The Pen Holder’s Tale

My friend India gave me this jar 20 years ago. She knew that I liked willow ware, which its pseudo Chinese landscape is reminiscent of; plus, it did not sell at our yard sale.

It looks old, but not valuable, so I’ve always used it as a pen holder on my desk, on hand for taking notes, writing in my journal, and far too infrequently, penning a letter.

When India first gave me the jar, I checked the bottom for markings. None. It looked worn so I figured it was at least 50 years old or more, but I thought nothing more about its origins until I saw this picture:

They’re not twins, but those jars definitely look like siblings or close cousins of mine. The chipped pair in the photo are among the 13,000 Victorian jam jars and pickle pots unearthed in an archaeological dig at the site of a new London rail station.

Crosse and Blackwell once operated a food manufacturing factory on the site, chucking left over or broken pots into a cistern from the 1870s until 1921. The blue and white jars were designed to hold preserved ginger, so I believe my pot once held the same.

I’ll never know how and when it crossed the Atlantic to America and traveled overland to California, but whenever I look at my pen holder now, I will think of London housewives, Crosse and Blackwell and a long ago jar of preserved ginger.

Those Wacky Victorians

frog-card

If I write the words “Victorian Christmas card,” what springs to mind? Perhaps a convivial cast of Dickens-esque characters enjoying carols round the tree or sitting at a banquet table with a flaming plum pudding. Or maybe you think of turn-of-the-century whimsy, with beribboned kittens and rosy-cheeked children. But how about ice skating frogs who have lost both their footing and their pipes, all in a row?

Welcome to the wacky world of Victorian novelty cards where beetles dance with frogs while some winged thing shakes a tambourine.

bug-card

Then again, nothing says holiday cheer like traveling bee and beetle musicians in a wintry landscape. Their walking sticks are a nice touch.

bird-card

Strange these cards may be, but stranger still are the dead bird postcards. No kidding; I have seen more than one Victorian holiday card that features a dead bird lying on its back, little feet cocked in the air, a cheery Christmas message written below.

I decided not to “send” you any of those. You can thank me later.

 

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

christmas-mail-1Readers, are you still out there?

My mail ship veered off course for nearly a year. You can imagine all of the reasons — excuses — and none of them provides an adequate explanation. My life and the accompanying calendar just zoomed past at breathtaking speed. But as the holidays approach, my thoughts inevitably turn to Christmas cards and reconnections and this sadly neglected blog.

Maybe I should not promise to be a better correspondent in the future. Like the scrawled note at the bottom of a seasonal card, intentions are good, but distractions are many. So even if these electronic cards and letters are destined to post only sporadically in the future, let me say here and now HAPPY HOLIDAYS! Let’s begin a season of Christmas.

A Letter a Day

snail mailPat, a Post Whistle reader, urged me to let everyone know about InCoWriMo — not an association of rhyming cattle, but rather International Correspondence Writing Month. And it begins today.

imgresParticipants pledge to write a letter a day every day through the month of February. I don’t know if the organizers chose this month because it’s the shortest, so one’s letter total is under 30, or because the month surrounding Valentine’s Day seems the proper time to connect with loved ones near and far. Whatever the reason, this is the month to let those letters fly.

Life is too hectic for me to commit to writing letters daily, but I do write them weekly now that my daughter is attending college on the east coast. But for those with more stick-to-it-ness than I, pick up the gauntlet of InCoWriMo’s snail mail challenge and give your pen a workout.

Not Your Usual Holiday Greeting

gustavson plunger day Dec 18Happy December 18th! I cheated a little here. This isn’t a Christmas card, but I so enjoy illustrator Adam Gustavson’s journey into quirky land that I had to include Vern Halsey and his pet Komodo Dragon, Felix. And, in keeping with the season, a Christmas tree does peek out of the background.

Adam created the wonderful art for my picture book, Calico Dorsey Mail Dog of the Mining Camps. I hope I have the chance to work with him again, but until then, I am happy to share his illustrations.

Weighing a Stamp

8c1eb47b-a70a-463b-a77b-18c2dfc5de45-620x620In days of yore before the Internet, many of life’s odd little questions were directed to the reference desks of local libraries. Indeed, libraries continue to staff reference desks today.

A cache of such questions, neatly catalogued on cards, is now being published by the New York Public Library. They range from the quirky, “What does it mean when you dream you’re being chased by an elephant?” to the puzzling, “Why do 18th century English paintings have so many squirrels in them, and how did they tame them so that they wouldn’t bite the painter?” to the stuff of Mommy and Me blogs, “Where can I find something on the comical aspects of pregnancy?”

But perhaps my favorite is in the form of an exchange:

“Could you tell me the thickness of a US Postage Stamp with the glue on it?”

“Sorry we couldn’t tell you that quickly, why don’t you try the post office.”

“This is the post office.”

And why the post office needed to know that will remain one of life’s mysteries.

Let’s Play Mister Mailman

Mr Mailman Board GameDespite many an article lamenting the end of snail mail, GameBrotherZ, a Canadian company founded in 2008, believes in the mail enough to have created the new board game, Mister Mailman. The objective? Four mailmen compete to see who will be the first to deliver 27 letters in Mailville.

The manufacturer states: “Welcome to Mailville, a quiet little town, but unique in so many ways! Once in a while, simply for the fun of it or for showing off their talent, our friendly mailmen stage a unique competition around town… to deliver a letter to each of the town’s households, to be followed by a final delivery to the luxurious O’Gilded Family Manor.”

With four letter carriers to deliver mail to fewer than 30 households, Mailville is indeed unique. It must make for a remarkably short post office workday.

But the point of a game is enjoyment rather than realism, and the game testers for The Noise on Toys website say that Mister Mailman delivers. According to Davey, “It’s fun. You can make someone win or lose. You can land on anything and sometimes you can change the weather.”

Change the weather? I like the sound of that. I bet your local letter carrier would, too.