Postcrossing Blog

Stories about the Postcrossing community and the postal world

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Did you know that there is such a thing as a Pony Express Museum? The Little Mail Carriers heard about it and wouldn’t stop badgering us to go… so when Duane (aka DuaneThePhilatelist) offered to take them for a visit, they jumped on an envelope and off they went. Here they are, to tell you all the story of that adventure.

Pony Express cancellation mark

Hello from a sunny St. Joseph, Missouri! We’re super excited to be taking a special tour of the Pony Express Museum today, and hopefully will learn a lot about this unique way mail was delivered back in 1860. The museum is actually inside a part of the Pike’s Peak Stables, from which westbound Pony Express riders set out on their journey — how cool!

The Pony Express was a short-lived mail service that delivered newspapers, letters, telegrams as well as government and commercial mail using riders on horses across the United States, between St. Joseph in Missouri and Sacramento in California. Here is a superb map of their route, which you can see in great detail on Wikipedia:

Pony Express Map William Henry Jackson

Why was there a need for this service though? Well, back in 1848, gold was found in California, and a lot of people rushed there in search of the opportunities it brought. California was a new state at the time, and its population was growing fast, so there was a lot of demand to connect the west coast with the rest of the country.

At the time, the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company ran a stagecoach service between Kansas and Missouri, and they thought that starting an express service could perhaps earn them a more lucrative contract with the United States government. So the Pony Express was launched on April 3, 1860, when two riders left from the opposite ends of the route, and completed their journeys of 1800 miles (or 2896 kms) in 10 days — an amazing feat that many thought would not be possible!

First Pony Express ride

The Pony Express recruitment announcements were infamous for asking for young, skinny men, and stating that orphans were preferred. Although the payment was high for the time, the journey through the country was perilous, as there were often ambushes and raids. Some riders were killed and many horses stolen or driven off in the Pauite War with the Pauite Indian tribe, whose territory the route crossed. The Pony Express was forced to temporarily suspend its services due to the conflict, and some mail was lost.

Recruitment ad from Pony Express

Because this was an express service and the journey had to be super fast, riders could not carry a lot of mail with them. To make changing horses quick at relay stations, a special saddle cover (called a mochila) was crafted, which had four mail pouches (or cantinas) on each corner. Mail had to fit in these small pouches, so that the riders could be quick!

Cantinas and mochila

One of the most famous Pony Express riders was William Cody… aka Buffalo Bill! He began working for the Pony Express at age 15 and is said to have completed the longest ride, covering 322 miles (518 km) in 21 hours and 40 minutes, using 21 horses. His adventures were immortalised (and are said to have been greatly exaggerated) in a novel that launched him into the spotlight. Many more books and movies were made about his adventures, in which he often wore a “cowboy” hat.

Buffalo Bill's hat

Mail carried by the Pony Express riders had its own cancellation mark, and in the museum you get the opportunity to sort the mail yourself. Postal work is hard, and we were exhausted…

Sorting the mail of the Pony Express

The Pony Express never managed to secure that government contract their founders had hoped for, and became bankrupt after 18 months, closing on October 26, 1861 — just 2 days after the first transcontinental telegraph started its operations. Despite having run for only a short period of time, the service is immortalised in the tales of the American West, and the original route is even a national historical trail that crosses 8 states.

Pony Express centennial stamp

And that’s it for our wonderful visit to the Pony Express Museum — we are off to explore a bit more, and hope you all have the opportunity to visit someday!

Pony Express sign

And a big thank you to Duane, for hosting the Little Mail Carriers and showing them around the museum! 😀 Who knows where the little ones are off to next… keep an eye on the blog for their future adventures!

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Oooooof… World Postcard Day was such a rush! Everywhere we looked, people were posting and tweeting about their postal adventures, showing the pretty cards they were mailing, or giving the world a peak into their happy mailboxes. So many things happened that it took us a while to recover from all the excitement… but here we are now to tell you all about it!

First things first: remember the Stampex Talk we mentioned? It went brilliantly! We had a nice time chatting with Isobel Klempka from Stampex, postcrosser & philatelist Constanze, ABPS chairman Graham Winters, actor and postcrosser Sam West… as well as quite a few of you, who jumped in at the end to show your treasures! We oooh’d and aaah’d at all your stories and special postcards, and had a really good time. If you weren’t at the event, you can enjoy a recording of it below:

A lot more talks about stamps and collecting happened at Stampex between 1–3 October, and you can see an archive of those on the Auditorium of the event.

Singapore Philatelic Museum's event with schools Meanwhile, lots of museums geared up to participate on World Postcard Day! Some showcased the postcards on their collections on social media, others helped spread the word, a few organized workshops or school actions. With the help of the Singapore Philatelic Museum, students in 40 primary schools throughout the country wrote messages of love and appreciation on postcards, to their friends, family and healthcare professionals. For many, this was the first time writing postcards!

World Postcard Day events in Croatian schools

Simultaneously in Croatia, Hrvatska Pošta helped 17,000 students in 500 primary schools throughout the country learn more about mail and postcards with the help of an educational video featuring their mascot, Marko Markica. The students were offered postcards, which they wrote during the class.

Lithuanian World Postcard Day events

And still on the topic of schools, we lost count of the number of times the lesson plan was downloaded! Postcrosser Dovilė (aka VaDovi) challenged her former primary school teacher to participate in the event, which she promptly accepted. They used the lesson plan, postcards were printed, more classes joined and when the day came, 150 students at the Mažeikių Kalnėnų Progimnazija participated in the event, learning about mail, how and what to write on a postcard, where to stick the stamps, etc. Hurray!

The Postcardist logo

Frank Roche (aka Postcardist) put together a special episode of his Postcardist podcast, where we hear about people’s plans for World Postcard Day all around the world. A few postcrossers chimed in to share their plans, and we especially enjoyed hearing about BonnieJeanne’s (aka postmuse) plans to make ravioli for dinner, because they’re often shaped like postage stamps — what a neat idea to celebrate a postal-themed day!

And last but not least, some of you have already started to receive your World Postcard Day badges on your profiles, as the postcards you sent on October 1st slowly arrive to their destinations. A grand total of 45453 postcards were sent on Postcrossing that day — one of the best days ever in the project!

By the time October 1st came to an end, we were overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for all the enthusiasm with which the Postcrossing community embraced the launch of the World Postcard Day. Thank you for spreading the word, sending postcards and helping put this day on the calendar! 💙 It was such a lovely highlight in this gloomy year.

We’re already buzzing with ideas for 2021… but we would love to hear your thoughts too! Got any cool suggestions or plans for next year’s World Postcard Day? Let us know in the comments!

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Hurraaaaaay! 🥳 The World Postcard Day is here at last!

What started as a small idea last year, slowly grew into a real worldwide campaign that connects not just postcrossers but everyone that is happy to find a postcard in their mailbox at the end of the day… which is basically everyone we know! The humble postcard celebrates its 151st anniversary today, and so this is the perfect date to throw a party in honor of our favorite means of communication.

A bunch of World Postcard Day themed postcards, next to stamps and a pen

So many of you have enthusiastically welcomed the idea of a World Postcard Day, and it’s been a joy to see it come to life. The #worldpostcardday hashtag on Instagram is brimming with pictures of all the lovely postcards and activities you’ve put together. Lots of you have printed Leandro’s postcard which we’ve made available last month. Teachers everywhere have been downloading the lesson plan which is now available in several languages thanks to helpful postcrossers. Who knows how many children will write their first postcard today!

Even on this atypical year filled with lockdowns and social distancing, a few postal services, museums and libraries joined the initiative issuing special postcards and cancellation marks, showcasing postcards online, or finding ways to safely involve local communities in the festivities — you can find more details about them on the Events page. Some of these events take place online, so do check them out!

Whichever way you choose to celebrate the day, make sure to send a few postcards and brighten someone’s day. We wish you all a very happy World Postcard Day — the first of many to come! 🎉

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Smithsonian National Postal Museum Streetview

Have you ever been to a Postal Museum? If not, well, there’s never been a better time to start — if only from your own home!

We’ve been looking into Google Arts & Culture, and we’ve discovered that you can use it to visit places like the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, in Washington DC, and then hop straight over to the UK’s Postal Museum in London, no air travel needed!

It’s not just that you can walk around these museums via Google’s Streetview, although that’s kind of cool as well. Depending on the museum, there are also “Stories” and collections, showcasing some of the museum’s exhibitions and holdings. For example, the Museum for Communication Frankfurt has an exhibition on the birth of express mail! Check out the sealed watch which the mail-carriers had to take with them, to prove they were delivering the mail on time:

Sealed watch
Pocket watch used on the mail coach service, with lockable case, Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation

In a similar vein to our previous post about the lost letters of the Brienne archive, we found an online exhibition from the Postal Museum in London on 717 letters found aboard a sunken ship, the Gairsoppa! They’ve recovered 19 bundles of undelivered letters from the ship including old Christmas cards! Wonder if there were any postcards on board…

Gairsoppachristmas
Christmas card from the Gairsoppa, The Postal Museum

If you’re interested in stamps, there’s always the Smithsonian’s Women on Stamps exhibitions, or Amelia Earhart’s stamp collection… Or how about a collection of love letters from the Mexican Archivo General de la Nación?

And of course, they have all kinds of other museums — art museums, exhibitions on Mayan graffiti, natural history collections… I think I have to say the Gairsoppa story is my favourite, so far.

Have a look, and if you find other interesting virtual exhibitions that we should check out, let us know in the comments below! 😊

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This week, we decided to highlight a lovely online exhibition we heard about from postcrosser OrangeSunshine. In 1926, the Dutch Postal Museum in the Hague received a fascinating donation: a trunk of around 2,600 letters from the seventeenth century, some of them still unopened to this day… This obviously got our attention, so we had to take a look!

The piggybank of letters
The Brienne trunk, Sound and Vision, The Hague (CC BY-NC 4.0)

It seems that the trunk was originally owned by the postmaster and postmistress of the Hague at the time, Simon de Brienne and his wife, Marie Germain. Inside of it were all the letters that the post office could not deliver, either because of indecipherable or non-specific addresses, deceased recipients or people that moved… or because the recipient did not want to pay to receive the letter, as was the rule at the time. The chest was called the “piggybank” (spaarpotje), because they hoped to collect the money eventually if the letters were delivered one day!

An undelivered letter
DB-0259, Sound and Vision, The Hague (CC BY-NC 4.0)

The archive has recently been rediscovered and pored over by experts of all kinds, who have been hard at work preserving and digitising the collection, and you can see some of the fruits of their labor in the virtual exhibition!

A folded letter
Opened Letter, DB-2146, Sound and Vision, The Hague (CC BY-NC 4.0)

One of my favourite aspects was learning about letterlocking (discussed more in room 4 of the exhibition). These intricately folded letters were intended to preserve the privacy of the letter-writers against the so-called “Black Chambers”. These where secret workers within the post office who would open, copy and reseal letters in order to spy upon the contents for the government! Other people used codes to write their private letters, making their contents unintelligible if you didn’t know the trick to deciphering them. You’d have to be careful to make sure that the coded nature of the letter wasn’t too obvious, or that would only draw suspicion…

We definitely recommend you take a look at the whole exhibition if you’re interested in this little piece of history. There’s tons of information there about who wrote letters and what they wrote about, and the materials and writing implements they used to do it, providing a fascinating glimpse into another era. If you check out the exhibition, we’d love to hear about what you think! What’s the most interesting thing in the collection from your point of view?