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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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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