

Pneumatic Mail at National Postal Museum website

April 25, 2010

National Postal Museum, Part III: Artifacts

After passing through the lobby, where I learned about the history of the National Postal Museum itself, and meeting the characters that have played important roles in the history of the USPS, I explored the artifacts that make postal junkies eek with joy.

I'm not why, but the Postal Museum seems to have a large collection of artifacts and exhibits focusing on the Postal Service in the 1940s. Then again, it could just be my own personal interest filter, and I chose to pay most attention to displays from the WWII era.

The beautiful vehicle above is a mail delivery truck from the early 1940s. The truck, while very different from the trucks of today, was a dramatic improvement over the original automobiles put into service in 1899. In the first test run, through snow, the automobile completed a six hour route by horse in under two and a half hours.

In addition to this mail truck, the museum also has a walk through mail delivery train and a roped off Pony Express stagecoach, neither of which I took photos of. Sorry. Maybe this is evidence of the existence of the aforementioned personal interest filter...

Which brings me to this piece of ephemera. Above is an envelope that was mailed to James Farley, Postmaser General from 1933 to 1940, by his vacationing son. What interests me so much about this envelope isn't so much that it was forwarded to Farley in a classified location, but that the envelope appears to be from a collection of stationery from The Stone Tavern in Lake Spofford, New Hampshire. I'm a big fan of hotel stationery (I have a letterhead from Hotel Mecca in the image archive) and am sad that is has slowly gone out of fashion.

Close to the letter to Postmaser Farley is the above envelope. The reason this piece is significant is not because of the individuals that mailed or received it, but because of where it was processed. The envelope was processed through the Honolulu post office on December 7, 1941, the day of the of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In front of the museum book store and the stamp store, there are rows of mail boxes from around the world. Some of these box styles are out of date, but many are still still in use in their respective countries, standing on corners, hanging from lamp posts and telephone poles.

Can you guess which countries these boxes hail from?

At the end of my museum visit, I spent a good amount of time in the museum bookstore. In many ways, the bookstore of the National Postal Museum is a continuance of the museum experience. There is a long wall of shelves, filled with books on letter writing, mail art, stamp collecting, and historical perspectives on correspondence. I took the picture above because two books caught my eye, Good Mail Day and Yours Ever, both of which have been big hits in the online letter writing community in the last year.

I purchased the above two items as souvenirs from my experience. The first is the book The Art of the Handwritten Letter. The author, Margaret Shepherd, focuses much more on the emotional, human side of letter writing, rather than the rules of etiquette, an attempt to persuade the reader to actually sit down, write, stamp and mail. She writes many great reflections on letter writing, some of which I will be using here, on Everyday Correspondence, in the coming months.

The bottom picture is of a first day issue stamp and envelope commemorating Freedom of the Press. The NPM store has a pleasant selection of first day issues, easily numbering in the hundreds for visitors to sort through. So, it wasn't difficult to find a first day issue with personal significance for me to purchase. I plan on framing it and hanging it in my printing studio (aka my living room).

I had a afternoon visiting the National Postal Museum. While neither very large nor heavily visited, the museum has lots to offer, especially for the postal enthusiast. After all, we're the type of people that just love reading placards, aren't we?

April 22, 2010

Site Design Update

Dear Readers,

I'm looking to update the appearance of Everyday Correspondence (beyond just font changes). I haven't made any decisions on changes yet, so I beseech your help. What can I change/add/subtract to make the site more cohesive? How can I alter the design to better reflect its content? Would it be helpful to widen the main column, so that images may appear larger? Is there any information that would be helpful for me to add to the sidebar?

Suggestions are invited!

Very truly yours,


April 21, 2010

Adventures in Letterpress: QR Code Calling Cards

Because correspondence is communication by letters, I don't see why the definition should exclude written communications between individuals that are face to face at the time of delivery. Enter: the personal calling card. Lacking a card of my own, I set out to create one that represented me as an individual. That card needed to honor the traditions of the past, while still being innovative and fresh... with a dash of mystery. Really, I wanted a card that was artistic, yet functional.

A QR (quick response) code is a lot like a barcode, in that it contains information that is displayed when read. However, unlike a barcode, a QR code can carry up to 4000 characters of information, direct a device to a URL, load contact information, or queue up GPS coordinates. Already big in Japan, QR codes are slowly making their way over to the States.

The moment I learned about QR codes, I knew that they were for me. So, I created a code of my own (using the free QR code generator at Kaywa.com) and letterpressed them onto 110 lb. florescent white Crane Lettra paper, using my unique letterpress printing method.

My QR code doesn't hold very much information, only my name and personal e-mail address. So the card doesn't make full use of the QR technology, but that wasn't really my objective. With these cards I wanted to blend the hi-tech with the low-tech. I think it's amazing that early 20th century technology can be used to transmit information directly to modern, 21st century devices.

Unfortunately, I can really only hand these cards out to other technological early adopters, as only smart phones, such as the iPhone and Android devices, can run the software necessary to read QR codes. However, while smart phones and QR codes become ubiquitous, I'll still continue to hand out my QR cards to the people I meet. If anything, they'll be a conversation starter. After all, isn't good conversation what correspondence is all about?

Old School Writing Instruments Featured on New $100 Bill

As noted by the Crane Insider, the United States Treasury just unveiled the new design for the $100 bill, printed on Crane paper, like dollar bills of other denominations.

The new design prominently features a quill pen and an ink well. Thus, it receives the Official Everyday Correspondence Stamp of Approval.

April 17, 2010

Adventures in Letterpress: Calling Cards En Vivo

Last week I had the pleasure of printing up some personal calling cards for the brother of a friend. In barter for the cards, the brother sent me a set of lock picks, which I really enjoy fooling around with. Figuring that a guy who barters and plays with lock picks is probably a giant nerd, I decided to record the printing process for his cards. And, because he gave me permissions, and so did the other friend whose cards are being printed in the video, I figured, "why not just share the video with the Everyday Correspondence community?" And so it was.

Without further ado I present to you: Hacking Letterpress, letterpress printing on an 1890s squeegee. Please, enjoy.

April 15, 2010

Adventures in Letterpress: Save Our Date Edition

Finally! I am in the calm between the mid-semester flurry and the final exam crush. To fill my time, I've put in many hours on the printing press to turn out a couple of projects for myself and some friends.

I finished this run of 75 save the date cards a couple of days ago. The hand lettering was done by the delightful Lisa Ridgely. The rest of the design was done by me, using my new favorite tech toy, Adobe Illustrator. The cards were printed on 110 lb. florescent white Crane Lettra, a luxurious paper designed specifically for letterpress printing.

Every time I do a run on one of my presses, I find new ways to increase the efficiency of my process. This time around, I took a tip from Boxcar Press that they made for hand inking photopolymer plates (seen above) and requested that they not trim the edges of my photopolymer plate order. I then took those edges and used them as bearer strips along the sides of the plate I was inking. These bearers keep my roller (also known as a brayer) level and at the same height as the plate while inking. This little trick facilitated more uniform ink coverage on the plate, and it saved me a bunch of time in not having to wipe up smudges accidentally left by my uneven hand on parts of the plate I didn't want printed (the blue areas in the image above).

I also took the sage advice of a poster on the letterpress listserv from the University of New Brunswick that I subscribe to, and built my own drying racks. The above rack cost me a total of $3 to make. I used two slinkies ($1 each at Target) and taped them to a piece of scrap wood ($1 in the As Is section at IKEA). It was super cheap to construct, holds a good amount of paper, and saves me tons of space. Before, I was laying cards out flat on every flat surface in my home!

Next project: personal calling cards.

April 2, 2010

Postal Artifacts, on Display and In Use

It's Spring in Washington! And that means cherry blossoms and beautiful weather, both of which I spent the entire afternoon, yesterday, enjoying. While waiting for a friend to join me on the National Mall, I stopped into the Smithsonian Castle. The original home of the Smithsonian institution, the Castle now functions as a giant information desk for the network of museums, hosting small displays of items that represent the many museums in the area. Of course, the two items that drew my eye were those representing the National Postal Museum.

Originally used for mail collection in 1885, this charming lamppost letter box now sits just inside the side entrance on the front side of the Smithsonian Castle. It is mounted on a large plaque that informs the visitor about it's origins, and, it collects mail. If you're in the area and really need to send a post card, mail is collected twice daily.

Further inside the Castle I found this antique mail box. And I do mean mail box, in the most literal sense of the word. According to the placard, the tin can mailbox was used around 1950 in Hawai'i. Contents were soldered shut for delivery from boat to boat, or boat to shore. Unlike the above lamppost letter box, this tin can has been decommissioned and now resides behind glass.