Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Looking for a last-minute gift?

If you're still shopping for holiday gifts for your favorite stamp collector, consider the 2009 Stamp Yearbook or the updated 36th Postal Service Guide to U.S. Stamps. Both should (might?) be available at your local U.S. Post Office.

According to, The Guide to U.S. Stamps costs $19.95 and is a fully illustrated, four–color guide providing the most comprehensive information available about the U.S. stamp program and its vivid history. Beginning with the first stamps issued in 1847, The Postal Service Guide to U.S. Stamps covers more than 4,000 stamps issued up to the present, as well as:
  • An updated Stamp Series section that lists stamps categorized by their respective series, such as Legends of Hollywood, Black Heritage, and Nature of America.
  • Every category of U.S. Stamp — definitive, commemorative, airmail, duck stamps, stamped envelopes, and more — all organized into easy-to-use, color-coded sections for quick access.
  • Detailed listings for each stamp, with color illustrations, Scott catalog numbers, dates of issue, used and unused prices, quantities issued (when known), and separate listings for design variations.
  • A complete guide to the 2009 commemorative stamp program.
  • Advice on how to start your own stamp collection.
  • A resource section, a glossary of important terms, and much more.

A little more pricey is the 2009 Stamp Yearbook. At $59.95, it highlights an array of men and women who helped fulfill the promise of America. From entertainment icons Bob Hope and Gary Cooper, to educator and activist Anna Julia Cooper, and a host of brave civil rights pioneers and visionary leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, this year’s honorees represent our nation at its best. Their stories, retold on stamps and in the 64–pages of the hardcover book, are sure to fascinate and inspire.

The yearbook also includes profiles of stamp artists as well as timelines and quotes. Plus, for the first time, a special section designated for collecting mail–use stamps has been created. The yearbook comes with 61 stamps plus mounts from this year’s collectible program.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just a quick letter

Sometimes, it takes more effort to write a quick note than it does to pen a massive missive. To write a short letter, you have to organize your thoughts and edit your words.

Here's one quote on the topic:

"I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."
-- Mark Twain
Long or short, write a letter today.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Another "month"?

Earlier this year, we celebrated National Card and Letter Writing Month in April. Now, I'm seeing references to January being "National Letter Writing Month" and the second week in January as being "Letter Writing Week." So, it looks like we get to celebrate again!  

Of course, according to what I read, January is also National Soup Month, National Thank You Month and  Reaching Your Potential Month. So, we can all eat soup while we write thank you letters and make plans for reaching our potential. Oh! I can't wait for January to get here!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Postmark

I've been getting mail with an unusual postmark. The first one or two letters that came had smudged postmarks, so I wasn't sure who that was...I thought it looked like The Grinch at first. Then, as more letters and Christmas cards arrived, I was able to see a clearer image and decided it was Kermit the Frog.

So, I did some checking into it...sure enough...that's Kermit.

According to the US Postal Service press release, Kermit the Frog said, “We’re excited to be helping the Postal Service make the holiday special for kids across the country. It’s the perfect way to celebrate.”

The postmark of Kermit the Frog will appear in the upper right-hand corner of holiday cards and letters mailed throughout the month of December.

“Helping Santa Claus is always a good idea, especially at this time of year,” added Fozzie Bear, who joined Kermit and Postmaster General John E. Potter in announcing the postmark earlier this month. Fozzie Bear saluted the Postal Service for 234 years of delivering holiday cheer — and saluted Santa, too, just to be on the safe side.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pony Express Envelope

Last week, my Dad e-mailed to let me know about a story he'd seen on a Pony Express envelope that sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars at a recent auction.

A little bit of research led me to the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries Web site and the information on two envelopes that sold for $550,000 each. The envelopes were in the multi-million dollar collection owned by retired Hawaii business executive, Thurston Twigg-Smith, 88, former publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper. His favorite item in the collection was also one of the most valuable — one of only two known surviving Pony Express letters that originated from Hawaii, and is described as “one of the most important covers in United States postal history.”  Additionally, another envelope sold for $550,00. That one is one of only six Pony Express covers addressed to foreign addresses. The one in this collection was sent to Switzerland and featured a unique combination of stamps. Overall, the 63 items in the collection sold for almost three and a half million dollars.

Also selling for a high price, was one of only three surviving covers from the first day of the Pony Express service. The envelope, pictured at right, courtesy of Siegel Auction Galleries, sold for $400,000.

The Pony Express envelopes are quite interesting, and you can view each envelope and read all about them on the Web site. Equally interesting is the rest of the site, if you find stamps, postal history, autographs and other ephemera of interest.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Letter That Barney Wrote

After I posted Aunt Bee's quote about Barney's letter (characters from "The Andy Griffith Show) earlier this week, JarieLyn wondered what the letter said. We have the show on video, so I watched it again to make sure I had the words right.

Barney Fife is writing from Raleigh where he has moved to work as a detective in the police department. When the scene opens, Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor is reading the letter to Aunt Bee:

Things are going along swimmingly in the department. Do you remember Miss Clark? She was that sharp little number that sat at the desk as you entered. She and I have been getting a little chummy of late. As a matter of fact, I'm taking her to the policeman's ball. It's a masquerade. I'm going as Jack, and she's going as Jill. We wanted to do something different.

Well, that's all for now. Give my love to Opie, Aunt Bee and Helen.

Your Buddy,
That's when Aunt Bee says, "He writes a nice letter, doesn't he?" And Andy answers, "He sure does."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How Much Is a Letter Worth?

How much is a letter worth? Well, I guess it depends on whether you're talking about money or sentimentality. And, I guess it depends on who wrote it.

If you're talking about money, apparently a letter can be worth $3.2 million if it's written by the first president of the United States.

A letter written by George Washington sold for that much -- $3,200,000.00 -- on Friday at Christie's auction in New York. You can read more about it at the Washington Post.

A Good Letter Writer on TV

"He writes a nice letter, doesn't he?"
            - Aunt Bee
            "Andy Griffith Show," episode: "Barney Comes to Mayberry"
She said it about Barney Fife, after Barney had left Mayberry and was writing a letter back to Andy and Aunt Bee about his life in Raleigh.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Letter Writing Concerto

I'm sure a lot of people listen to music while they write letters, and we've even discussed on this blog songs about letters, but did you know that you could listen to a four-movement concerto for violin and orchestra that is titled "The Lost Art of Letter Writing"?

About a year ago, Australian composer Brett Dean won the 2009 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for the work, which was commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra for violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman, was chosen for the prize from among 145 entries worldwide.

According to the information released about the concerto, each movement in the half-hour concerto is based on a 19th-century letter, with a violin evoking the mood of each letter as it plays the alternate roles of writer and recipient. Authors of the letters include composers Johannes Brahms and Hugo Wolf, artist Vincent Van Gogh and Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.

You can read more about the concerto at the Boosey & Hawkes Web site, and you can listen to a sample of the music here.

From the Boosey & Hawkes' site, here are some of the composer's notes:

Not only is letter writing becoming a lost art, but one could argue that handwriting itself is an endangered skill. Aspects of my daughters’ education, in particular its heavy reliance on electronic stimuli, have reinforced my view that we are genuinely losing touch with the tactile element of written communication. A recent article in an Australian newspaper points out that the proportion of personal letters amongst the total number of sent articles handled by the national postal authority, Australia Post, has declined from 50% in 1960 to 13% nowadays. Sure, we stay in touch arguably more than ever, via telephone, email and messaging, but that too has undoubtedly changed the nature of communicating.
These were then the initiating thoughts behind my Violin Concerto, ‘The Lost Art of Letter Writing’, co-commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie and the Stockholm Philharmonic for the esteemed soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann, to whom the work is dedicated with my great admiration. Each movement is prefaced by an excerpt from a 19th Century letter of one kind or another, ranging from private love-letter to public manifesto. Each title refers to the place and year the letter was written. The violin plays the alternate roles of both an author and a recipient of letters, but perhaps more importantly, the solo part conjures something of the mood of each of the different letters.

Indeed, this news came out about a year ago, and if you read Wendy's A Passion for Letter Writing blog, you might have read about Brett Dean and this concerto earlier this year, but it's an interesting piece, so I think it bears mentioning again.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Postal Greetings

The Smithsonian's National Postal Museum features an exhibit on U.S. Postal Service employees that includes a 1915 holiday postcard left by a letter carrier. It's a brief entry, only one part of an impressive online exhibit about U.S. postal employees, but it is quite interesting.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Night Mail" documentary

Earlier this morning, Kevin left a comment on a February blog post I'd written about the W.H. Auden poem "Night Mail." Kevin let me know that the 1936, black and white documentary about the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) mail train from London to Scotland is online at YouTube.

The documentary is in three parts. Part one is here; part two is here; and, part three is here. It's interesting to watch and see how the mail was handled just 70 years ago. If you don't have time to watch the entire 22-minute film, click here and watch just the part with the poem. It's great! It is often recited to the cadence of the train chugging down the tracks.

Thanks to Kevin for pointing it out to me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reasons to Write Letters

Why write a letter? Here are a few reasons to write a letter:

~ To share some good news with a friend or loved one
~ To wish someone a happy birthday, a joyous Hanukkah, merry Christmas, happy New Year, a good day, etc.
~ To introduce yourself to a new friend/penpal
~ To respond to a letter you've received
~ To thank someone for something
~ To apologize for something...maybe that it's taken you so long to write back
~ To offer an encouraging word to someone who needs a little boost

Those are just a few ideas. Why do you write letters? Do you have other reasons?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Letter Can Make A Difference

Those of us who write letters usually think that our letters can make a difference. Maybe we'll brighten a friend's day, or lend support to someone who needs a friend to lean on.

Sometimes, if we've written the right letter, we might make a more wide-spread difference. A complaint to a manufacturer might result in a problem being fixed or a faulty product being improved. A compliment letter to a boss might get a raise or at least some praise for a diligent employee. Often it takes more than one letter to change a politician's vote, but each letter counts.

A story from Colorado Springs, Colo., tells of a little boy's letter that made a difference. According to the story on, Quinn Cunningham wrote a letter to the city's street department. It seems the sidewalks at his sister's school did not have ramps for people with disabilities. Quinn knew that many students at the school have special needs, including his sister, although she's now a former student.

It's quite a story. There's a video interview at the site, too.

Have you ever written a letter that made a difference? Have you ever received a letter that made a difference in your life? Tell me about it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great article on letter writing

On the Wall Street Journal's Web site is an article by Bob Davis about his seven-year correspondence with his 93-year-old cousin Sam Fink. The article, Through Letters: A Family History Unveiled, is quite interesting. I recommend it for letter-writing inspiration.
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