Last year I began an envelope exchange, a popular activity for letter lovers of all ages. Within a short time, almost 50 people committed to sending one hand-addressed envelope each month to a “pen pal” on their list.
The participants are both ladies and gents all over the United States as well as internationally. If you’re new to hand lettering or journaling, these letter exchange opportunities exist through guilds, Facebook groups or instructors like me—and January is the perfect time to start!
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In 1977, January 23rd was chosen by the Writing Instrument Manufacturer’s Association to be National Handwriting Day. That day is also the birthday of John Hancock, who was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Since many schools have stopped making penmanship a required curriculum, some parents and teachers have united to continue the interest and promote the benefits (both pleasure and scientific) of handwriting.
“John Hancock” by John Singleton Copley via Wikimedia Commons
The Universal Penman, a book by engraver George Bickham, offers fascinating details on early English writing styles. It’s a glimpse into the art of writing, “made useful to the gentleman and scholar, as well as the man of business.” Not only was penmanship taught in school, it continued as an essential art form for life.
Over 200 pages of images show actual examples of letters and documents on every topic imaginable: from virtue to friendship, education, music, poetry and laughter as well as invoices, letters to the king, and promissory notes.
The samples are elaborate models of flourishing and highly-detailed images with birds, animals, cherubs and people. It is available on Amazon.
The spirit of those earlier penmen is reflected in pen pals of all ages. Such care is taken in choosing the writing tool, the paper, the envelope (shape, size, color, design) the words, even the postage stamp. If the page could speak, it would be in a gracious and thoughtful manner.
In most envelope exchanges, no particular mailing day is required so the envelope’s arrival is usually a surprise. As you can image, these are pieces of communication that are opened first and read with delight—then re-read several times before they are saved.
Sometimes brief emails are exchanged between the creator and recipient. “How did you create . . . I can’t wait to try that technique . . . I loved the way you wrote my name.” It is a shared sensory experience for both the sender and the recipient.
Often, we get to know each other through what we send: a decorated envelope, a handmade card, a personal note, sometimes even a small enclosure such as a tea bag, or an envelope of flower or vegetable seeds.
Some of the envelopes I’ve received over the past 40 years.
Most of all, this commitment provides the opportunity to learn about other people, other cultures, new artistic techniques, and postage stamps from other places.
Let’s celebrate handwriting and keep it alive by sending a handwritten note or card to a friend this month. And, if you have an opportunity to participate in an envelope exchange, I hope you’ll respond by saying, “I’m in!” It is great fun!
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