Fiction with Philatelic Themes

Before I started working at the APRL in December, the majority of my knowledge about stamp collecting came from Terry Pratchett’s book, Going Postal. As a teenager I was a huge fan of Pratchett’s humorous fantasy books set in the fictional Discworld, and Going Postal was one of my favorites. When I arrived at the APRL I was glad to see that the book was included in the library’s collection.

The story of Going Postal concerns Moist van Lipwig, a con artist who receives a job as the Postmaster General of the non-functional Ankh-Morpork Postal Service. As postmaster general, Moist introduces postage stamps, delivers decades of undelivered mail, and competes with a visual telegraph company. The following excerpt is a conversation between Moist van Lipwig and his employee Stanley Howler (likely named after Stanley Gibbons) after Moist invents the first postage stamps. Continue reading “Fiction with Philatelic Themes”

ZIP codes and unintended consequences

Most postal historians know that ZIP codes were created by the U.S. Post Office Department in 1963 to make the delivery of increasing volumes of mail more efficient. These Zone Improvement Plan codes were never intended to be used for anything but mail delivery. They were created with the post office in mind, not neighborhoods or communities.

However, they’re frequently used as a proxy for neighborhoods for statistical purposes. For example, if you visit the U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder, the search box prompts you to enter a state, county, city, town, or zip code.

A recent article from ThoughtCo. examines the use of ZIP codes as proxies for neighborhoods and the implications (along with some fun facts about ZIP codes).


Not a Small World, After All

The American Philatelic Research Library regularly lends up to five books by mail to APS members wherever the U.S. Postal Service can reach them. This standard five-week loan by mail allows for time in transit. If seven weeks go by and the books have not been returned, we take the first steps to get them back.

On March 3, I emailed an overdue reminder to a 27-year member of the APS to whom we had sent the two volumes of Intercontinental Airmails 55 days before. I was not prepared for his reply:

“What a coincidence!  The books arrived YESTERDAY.  I am constantly amazed (dismayed?) at how long it takes for surface mail to get here from the Mainland.”

Seven weeks and five days in transit? It was my turn to be amazed. No wonder he’s interested in Intercontinental Airmails!

Then I noted the last line in his address: Saipan, MP  96950

For those of you unfamiliar, as I was, with that obscure postal abbreviation, “MP” means the Northern Marianas Islands. Military history buffs will recall Saipan as the scene of a Pacific battle ― now there’s an oxymoron on which no one ever remarks ― in the summer of 1944. Continue reading “Not a Small World, After All”

An unusual address

Fellow PL&R blogger Don Heller brought in an amusing selection from the April 15, 1861 Boston Daily Advertiser:

A letter, post-marked at Manchester, N.H., arrived at the Portland post-office last week, bearing the following direction:—”The youngest, unmarried, blue-eyed lawyer in Portland, Maine.” Wonder what were its contents.

Wonder, indeed, what were its contents—and where the Portland post office delivered the letter!

Cornflakes, pig iron, and sheet iron

CornflakesLast week, we asked in our trivia question which breakfast cereal lent its name to a postal forgery operation. William Harnish correctly guess cornflakes and pointed to a Wikipedia article about the operation.

I thought of the question because of a publication that we just cataloged called The Story of Cornflakes, Pig Iron and Sheet Iron. The report was published in Rome in May 1945 and contains a written report as well as photos.

You can also read more about the operation in an article in the August 1984 American Philatelist, “‘Cornflakes’: Using Postal Forgeries to Place Anti-Nazi Literature on German Breakfast Tables.”

Friday fun: another answer, and some curiosities

Last week, we askedThe Stamp Collector's Magazine:

Why is a naughty schoolboy like a postage stamp?

The commenters on this blog got most of the answer, and a Facebook reader got the last bit. Here’s the whole answer, and congratulations to Marty, Neil, Dylan, and Kate!

Because he needs to be licked and put in the corner to make him stick to his letters.

With that, the editor of The Stamp Collector’s Magazine seems to have run out of riddles. But I promised something fun, so here are a few selections from a July 1863 article entitled, “Curiosities of the American Dead-Letter Office,” about the curious ways correspondents close their letters.

Excuse my way of speling, for you now me.
Your friend, Sam.

Adieu, and may the benediction of these covering heavens fall on thy head like lead.
Yours respectfully, au revior, Box 936, City.

Write to me as soon as possible, if not sooner.
I remain yours truly, Delia.

Stay tuned next week for something lighthearted – a riddle if I can find one!