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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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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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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Condolence Letters

Writing a sympathy message to a person who has lost a loved one can be one of life’s most awkward and challenging endeavors. It is a task many people avoid altogether, for fear of saying the wrong thing. And yet, acknowledging another person’s loss can make a meaningful difference. This past year has not been a kind one for me in terms of personal loss. Friends and family also have lost loved ones: fathers, mothers, brothers, nephews, spouses, colleagues, grandparents, dear friends, in-laws, cousins, daughters, sons – and yes, beloved pets - the list of those…

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Letters from France 1917 – 1919

This story of love and separation during the First World War came to me quite by accident. My colleague Jennifer Greenlee and her family have been looking for an archive that could become an appropriate yet accessible permanent home for 140 letters written between 1917 and 1919. The letters, written by her grandfather Joseph Bosque to his sweetheart (and later his wife, Jennifer’s grandmother), Annie Corbett, described his experiences during Army basic training in Jacksonville, Florida and later, from his post in France. As noted by Jennifer’s late cousin Tom Bosque, who published a compilation of…

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