Postage stamps can tell layered stories — about their place of origin, about their sender, about world events — you just need to get them and use them. Let’s use postage stamps to revive International Letter Writing Week.
Tomorrow, October 9, will be World Post Day’s 54th birthday. Although the United Nations was created in 1945, the Universal Postal Union (UPU), now part of the UN, was established as an independent body in 1874, and is probably the oldest existing intergovernmental organization. Thanks to its existence, mail services are standardized and countries don’t need to setup multiple cross-country agreements to dispatch mail.
May 6, 1840 was a key date in the history of postal services — the British Post Office (BPO) issued the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black, much to the discomfort of the Postmaster General. The BPO had been operational for almost 180 years when the Penny Black was introduced, and until then recipients had to pay for mail that arrived at their doorstep using a complicated formula that included the weight of the package and the distance it travelled. The discomfort of the Postmaster General probably arose from the fact that he would now have to pay for mail he sent out; because of his position, he did not have to pay for mail that he received.
My paternal grandfather had worked in the postal services in India. During WWI, when India was still under British rule, he was dispatched to Egypt for postal work. Luckily, by the time he retired as Postmaster of Satara in the 1950s, India had regained her independence and postal services across the globe worked like a well-oiled machine. My family’s connection to the postal service continued into the next generation, with an uncle spending his entire adult working life in the postal services; he retired in the 1990s.
I doubt that my interest in letter writing and stamp collecting has anything to do with these family connections to the postal services, but they are interests that have stayed with me since my youth.
Today, we can communicate with others who aren’t in our immediate space with a phone conversation; or text messages; or emails; and of course, with a letter using our postal services. While the first three options rely entirely on digital technology, letters sent using the…