I was asked to do a short presentation during one of Paper Umbrella's Letter Writing Club nights and decided to touch on the secret language of stamps. I've always loved ciphers, hidden messages and codes in plain sight, so this topic was intriguing as I researched it.
This all started in the Victorian Era when courting was an art in itself and men and women were expected to behave in a certain, respectable way. Discrete messages between two lovers could be hidden in plain sight, especially when living with meddling parents. This way of sending secrets was also during the heyday of postcards as your messages were in full view of prying eyes. You could write, "Wish you were here.." or talk about the weather but the stamp would carry a different meaning.
So what's the code? If you split up the surface of a postcard or envelope into 8 sections (9 if you count the area of the recipients address)
- Stamp upside down in the top left corner: I love you
- Stamp is sideways on top left corner: My heart belongs to another
- Stamp positioned in the centre top of the envelope/postcard: Yes
- Stamp positioned in the centre bottom of the envelope/postcard: No
- Stamp upside down in the top right corner: Write no more
- Stamp positioned at an angle to the right, positioned in the top left: I hate you
- Stamp upright in the top right corner: I desire your friendship.
Codes like this became so common, many national postal services introduced strict guidelines and sometimes letter weren't delivered if improper stamp placement wasn't present. Some codes would even go a stamp further and incorporate 2 or more stamps, or even using the same of different coloured stamps would signify a different message. Nowadays it's not such a big deal where you place your stamps but because today's stamps are a lot more colourful, you can't use the colour system so much.
Sometimes codes were confusing as they crossed international borders are different countries had their own code system. In the USA a stamp placement might portray "I love you" where in Sweden it meant "Leave me alone in my grief.
Codes of this sort are still used today in the military and in places such as prisons where mail is usually intercepted before reaching the intended receiver. During the Vietnam war, putting a flag stamp upside down was a gesture of protest and it signified distress. Most commonly today stamps are either upside down which means I love you or sideways which means you've been relegated to the friend zone.
This is a postcard I found at the Antique Mall. It says "It is not right for you to read the message on the other side of card unless it is addressed to you. Directions must be followed carefully" Rub a wet sponge or cloth in the tinted developing material on the other side of card and wipe lightly and slowly downward until developed. Start at the stars each wipe. When you turn the card over....
The card reads "We want you to try Purity Flour, Purity Rolled Oats, Purity Food - for breakfasts and desserts, and Puro-a-self rising mixture for pancakes, gems, cakes; in fact 40 different recipes. Every sack and package bear this trademark. It is a guarantee of perfect quality, absolute purity. Ask your dealer.
Western Canada Flour Mills Co Ltd.
This postcard uses invisible ink for this ad made by the National Invisible Print Co. How cool is that?! Another way to post a secret message!
Sending correspondence back in the day was a heartfelt practice. Sending email today just doesn't have the same effect.
I decided to to a wrap up of all the correspondence I sent out in February during InCorWriMo. I was 1 day late on my last outgoing mail but I am still counting it as a successful month. This was my first time participating in InCorWriMo and had such a good time. Only 2 letters sent were Canadian, the rest were USA or international. How did you do?
After being a member of Postcrossing for 8 months I have reached a milestone; my 50th postcard received! This one comes from the Ukraine. I looked back on my tin of postcards this weekend and I am very happy with my new collection.
We have started a Facebook Event page for our upcoming Postcrossing Meet Up. We hope you can join us. I will have a small 5 pack of Saskatchewan postcards for one lucky attendee to get started. I may gather a few more freebies to give away as we near Jan 21st.
Jeremy and I also listed some new items in our shop this weekend. Some vintage postcards, a journal, a stationery set and this cool book Jeremy found while we were in Edmonton.
This gem is full of examples of letters (almost 400 examples) where you simply change the name a a few minor details of the template and there you have a well written, thoughtful letter using all the right letter writing etiquette. In the Preface, there is a list of hints for the reader to consider when sending correspondence. They are as follows:
1) Always address and date a letter.
2) write distinctly and do not write across your letters.
3) Punctuation is important.
4) The formation of sentences deserves attention.
5) Be natural and do not strive after effect in your correspondence.
6) The frequent underlining of words is a blemish which should be avoided.
7) Too many quotes, dashes and notes of exclamation are unnecessary.
8) It is better to err on the side of over-politeness when addressing gentleman of any position.
9) Come to the point.
10) Huried writing is to be depreciated. A clean, well written letter, free from erasures and unsightly blots implies consideration.
11) Rude or impertinent letters should never be written and of received, should be ignored or returned to the writer.
12) Never say ill natured things in a letter
13) Never use postcards when applying for payment of a debt.
14) Never assume in correspondence the pretence of being a Solicitor. And finally
15) Fold your letter up carefully. Do not crease it up to make it fit in a small envelope. Use, rather a large one so that the sheet of paper may be unsoiled and smooth. Put the stamp on straight and fasten the envelope firmly.
Now how's that for covering the basics?
I got a beautiful section of postcards yesterday from my friend Angela. She is an amazing photographer who has been shooting photos of everything around her. She has a nice selection of prints, cards and postcards in her Etsy Shop which all capture the prairie charm we love in this province. If you are looking for some totally unique postcards to send out all over the world, you should shop with Angela at Sparkling Medusa and show others the beauty we have around us.
Instead of taking over the kitchen island, I moved all the Shoebox Post paper crafting up into my upstairs studio. Using my grandmas dining room table, I'm starting to set up my work area so that everything is in one place and I'm not adding more clutter to the household.
Added a few more items to the Etsy shop as well, including some more envelope packs, journal cards and finally some vintage ephemera!
Jeremy, Jenny and I also took a bit of a Sunday drive into the Qu'appelle Valley and brought back a nice selection of vintage postcards. The cheesy motor in ones are my favourites. These postcards are a gentle reminder of how good we have it now when travelling about with such things as wall to wall carpets, color TV, Air conditioning and even individual electric heat!