By Janet Klug
Collecting old covers – mailed envelopes, postcards and wrappers – is an exciting branch of stamp collecting.
Collecting old covers with stuff in them doubles the pleasure, or maybe it triples the pleasure, depending on the stuff that is included.
Old letters can tell remarkable tales. They can make us laugh or cry, entertain or inform. Some, in fact, were designed specifically to educate.
In the 1930s, a program was developed to use informative letters and their outer coverings to teach social studies to children. It was a brilliantly devised program created by World Letters Inc.
Each week, the subscriber to the program would receive a letter from a travel writer who was touring the world. The letter was engaging and detailed, with information about the places being toured and the people who lived there. The writer might include an object like a leaf, a paper flag or some other small souvenir.
Figure 1 shows a World Letter written March 6, 1940. Sent from Brazil, it includes not only a stamped envelope and postmark, but a four-page letter and a piece of snake skin.
The letter documents travel on a Pan Am clipper airplane and a visit to a rubber plantation to watch the collection of latex. And, of course, it also provides details about acquiring the snake skin.
These letters, with their enclosures and the covers bearing foreign stamps and postmarks, all became treasures to collect. They served to reinforce geographic lessons learned in school. Stamps helped to educate students about faraway places.
Each year a different travel writer provided the text. Imagine how students would look forward to the weekly letter from afar. They would marvel over the stamps and pinpoint the place of origin on the classroom's world map.
A beautiful leather album with a cover skillfully tooled in the Arts and Crafts style could be purchased with a subscription to World Letters. The subscription also included a parchment world map. The album and map, along with a letter from Malaya, are shown in Figure 2.
The classroom teacher would consult the teacher's guide provided with the subscription. The teacher's guide set out the aims of the program: to cultivate world-mindedness in every child, to teach why people are what they are, and to enable children to develop a sympathetic attitude toward foreign problems and customs.
School clubs were encouraged and enhanced with the use of World Letters. The teacher's guide suggested that clubs for travel, stamp collecting, costume making, scrapbooking, letter writing, book reading, dancing, arts and crafts, nature, radio, current events, drama and commerce could spring from using the World Letters.
It sounds very much like programs that exist today that encourage the use of stamps in classrooms.
The World Letters program seems to have died when the United States entered World War II and international travel became impossible. Nevertheless, the covers and their enclosures still exist and can be found on occasion by trolling stamp show dealer boxes.
In the mid-1950s, a new program organized by the American Geographical Society utilized stamplike stickers to support a series of booklets that made social studies fun and tactile.
Subscribers would receive a set of paperbound booklets, each devoted to a single country. The booklets arrived in a pull-drawer cardboard box. The booklets were written by expert geographers and contained maps and black and white illustrations.
Bound within each booklet were full-color gummed stickers that could be moistened and affixed to spaces on the pages designated for each individual label.
It was sort of like stamp collecting, but easier for the publisher to make their own labels rather than try to find appropriate stamps. These booklets can still be found at used book sales and in online auctions.
Now in the 21st century, letter writing might seem like a disappearing form of communication. E-mail runs rampant, but will generations hence be tying love e-mails up with ribbon and cherishing them forever? It seems unlikely. Will blogs written by travelers today still be around 80 years from now? Probably not.
Real mail has a potential for permanence that electronic mail lacks. It is also tactile and memorable – and that is why we collect real mail.
The good news is that there are organizations today that still encourage letter writing.
The Letter Writers Alliance was formed "for those who enjoy letter writing and postal adventures" and is dedicated to preserving the art form. Contact the Letter Writers Alliance by writing to them at Box 221168, Chicago, IL 60622; or visit www.letterwriters.org.
There are also local letter writing clubs that gather once or twice a month to write letters and share letters they have received.
If writing a letter seems a little too onerous, can you pen a couple of sentences on the back of a picture postcard?
Postcrossing is an organization that facilitates friendly exchanges of picture postcards between people all over the world. It costs nothing to join. You will be given an address of someone outside your own country. You send a picture postcard to them. When they report to Postcrossing that they have received your postcard, your name will be sent to someone and they will send you a postcard. The exchange repeats again with new randomly selected names.
You can sign up to participate at www.postcrossing.com. It is fun and you might make some new friends.
August 01, 2015 07:37 PMIt didn’t take long for the doom-and-gloomers to weigh in with their prognostications following the July 24 announcement from the American Philatelic Society that it hired former political aide Scott English to be the next executive director of the nation’s largest stamp club. Read More ›
July 30, 2015 08:04 PMIn the Editor’s Insights columns in the July 20 Linn’s Stamp News monthly and the Aug. 10 weekly Linn’s, I mentioned Linn’s Editorial Advisory Board without giving too much detail. Linn’s goal is to engage its audience both in print and online and to grow this audience. The role of the newly formed Linn’s Editorial Advisory Board is to assist us achieving these goals by keeping us focused on the needs of our audience and helping us adapt to today’s market. Read More ›
July 30, 2015 09:01 AMAs in previous years, Rarities Week, the series of sales conducted June 22-26 by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York, included several name sales as well as an assortment of notable items from around the world. The week kicked off with something of a do-over: a sizable assortment of better United States stamps and covers that had appeared in four previous sales, but whose winning bidder then failed to pay for them. Read More ›
July 23, 2015 04:35 PMThe Tieton, Wash., post office is a simple 1935 cement block building with a slat wood facade. Townsfolk in the agricultural community of 1,200 in central Washington believe the post office could become a landmark, if only the United States Postal Service would allow them to cover the front with a stamp-like mosaic. Read More ›
Watch as Scott catalog senior editor Marty Frankevicz discusses the largest souvenir card produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The card is one of three issued to honor the centenary of San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News associate editor Michael Baadke discusses Canada’s recently recalled $1.20 Dinosaur Provincial Park stamps featuring inaccurately described Hoodoo rock formations.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News editorial director Donna Houseman discusses the discovery of another pane of the intentionally created upright variety of the $2 Jenny Invert stamp.
Chad Snee discusses the recent sale of the glass locket containing the famed 1918 Jenny Invert airmail error stamp.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.