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 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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Election Mail

Once again our mailboxes have been filled to overflowing with election mail, despite it being a non-presidential election year. In San Francisco, the local ballot measures address such issues as housing affordability and population growth, construction and height limits, stricter regulation of short-term housing rentals, and more. A few of these measures have been highly contentious and caused deep acrimony within the city. This year’s election mail was especially overwhelming in District 3, in the northeast corner of the city, where a hotly contested race for district supervisor took place. In social media postings by my…

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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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The Post Office and the PPIE
Abundance Night.

The Post Office and the PPIE

Post offices and exhibitions go hand in hand. Imagine a World’s Fair and Exposition that covered 635 acres, much of it sitting on land that once was covered with water. That is what happened 100 years ago in San Francisco, when the city built the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE). This event took place in what is now San Francisco’s Marina District, a stately neighborhood with elegant homes and thriving businesses, popular with singles, young families and seniors, to celebrate both the completion of the Panama Canal and the city’s recovery from the great earthquake and fire…

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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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