Friday, July 21, 2017

USPS explores the wonder of sharks

Forty-two years after the movie "Jaws" hit the big screen and 101 years after a series of real shark attacks terrorized the Jersey Shore, the USPS is introducing a set of postage stamps featuring five species of sharks. The First Class Forever (49 cents) stamps showcase images of the mako, thresher, great white, hammerhead and whale sharks. All of those sharks are known to inhabit U.S. waters.

According to the USPS news release, there will be a First-Day-of-Issue ceremony at 8 a.m. July 26 at the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Kentucky. It will be a ticketed event. Tickets are limited to a first-come, first-served basis. Anyone interested may request free tickets by sending an email to

Art director Derry Noyes designed the sheet with original artwork by Sam Weber. The sheet includes four stamps each of Weber’s five shark illustrations. The stamps can be pre-ordered in the USPS shop online.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lincoln's 'Bixby Letter' in the News

From the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana
in the Library of Congress
More than 150 years ago, a letter was hand-delivered to Mrs. Lydia Bixby of Boston by the adjutant general of Massachusetts. The letter was presented as correspondence from President Abraham Lincoln, offering his condolences on the deaths of her five sons in the Civil War. Controversy has surrounded the letter since it was first received. And this week, Time magazine's website features an article by Lily Rothman, Time history and archives editor, regarding the latest research on the letter.

According to Time, a working group at the Center for Forensic Linguistics at Aston University in Birmingham, England, has been using forensic linguistics to solve the mystery about who really wrote the letter.

As a 1995 article in the "Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association" explains, the situation was full of drama from the beginning. Not only did Mrs. Bixby not have five sons die in the war, but she was a Southern sympathizer and reportedly tore up the letter shortly after receiving it. Apparently, before it was delivered to Mrs. Bixby, though, the letter was shared with the Boston Evening Transcript and the Boston Evening Traveller, which published it. That's how we know about it today. The copy that is known today, pictured above, is thought to be a copy of a forgery.

But, the issue that has brought 21st century technology together with 19th or 20th century handwriting is the true author of that letter. It is possible -- and even likely, according to the Time article -- that Lincoln's secretary, John Hay wrote the letter. The group that has been researching the letter will present a paper on the topic at the ninth International Corpus Linguistics Conference at the University of Birmingham in Birmingham, England, on Wednesday, July 26.

They compared the writing of Lincoln and Hay to that of the letter to determine who actually wrote it. Although that concept has been around for quite some time, the use of computer technology makes it even more certain that Hay wrote the letter for Lincoln.

You can read the Time article here and the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association article here. They are both interesting reads.

Regardless of whether the author of the letter was Lincoln or Hay, it is an elegant example of a sympathy letter. The letter says, "I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming." And, "I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Jane Austen letter shows her satirical nature

A letter written by author Jane Austen sold yesterday at Sotheby’s in London for quite a bit more than the estimated 100,000 British pounds ($128,820 USD) it was expected to bring in. According to the Sotheby’s website, the letter written to Austen’s niece sold for 162,500 pounds ($209,333).

The 1812 letter highlights the writer’s satirical tendencies with its commentary about a fellow author’s recent book. Written in third person, the letter was sent to Anna Austen but is written as if it were addressing the other writer, Rachel Hunter, whose Gothic novel “Lady Maclairn, the Victim of Villainy” Jane Austen deemed to be “most tiresome and prosy”

A second piece, a fragment of a letter written to the same niece in 1814, was auctioned off at the same time for 17,500 pounds ($22,544). Another letter fragment was also offered, but the auction site had not yet listed the final sale price of it when I checked this morning.

For more details on the letters, visit the Sotheby’s site. There is a news release and three auction listings.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Wyeth to be honored with U.S. postage stamp set

On Wednesday, July 12, the U.S. Postal service will have a First-Day-of-Issue dedication ceremony for the Andrew Wyeth stamps that commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth.It will be at the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Wyeth's home town. His son, Jamie Wyeth, is expected to be at the ceremony.

According to the USPS, the pane of 12 Forever stamps celebrates the centennial of the birth of Andrew Wyeth (July 12, 1917 – Jan. 16, 2009), one of the most prominent American artists of the 20th century. "Working in a realistic style that defied artistic trends, Wyeth created haunting and enigmatic paintings based largely on people and places in his life, a body of work that continues to resist easy or comfortable interpretation," the USPS news release states.

The set of stamps each features a detail from a different Andrew Wyeth painting. The paintings are: “Wind from the Sea” (1947), “Big Room” (1988), “Christina’s World” (1948), “Alvaro and Christina” (1968), “Frostbitten” (1962), “Sailor’s Valentine” (1985), “Soaring” (1942–1950), “North Light” (1984), “Spring Fed” (1967), “The Carry” (2003), “Young Bull” (1960), and “My Studio” (1974). The selvage, or area outside of the stamp images, shows a photograph of Wyeth from the 1930s. Art director Derry Noyes of Washington, DC, designed the pane.

Wyeth, who finished his last completed painting just a few months before his death, received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1990 and the National Medal of Arts in 2007. Sites in Pennsylvania and Maine that influenced his work were recently designated National Historic Landmarks.

The stamps are available for pre-order on the USPS website.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Happy mailbox!

It's been a great week for incoming mail! I received letters from two fellow bloggers, several Postcrossing postcards, a letter with a wax seal that survived the system, a postcard that made it all the way from France with 3-D stickers on it and more.

One of the Postcrossing cards is a Father Christmas puzzle postcard from the Czech Republic. It's especially significant because not only do I collect Santa Claus stuff, but my great-grandparents came to Texas from what is now known as the Czech Republic!

Now, it's time for me to get busy and do my part to keep the art of letter writing alive!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Online exhibit shows the letters of war

The Legacy Project, which I've mentioned on this blog several times, has teamed up with the Gilder Lehrman Insitute of American History to present an online exhibit titled "Battle Lines: Letters From America's Wars."

The exhibition has five chapters, and each chapter features several letters. If you have the right software in your computer (Adobe Flash), you can see images of the original letters, as well as typed transcripts.

To visit the exhibit, go to

It is a wonderful project, especially interesting for history buffs and letter lovers (I've seen the term epistophile used unofficially online).

Monday, July 3, 2017

Letter Writing Inspiration

A News Cafe
Here is some letter-writing inspiration to start the week off on a good note:

Last week, Valerie Ing of Redding, California, wrote her column for A News Cafe ( about Wendi Harner and her letter writing habits. Not only does Wendi love to write letters, but she's also a big proponent of Girls Love Mail, an organization that sends letters to women who are in treatment for breast cancer. Anyone can write letters to be sent in packets to those with cancer.

To read Valerie's story about Wendi, click here. For more information about Girls Love Mail, visit the group's website at

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