Social Correspondence 2016

Welcome to Social Correspondence 2016 and belated Happy New Year! Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day to reflect on the legacy of this remarkable man, and on the hope for a more peaceful world, with fairness and social justice for all. I wish each of you a healthy, peaceful and fulfilling year ahead. Fall and winter holidays are my favorite time of year, a time to enjoy family and friends, good food, and conviviality. It also is the time to reconnect with those we see less often through the ritual of the annual…

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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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Pen Pals

From time to time, a sweet story about pen pals crosses through my news feed. These stories, which originate from all over the world, often involve long-time pen pals who meet after many decades of knowing one another only through letters. I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda, with Liz Welch (Little Brown and Company 2015) is a different kind of story. It tells of two young pen pals who, through their six-year correspondence, bridged politics, perspectives, miles and cultures in ways that changed not just their lives, but many others. In…

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On Gratitude

Gratitude is a word that has come back in vogue with a roar, and what could be more appropriate for Thanksgiving than gratitude? Gratitude comes in many forms.  It can be demonstrated by being a good listener and an empathetic friend, by caring about others.  We also demonstrate gratitude to society and life in general by doing volunteer work and/or giving to charity.  We show our gratitude by respecting others.  And although we are primarily a secular society, gratitude also may be expressed through contemplation or prayer. There are many things in life for which I…

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The Missing Postmarks

When did the postmark on our letters go missing? By postmark, I refer to the round circle that once included the date, time of receipt and location of the post office. Generally, the circle was stamped to the left of the cancellation, those wavy or straight lines that partially cover the stamp(s) to indicate that the stamp has been used. I was reminded of this absence recently by the marketing efforts of a certain coffee company promoting a new first edition blend, using a version of the classic circle. Although our first class, stamped mail still…

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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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Office Supplies

A trip to an independent office supplies store is one of the small pleasures in life, especially if you are familiar with San Francisco’s Patrick & Co. Patrick’s was founded in 1873, and not only has it been a city fixture since the late 19th century, it also has remained a family-owned business for over 140 years. The Fox Plaza store, which was so near and handy to where I work and was the perfect place to browse on my lunch hour, closed earlier this year, a loss to the Civic Center neighborhood. That said, there…

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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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