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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Postcards: Notes from Notables
Port Authority Bus Terminal, New York City Harvey Milk Letters to Susan Davis Alch

Postcards: Notes from Notables

By Tim Wilson With summer upon us, our thoughts turn to vacations. Beaches, perhaps. Points of interest. Ports of call. And where there's travel, there are often postcards--short notes to let our friends at home know that they are in our thoughts while we're having a fabulous time. Postcards fall under the general category of correspondence but they are their own enigmatic form of communication. Concise. Often fragmented. Occasionally cryptic. They are scattered throughout the Hormel Center's archival collections. Here we've selected some examples that offer glimpses into the activities of Alice B. Toklas, Harvey Milk,…

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Letters to Myself: Alan Blackman

Alan Blackman has had a long and storied career, as an artist, calligrapher, typeface designer for Adobe, lettering arts instructor, and three years working for the U.S. Post Office at San Francisco’s Rincon Annex. By his own account, however, his most significant work is Letters to Myself. Letters to Myself was a personal project first undertaken by Blackman in 1968. His then 11-year old son Stephen lived across the bay in Berkeley, east of San Francisco. Through his work in the postal service, Blackman became familiar with “first day covers,” letters affixed with a stamp on…

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New Stamps

The U.S. Postal Service has been busy again issuing new stamps, and now there are even more stamps to enjoy. There is a stamp to celebrate Lunar New Year, an ovation to Maya Angelou, a Vietnam Medal of Honor stamp, a Special Olympics stamp, stamps featuring water lilies, vintage roses and tulips, and more. But it seems that the best is yet to come. Among the new stamps, let’s first take a look at the timeless and ever popular Elvis. The latest Elvis stamp will be dedicated on Aug. 12 at Graceland in Memphis. Priscilla Presley…

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Books About Letters

Letter writing and books seem to go hand in hand. Generally, people who write are readers. And people who love to read often aspire to be writers. Because letter writing is one of the most fundamental ways of writing, there are many genres of books about letters and letter writing. The epistolary novel, a story that unfolds through a series of letters, is not an uncommon device, and dates back to the late 15th century. From Bram Stoker’s classic gothic horror novel, Dracula, first published in 1897, to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,…

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Letters from France: Deployment

Joseph Bosque, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War I, was deployed on May 20, 1918 from Camp Merritt, New Jersey to Marseilles, France. Although he was not permitted at the time to reveal his destination, he left prearranged clues in his letters to his sweetheart back home in San Francisco, Annie Corbett. On May 16, 1918 he signed one of his final pre-deployment letters by saying, “Au revoir, ma chère, Joe.” In his final stateside letter, he wrote a brief message, which he signed, “Yours affectionately, Joseph.” The use of his full name…

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