We were pleasantly surprised to see today’s Google Doodle. If you love snailmail like we do, then you probably recognize the style of today’s Google Doodle from Robert Indiana, whose work was used to create a “Love” U. S. postage stamp in 1973. Do you have a favorite Valentine card, story or stamp? If so, post a comment about it here or on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/ipresort)
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Victorian Christmas Card
It’s the time of year when business picks up at the post office as people across the country get into the holiday spirit. There are gifts and packages to ship, and about 1.9 billion Christmas cards to send.
Greeting cards have actually been around for most of recorded history, going back to ancient China. Europeans were giving greeting cards back in the 1400s. But those early cards were hand-made and hand-delivered. The greeting card as we know it today, commercially made and sent through the mail, did not arrive until the invention of the postage stamp revolutionized mail systems.
Modern commercially printed Christmas cards first appeared in Britain, in 1843, just three years after the introduction of the Penny Black stamp. Back then, the cards usually did not feature winter scenes, but often had fairly elaborate spring-themed pictures. The mails were rapidly becoming inexpensive, efficient and reliable, and the industrial revolution caused the migration of millions of people who were looking to work in the manufacturing centers. As these trends progressed, so did the popularity of sending Christmas cards.
The idea of commercially printed Christmas cards reached America in 1875. Their popularity waned when the USPS gave up its monopoly on printed postcards in 1898, but resurged in the 1920s and has continued to the present day.
The success of those early commercial Christmas cards contributed to the success of modernized postal systems through a drastic increase in mail volume. It also inspired an entire greeting-card industry, with cards for nearly every holiday, birthday or occasion. Yet even today, more Christmas cards are sent than any other type of greeting card.
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People began collecting postage stamps almost immediately after the first example, the Penny Black, was issued in 1840. Today it is one of the world’s most widely enjoyed hobbies, and it is estimated that there are 20 million stamp collectors just in the United States.
While many people collect stamps as nothing more than a recreational activity, some stamps have become highly valuable objects. Perhaps the most famous example in American history is the Inverted Jenny stamp. The origin of the Inverted Jenny goes back to 1918, when the USPS initiated trails in airmail service. Airmail cost 24 cents at the time, three times the rate for regular mail, and the Postal Service printed special stamps for the new class of mail. These stamps featured the image of a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane, the type of plane that was used in the early air-mail experiment, in blue ink, with a border of red containing the words “U.S. Postage, 24 cents.
This two-color process required the sheets of stamps to be run through printing presses twice, and at least four sheets (of 100 stamps each) of these early airmail stamps was printed with an error: the Jenny biplane was upside down. Three of them were caught and destroyed before they left the production facility, but one sheet slipped through into circulation. Mistakes such as this had occurred before with other stamps, which had then become collectible, so stamp collectors were seeking out the Inverted Jennies shortly after they were printed.
One such collector was lucky enough to have bought that sheet of Inverted Jennies at his local post office. He then sold it to a stamp dealer for $15,000, quite the sum in 1918. Since then, the sheet was broken up, mostly into blocks of four and several individuals. One block of four Inverted Jennies recently sold for nearly $3 million.
The Inverted Jennies’ fame has only grown, partly through the influence of popular culture. They have featured in the story lines of mystery novels, film comedies, and even an episode of The Simpsons, a show honored with its own USPS stamps last year. There’s no word on any Inverted Homers. At least, not yet.
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Perhaps it is a sign of how electronic communication has changed our culture, but I’ve noticed that there are no more mailmen on TV. It wasn’t so long ago when the postal service was such a part of everyday life that characters who worked as postmen were fairly common in entertainment.
The most recent example I can think of is Newman, from “Seinfeld”. Newman was
Newman of Seinfeld
portrayed as a self-interested and incompetent comic foil. “Seinfeld” ended its run in 1998. Coincidentally, that was the same year Google was founded. An estimated 65 million Americans were regular Internet users then. Today there are almost 240 million.
Before Newman, there was Cliff Claven, from
“Cheers.” Cliff, a boorish know-it-all, was rarely seen out of uniform, even though most scenes took place after work at the titular watering hole. In 1982, the year “Cheers” debuted, there were only around 620,000 home computers in the United States.
With those two examples, it’s tempting to say the post office is better off not having its employees portrayed on the small screen. But there were positive depictions as well. Reba the Mail Lady brightened Pee Wee Herman’s day every time she appeared to deliver a letter on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse”, even if she did find the playhouse rules confusing.
Electronic communications haven’t just changed the way people correspond over the last decade. They’ve also changed the way they pay their bills and opened another medium for marketing. But for most of the 20th Century, the mail was as much a part of life as turning on a computer is today.
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