Cherish Your Valentines
Window display Patrick and Company February 2017

Cherish Your Valentines

Love is in bloom again as we approach Valentine’s Day.  Paper hearts and romantic cards are flourishing in all manner of stores - card shops, stationery stores, office supply, grocery, art, and drug stores; wherever, in fact, greeting cards are sold. So, get out your valentines, heart stamps and red pens and be ready to write some notes and lick some envelopes. Many people consider Valentine’s Day a modern day plot by card-makers, card shops, and other retailers to make more money. The cynics rue yet another symbol of commercialization. But a store-bought card is not…

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Endings: Finding a New Future
Dandelion, 55 Potrero Ave. closed Fall 2016

Endings: Finding a New Future

2016 was a year of endings. Mostly, we think of beginnings as we approach a new year, but it is equally important to examine those things that now lie only in the past. Often, they reflect our values, contribute to our history, and reflect our sense of personal self. Some endings are self-evident. Farewell to the integrity and quiet dignity of President Obama and his beautiful family. Farewell to the talented, too numerous to name, musicians, actors, artists, journalists, intellectuals and loved ones lost in 2016, who, through their extraordinary contributions, made our lives richer and…

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Onegin Ballet

The San Francisco Ballet has concluded its repertory season, ending on a high note, even for this world-famous ballet company, with the magnificent production of the Onegin ballet. The story, based on the poem Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, with libretto by John Cranko, is performed to the beautiful music of Tchaikovsky. References to letters are significant to the drama. The Onegin ballet enacts the story of Tatiana, a young woman living in rural Russia, and her love for Onegin, the worldly, elegant friend of her sister Olga’s fiancé, Lensky. In the opening act and scene,…

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The Benefits of Gratitude

Perhaps one of the most prolific writers of thank you notes that I have known is the late Marjorie Stern. She was a master of expressing gratitude through letters. Born in 1915, Marjorie was a do-gooder, a lover of fine books and Asian art, and most importantly, an activist. The great granddaughter of San Francisco’s first reform rabbi, Marjorie knew how to get things done. One of her most cherished, long-held dreams was to build a modern, new Main Library in San Francisco. This dream came to fruition 20 years ago, but in order to make…

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Love letters from Wisconsin, 1923-1925

By guest writer Catherine Roberts What is the interest in a small box of letters written to my Aunt Lois about 90 years ago?  I find history, a big mystery, and stories that connect me to my family and Wisconsin. As I get older I become more curious about the early lives of my mother and her five sisters. Genealogy interests me not at all, but I love the stories, and now it is too late to ask. I have nothing like these letters. What happened to this serious romance? Why did my aunt, and then my…

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Dead Letter Office

The dead letter office is no more. First established in 1825 to deal with illegible handwriting, damaged or separated items, incorrectly addressed mail and more, 55 regional dead letter offices, or mail recovery centers, existed at one time to decipher the mysteries of misplaced mail. These dead letter offices operated for nearly 190 years, with postal service staff serving as mail detectives to reunite people with their mail. One such center, the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia, still performs this function today, but times have changed, and not only in name.  While the mail detectives…

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Social Correspondence: 2015 in Review

As 2015 draws to conclusion, it is notable that the most read post of the year in Social Correspondence was Letters to Myself, the story of the amazing Alan Blackman and his exquisitely designed calligraphic envelopes featuring stamps from around the world. On Gratitude, published for Thanksgiving, attracted hundreds of readers, as did Letters from France 1917–1919; Office Supplies; Postcards from Notables; and Letters from Wisconsin. The commonality among these posts was that they focused, for the most part, on stories about people, as reflected in their letters. Many people write letters and/or send cards to…

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Letters from Wisconsin

Kay Christensen Roberts and her sister Jane grew up in Cumberland, Wisconsin, a rural town with a population of slightly over 2,000, then and now. Growing up in Cumberland in the 1950s, Kay became a devotee of the public library and especially of the town librarian, Katherine Robinson, who may have been her namesake. Katherine the librarian and Kay’s mother Aleda Christensen were good friends. The Christensens lived fairly near to Katherine’s mother and, as Kay recalls, “when I was very little I would toddle up to Engesether’s, where I think I spent as much time as…

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Handwriting Matters

In my ‘tween years, living in what then was a small Midwestern town, conformity was an important thing, especially for a “westerner” like myself. And all of the girls (or so it seemed) defied convention when it came to handwriting. It was absolutely de rigueur to slant one’s letters to the left rather than to the right, in a style mysteriously known only to young women as “backhand.” As an outsider bitten by the conformity bug, it never crossed my mind to develop a handwriting style that was different from that of my peers. Flash forward…

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Email Letters
Works Progress Administration poster, 1940. Courtesy Library of Congress

Email Letters

The use of first class mail has been declining for two decades or longer. As both business and personal transactions increasingly take place on the Internet, including bill paying, marketing, retail sales, appointment bookings and more, the way we correspond with one another has changed accordingly. Have email letters replaced the personal letters we once wrote by hand or typed and sent through the mail? According to Teddy Wayne, writing for the New York Times, the answer is “no.” Long email letters, apparently, are now also a thing of the past. Wayne reports “business users now…

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