A Very English Christmas


Since Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol nearly 175 years ago, the British have occupied a special corner of the market when it comes to yuletide cheer. Just check out these amazing Wallace and Gromit postage stamps.

I don’t really like plum pudding, but I want to serve that gigantic holly-bedecked cannonball for dessert. And note the paper crowns worn in the first and third stamps, the type of tissue paper hats found inside Christmas crackers. I am such an anglophile that I have been foisting that custom on my American family for the past 20 years.crackers

Finally, even the British postman’s red bag seems more seasonally apt. So, here’s wishing us all a holly-filled, paper-crown topped season of joy. Happy Christmas, one and all!postmen-in-the-uk

Owl Post

Owl post 3My daughter longed to receive a letter from Hogwarts on her 11th birthday. She knew Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione lived only in her books, no matter how real the stories seemed when read under the covers of her bed. Still, she hoped in one tiny corner of her heart of hearts…

We could all use a little magic in our lives, a visit to a world where staircases move and chocolate frogs jump from the package. Personally, one of my favorite aspects of J. K. Rowling’s immersive fantasy was watching owls deliver letters in several of the films. How cool is that? To not only receive a letter sealed in wax, but to have an owl drop it in your hands.

owl postSo I was delighted to learn that muggle visitors to the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida can capture a little of that magic at the Owl Post in Hogsmeade. The shop is lined with postboxes and owls at the ready, and also sells letter-writing supplies that include seals and sealing wax for all four houses of Hogwarts.

owl post 2You can even have your letter stamped with a Hogsmeade postmark. That way an owl really does help deliver the mail.

While the Owl Post sells custom postage (at a surcharge), there’s another place that supplies magical stamps to muggles: the U.S. Post Office. You might consider buying a book of Harry Potter stamps in advance and bringing them with you to Hogsmeade. Even though they were issued a couple of years ago, the USPS continues to sell them online because they are Forever stamps.

Each of the 20 stamps features a different photo of one of the characters, but I think my favorite four are of the young friends when they — and we — experienced the magic of Hogwarts for the first time.

owl post 5

Owl Post 4

Civil War Mail

Civil war 3Next to decent rations and warm socks, what do soldiers want most when far from home? Mail.

Troops of the American Civil War were no exception. 3¢ postage would send a letter to a Union soldier; Confederates paid 5¢ (for up to 500 miles) at the beginning of the conflict, but 10¢ for all stamps after 1862. Letters that were forwarded because the army marched to a new encampment cost extra, and the soldiers on the receiving end had to pay for any postage due.

Civil War 4People wrote letters on lined paper and sealed them in 5 ½ by 3 inch envelopes that looked very much like those used today. Because letters were slipped into envelopes that could be glued shut, no one needed wax seals any more. And to dress up the mail, printers offered a slew of patriotic envelopes.

Most senders affixed the stamp in the standard upper right corner, but some either didn’t get that memo or wanted to send private messages via the language of stamps. According to one definition, an upside-down-stamp might mean “Do you remember me?”

Civil War 2

Of course, no matter how decorated the envelope or how much postage cost, what concerned soldiers and their families back home the most was hearing from their loved ones, even if the news was heartbreaking.

See more illustrated envelopes from the American Civil War.

The Slant of Love

Language of StampsWho knew there was a language of stamps? I had heard about the language of flowers, where the Victorians wrote entire books about how to convey meaning through carefully constructed bouquets.

cupid-s-code-1However, our 19th century forebears did not stop there. In an age of rigid conduct, when even the “legs” of a piano were draped in fabric, men and women found ever more subtle ways to send messages to one another. Hence, a language of stamps.

According to an article in the Philatelic Database, “The problem of postmarking the stamps placed on various parts of the envelope finally became so great, that postal administrations of the world introduced regulations requiring the sender of mail to affix stamps in the upright corner of the envelope.”

Those new regulations mean we can no longer say “Accept my love” by lining up a stamp with the recipient’s surname or “I hate you” with right-angled postage in the top left corner.

Language-of-StampsHowever, I am baffled about what I actually am saying each month when paying credit card and utility bills. While placing a stamp where the post office instructs — upright in the top right corner — means “I desire your friendship,” a straight up and down stamp ANYWHERE on the envelope means “Goodbye sweetheart.”

I hope the gas company doesn’t take my payment the wrong way.

Read more about how angling your stamps can speak volumes.

Outside the Envelope

Story on a stampWhen mailing stories to our friends, most of us seal the words inside the envelope (though I have been known to write on the flap when a last minute thought could NOT wait until the next letter). But if you lived in Ireland last year, you could have mailed an entire 224 word story in the stamp alone.

Commissioned by the Irish Post to commemorate Dublin’s permanent title as a UNESCO City of Literature, the new stamp was based on the winning tale from a writing competition for primary and secondary school students. Eoin Moore embodied the contest’s “essence of Dublin” theme in his paean to all the lives that have helped forge the city, concluding with:

All of us who travel those arteries step on the words, actions, and lives of those who travelled them before us. The city embodies the people, and the people embody the city.”

I love that image of my stepping on the words of those that have gone before and of my leaving new paths of metaphors and similes for others to follow in the future.

Read more about the contest here.

Stamp Ball Mystery

StampBallThe mystery is not what this is.
It’s a 600-pound ball of stamps that measures 32 inches in diameter.

Nor is the mystery the number of stamps in it.
Reportedly 4,655,000 in one solid — not hollow — ball. All cancelled.

The mystery is not its location.
It’s the centerpiece of the Leon Myers Stamp Center at Boys Town in Nebraska, the child care agency founded by Father Flanagan, whom Spencer Tracy personified in a 1938 film.

And there’s no mystery about who made it.
That would be the members of the Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club who began in 1953 and finished in 1955. Apparently, they had a lot of time for hobbies.

No, ultimately, the mystery for me is WHY they devoted two years to layering over four million stamps into Planet Postage. I guess it’s a more lasting result than if they had spent their time playing Parcheesi or Capture the Flag.

Linked by Mail: China & the U.S.

First Flight Cover -- round the world via Hong Kong

1937 First Flight Cover celebrating Pan Am’s new roundtrip route to China via Hong Kong

The Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. has opened a fascinating new exhibit on the Pacific Exchange: China & U.S. Mail, March 6, 2014 – January 4, 2015. In both English and Mandarin the exhibit’s landing page states:

Giant Panda Stamp 1973“Using mail and stamps, Pacific Exchange brings a human scale to Chinese-U.S. relations in three areas: commerce, culture, and community. The exhibit focuses on the 1860s to the 1970s, a time of extraordinary change in China. It also explores Chinese immigration to the United States, now home to four million Chinese Americans.”

museum web page traces the history of China and America’s exchange of goods, ideas, diplomacy and stamps through the stories behind the exhibition’s envelopes and postage.