Remember how cool it felt penning a fan letter to your favorite celebrity crush? What about mustering up every ounce of confidence you had to ask the girl of your dreams to homecoming with the classic “check yes or no” note? Take it back even further, to war times. Generals and soldiers writing letters to home, with word taking weeks or months to arrive. Don’t make us even try to fathom the idea of sending a letter via carrier pigeon or mule. Trying to explain the concept of snail mail to a millennial is tricky, but if you ever get stuck, have Miranda Lambert sing it to them, “If you had something to say/ You’d write it on a piece of paper/ Then you’d put a stamp on it/ And they’d get it three days later.” 

letter writing
This letter, dated 1860, was a parent writing to their child’s teacher about something that happened at school. The postcard author, tells travel tales to beloved Ruby, back in Tennessee.

Letter writing is one of the oldest forms of communication. In fact, sending a letter was still the most relevant form of communication till 1965 until the very first email was sent at MIT. After email, we quickly graduated to AIM, text messages, FaceTime, and of course, the telephone. That’s the point of today’s blog: To inspire you to dial it back to yesteryear by penning a letter this week… and yes, actually sending it.

Just before you start thinking that mail is a has been, take a quick glance at these interesting postal facts:

  • In 1775, the Second Continental Congress established the U.S. postal system, nominating Benjamin Franklin as its first postmaster general. He helped establish the first mail routes, post offices, and rate charts!
  • Today, the United States has more than 40,000 post offices.
  • An estimated 212 billion pieces of mail are delivered each year to more than 144 million homes and businesses in America.

antique-letters

So, let’s add a few more letters to that national average and keep those postal workers busy with your upcoming letter. Conveniently, Mother’s Day is May 8th. Surprise her with a special handwritten letter with a few easy steps, you know, in case you’ve forgotten:

  • Treat yourself to some fancy stationary.
  • Pick up your favorite pen. (We all know our printing skills have been slacking thanks to the keyboard. You may need to take a few practice swings to make your handwriting not look like chicken scratch. We believe in you!)
  • Write from the heart.
  • Walk inside the post office and request some Forever Stamps.
  • Drop the letter into the mailbox.
  • Wait in anticipation for a handwritten reply.

One final tip! Before you send any letter, keep track of the person’s address so you can call on it for future letters. They make real nice address books these days.

Now that you’ve sent mom some Mother’s Day love, who is next? Tell us in the comments below who else you’d write a letter to, dead or alive, and what would you say. Can’t wait to hear form y’all!

 

slide-american-made-gift-box

 

61 Comments

61 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Writing a Letter”

  1. Kelli Lewis

    I am a member of a club called International Geek Girl Pen Pal club. It is a great group of ladies and men that love snail mail and keep the art and tradition of letter writing alive. It’s a great community.

    1. vincent howse

      wow man it so interesting to hear the history thats forgotten by electronic means of data sending equipment in the old days in England we used to send by horse back letters from war torn europe to loved ones stuck in mud up to their necks fighting to survive..
      love your site.

      1. Sara

        Several years ago, I began collecting “real photo” postcard images of steamboats. I love those pictures. Most are over 100 years old, a time that has become to seem to be not so long ago. As I acquired them, I became increasingly intrigued by the messages on the cards; while many collectors seem to want the PCs to be pristine, I find I prefer to have these little nuggets of personal history. I think the first one I found was sent to someone who’d taken a packet downriver on the Ohio to someone back home. I looked for the small towns on the map and found that they were within what we’d now consider “driving distance” even the length of a daily commute. It put my easy little life in perspective, for sure.

    2. Linda Winfield

      When Mom got to where she could not live alone and went to a Nursing Home – I inherited not only her letters and cards to her High School friends and to my (soon to be Dad), but I also inherited “Penny” Post Cards from my Grandfather to my Grandmother – What a treasure !! I send notes to my friends from high school (it seems you organize your thoughts more when you write them down –

  2. Clifford

    Sarah,
    You did a nice job with this article. I have sent hand written letters before.
    In fact, I have sent some to Antique Archaeology. :o)

    Regards,

    Clifford

  3. Nina Stefanick

    I think it is very sad that to find out what is going on with family, you have to log onto Facebook. People don’t even send thank you notes anymore. I still send birthday cards and thank you notes, but only to people who appreciate them. Thank you for keeping some wonderful old customs alive.

    1. Nora

      I totally agree! I work with preschoolers and always write thank you notes for the little gifts, trinkets, pictures they give me. Who isn’t excited to go to the mailbox and find a card or letter addressed to them.

    2. Andrea serman

      Send them to people who DONT appreciate them especially. They might learn how special it felt to receive a hand written note. It might shame them into appriciating the concept. And if not, you will know you did a great thing,

  4. Selma Bagala

    Have 6 old 1916 & 1917 pictures of world war planes I thought you might want please let me know if you’re interested. They are framed I live in south Louisiana ( 985 ) 537-3959

  5. brian totten

    As a stamp collector since I was 9 yrs old / now 57 I discovered that the envelope that the letter came in can tell some great stories, I`m a cover lover now with covers from all over the world. I have covers that were flown on Zepplins, covers that went to war zones , fancy cancels etc. If in your hunts you come across stamp or old boxes of envelopes I would be interisted in having a look and make an offer possibly.PS, I watch your show alot and am a big fan . happy hunting. Tott

    1. Deanna Brittsan

      My daughter and I write to each other each month—since I live in the east coast and she lives on the west coast. She and I were just writing about how the writing of letters is a lost art. I enjoy the writing—although mine is written from my computer as my arthritus in my hands makes it hard to write, but she does write with pen and paper. But we do communicate that long lost art. I do love the older penmenship of long ago. It was so beautiful. I have many old lettters from years ago. I even have old diaries. Some of my old letters go way back and I have them tied in ribbons and some are on display.

  6. Valerie Bubb

    I still love to write a beautiful cursive letter but I usually only get a response through a text “thanks for your letter” really? and I know at one time this person new how to write. Penmanship is truly a lost art. My 12 year old daughter has trouble writing print let alone know what cursive is, I told her it is a beautiful art that has been lost to all this technology. I will be writing a beautiful letter to my mom who passed away 3 years ago for mother’s day and sending one to my mother-in-law who will i’m sure have tears of joy when she receives her letter.
    Thanks for this blog, Mike. I shared it to my friends and family!

  7. Barbara Robbins

    Just recently wrote a letter (my first in a very long time ) to avery dear 84 year old dear neighbor of mine.She really enjoyed it.Plan to practice this lost art more often.

  8. Brenda Brown

    I still love to write and receive letters! I have several people with whom I correspond, and still believe there’s nothing like getting a letter! (Oh yes, I use e-mail, texting and Facebook also.)

  9. Cindy Brown

    I still write letters to my 90 year old Aunt in Ohio. She doesn’t own a cell phone or computer. I enjoy putting my thoughts and newsy items in my letters to her. I still send cards and notes to friends and family. Texts and emails have their place but receiving a note in the mail is always a special treat!

  10. Candice Royer

    I organize a card exchange for a group of ladies who are fans of a certain indie author on Facebook. The group includes ladies on three continents and five countries, and it’s a joy getting to know these ladies one card at a time. Each exchange, I provide the group with different questions to answer as a way to discover different things we might have in common or just to open ourselves up to the group by sharing something we haven’t before. Every time we do this, about every three month, the ladies all talk about what joy it is going to the mailbox and opening the new cards. We love it! I won’t stop doing this exchange as long as there are ladies who want to keep sending cards to each other. Love getting snail mail. :)

  11. Diane Beck

    Love love the piece on The Lost Art of Writing a Letter. I still write letters especially to those folks that were from that “era” of putting it down on paper communication. I always receive a nice positive compliment each and every time I put one in the mailbox. It takes so little to make someone’s day a little brighter.

    Thanks

  12. Robert Denis

    There is an interesting connection between post cards and today’s mobile phone text messages or SMS .

    Standards committee wondered, would the 160-character maximum be enough space to prove a useful form of communication? Having zero market research, they based their initial assumptions on two “convincing arguments,” Hillebrand said.

    For one, they found that postcards often contained fewer than 150 characters.

    Second, they analyzed a set of messages sent through Telex, a then-prevalent telegraphy network for business professionals. Despite not having a technical limitation, Hillebrand said, Telex transmissions were usually about the same length as postcards.

  13. Robin Waddell

    What a great idea! I’m going to sharpen the ol fountain pen, uh, I mean, the #2 lead pencil and write my mom a letter for Mother’s Day. I believe she’ll truly enjoy that.

  14. Elisa

    I would add handwritten recipes as part of that lost art. As useful as Pinterest and other websites are, there is something very personal about handwitten recipes that bridge the span of time and connect us with our family’s ancestors.

  15. bill storie

    yes even in business it is so much more personal to pen a quick note to a custom and or Friend. I have old family papers all written in pen and ink ….the handwriting is a story in itself. Remember the Palmer method of penmenship ? thank you for these thoughts

  16. Glenda Campbell

    I still write with a fountain pen (!) and I even write “CURSIVE” (bad word for millinnials!). I actually had a kid in one of my college classes (I was a late-comer, getting my Bachelors in 2011 and my Masters in 2014) tell me it was a waste of time taking notes with pen and paper. Imagine! Just so happens this kid used the college disability services to take his notes for him – he wasn’t required to do anything!
    As I shall always have somewhat pretty handwriting and use a fountain pen, I also have a dial phone landline in my home for local numbers. You send a young kid in to “borrow” the phone and they come out mystified and don’t know how to use one. I like the sturdiness of the receiver and the sound of the ringer and I never have a dropped call on my end!
    Just call me old-fashioned, but I actually enjoy writing, take pride in penmanship, use an old-fashioned, cool instrument to write with, and use my old dial phone happily. I also collect vintage/antique postcards, most from the beginning of the century, some are later, none are new or current. You should see the beautiful handwriting on some of those cards from 1908!

  17. Debra Rykowski

    I love the art of letter writing – it is so sad that it has gone away – I remember I used to always seal my envelopes with was and my initial – such a lost tradition. I thank you so much for your post – I oftentimes read post cards while out antiquing or at flea markets – I have read some very interesting little post cards – what a wonderful piece of history. Thank you for your show – love watching you two on your hunts for treasures. As a retired volunteer firefighter I collect fire memorabilia, keep me in mind if you find treasures you want to sell! Thanks for the post! Hmmmm, should I have replied via letter???

  18. Norma Jeanne Maloney

    Thanks for the post. What a wonderful thing to re-introduce and remind us to do. I am a sign painter and a huge fan of your show. Preserving this lost art form has been my passion and my struggle especially since the introduction of the vinyl machine. Gratefully I am now experiencing the best days of my career since now, people want something that lasts and is done by hand. Bravo to the pen and brush in hand!

  19. Martha J Hannon

    For 17 years now, I’ve been in prison ministry and writing letters to inmates.
    I had many men and a few women I wrote and visited, and some have come to stay in my home upon release. Actually over 160 of them in 12 years have stayed here for periods of time. All of them have expressed appreciation and several stay in contact after leaving here. I don’t get letters from family unless it’s Facebook, but that is okay with me, it’s their way, and better than nothing, but I do appreciate letters too. Thanks for reminding folks of the power of written words, I hope that people will eventually start writing their loved ones more.

  20. Dennis McCallson

    I do have to agree that handwriting letters is getting to be a lost art. There are also other lost arts that you don’t see people do anymore. I for one I still do tatting which is a form of traditional lace making. I am the type of person that believes in preserving history. That is why I love to see others that want to do the same. I have also been doing my part as a horologist for years. I also recently restored a vintage reel push mower. It goes back to a simpler time when people weren’t in as much of a hurry as they are these days. Another lost art is visiting neighbors. It seems that most people these days don’t even have a front porch on their house. At least not like they used to. A place where you could sit in the summer time and drink a glass of iced tea and talk about the latest gossip about so and so. A place where you could sit with your sweetheart and steal a kiss when you think no one is looking. Then there are the Sunday dinners when all the family would get together and have fried chicken mashed potatoes and homemade baked beans. No offence to the invention of the computer but I think it has distanced people from each other. I mean sure you can reach out on facebook or twitter but its just not the same as I remembered it when I was young.

  21. Melanie

    I love seeing old pieces of written communication. I’m an avid letter-writer. For the past several years, I’ve had as a goal for myself to send 365 pieces of snail mail per year. I love to write and I love to see the pieces of mail ready to go into the mailbox. Plus I love paper (way too much!!). I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to meet my goal as long as I don’t get wound up in a bunch of “shoulds” and rules about my piece of correspondence. People love receiving mail and feel so special when you send them something. It’s totally worth it!

    Thanks for urging others to write more snail mail. There are several blogs out there that are all about letter-writing.

  22. Bev Swales

    I loved getting letters in the post, but it is a dying art. I don’t get letters from family and ever since my daughter died and I was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy my friends don’t know what to say so they don’t come near me anymore so you could say I don’t really have friends anymore I don’t get letters except for bills that is

      1. Dennis McCallson

        To you I say this you do have friends that care even if you don’t know them at all. I lost a significant to a heart attack and I know the feeling of loss From losing a dear friend to losing a sister to losing the love of my life.Bless you and know that you are loved despite your unfortunate circumstances.

  23. Nancy

    I agree with Nina’s comment above. Technology is great, but we have really lost something valuable. I have letters written during the civil war from my great grandfather to my great grandmother. Also, those my father wrote during WWII. Such history. It is important to keep it alive.

  24. Lesli Miles-Kiple

    I have saved all of my letters and cards from old boyfriends. Amazing how men could express their feelings like the songs of the day!
    I saved all my cards and letters from my parents and it is like a diary of ones life. My Mom saved my letters and it is fun to read about my adventures when I skated professionally with the Ice Follies; flew as a flight attendant with Eastern airlines and later as a Nurse while raising two great boys.
    Writing letters is a lost art! I still send cards and always write the year with special comments. Hopefully they get saved for another day!

  25. Paula "Cricket" Rezendes

    I am 55, and still love to write letters. It is a shame many schools are not teaching cursive any longer. (How will kids sign their name??) Anyway, I use to collect writing paper…or stationary. Last year, I wrote individual letters to a friend of mines’, children. She has THREE sets of twins, and a single!! They were all tickled to receive mail. I will continue to write “snail mail” as long as my hand allows me. thanks for encouraging this lost art.

  26. Becky

    I was thinking the other day how letters really recorded a family history and how that is being lost in the virtual world we live in. I uncovered a 1993 letter recently from my Grandma to my Mom (both passed) talking about a quilt she had quilted by some ladies in Missouri. Now I’m wondering what happened to the quilt. I save all these letters and cards I’m coming across. Great idea Mike to break out the pen and paper this Mothers Day.

  27. Larry Linhart

    Only Veterans can appreciate this…………..”MAIL CALL”. Letters from family and friends were the life blood of our existence.
    Viet Nam,U.S. Army 1966-68. We had no phones,no emails and no texts. Happy and sadden. Happy when we received a letter and Sadden when we didn’t. Keep sending those letters to your soldiers.

      1. Dennis McCallson

        Bless you and all those that did and didn’t make it back and all those who are still fighting the fight.

    1. Nancy

      Larry, do you know how to find where to send letters for veterans? We owe them so much and writing a letter is something small we could do for them.

    2. Cynthia Russak

      Have you ever heard of Coups for Troops? It is an organization which provided food and grocery coupons for veterans overseas, to help with their expenses. You can even send them expired coupons. There are various people in this country who accept them and forward them. Can be found at the website. I don’t have much money, but am glad to send in my unused coupons if that would help in any way.

  28. john morecroft

    Could not agree more.We send Christmas cards and although we ask for postcards when friend go on holiday they seldom post us a card!!
    I have 30 pens and would not like “writing ” to be a museum article!

  29. Cynthia Russak

    Now I know I’ll have to find a safe place for all the letters and postcards, not to mention holiday cards, sent by relatives and friends now deceased….I have a lot of them and it is sad to see how some of the old people had medical problems they couldn’t get treatment for. They wrote about it. In spite of all that, they lived on, making the best of things. I wish now I hadn’t sold some of the old items, but I needed a new tire for the car. Look forward to all the great information you provide!

  30. david watson

    My wife and I started writing back in forth when I was in county jail waiting to be transferred to prison. We had already met ten years earlier but something or someone told me to try it. We wrote for almost three years. No-one writes letters anymore.

  31. Gwen Campbell

    Over the July Fourth weekend we spent the weekend at in southern UT. While browsing in the campground gift shop I spied the postcards and I recalled with much nostalgia how,ee sent postcards every time we went on vacation to family and friends. My parents are in their 90s so I sent them an actual postcard. I don’t know who enjoyed it more—them,receiving it or me, sending it! Im also enjoying reading my deceased uncle’s letters home during WWII. A window into a soldier’s thoughts.

  32. Patricia Kelly

    Love, love, love to write letters! I find writing everything down involves more thought and sincerity. In my elementary school years, it was imperative to learn neat penmanship, handwriting, cursive as they now call it. A person’s penmanship says a lot about them. I’ve taught myself calligraphy over the years, a trait passed down from my Mother, and enjoy just doodling with pen and ink. It’s a shame our teachers do not impress on our young students the importance of handwriting skills, or how to write an important letter, and how it should be addressed, and set up, things we had to learn in school. I find a hand written letter to get an important thought across, gets quicker resukts, and impresses the recipient ten fold.

  33. Martha B. Youngblood

    At last I found people who love letter writing. I have always loved to write and at the age of 13 I joined a Pen-Pal club that was based in a Washington, DC newspaper. I got many letters and not all within the United States. One of my pen pals and I later fell in love and when I was 15 and he was 18 and in the military, he came to visit me for the first time. I am now 75 and still have the letter of “thank you” that he wrote to my mother after the visit. And then when I was 16, I joined another pen pal club through “Tan Magazine”. I was bombarded with letters from as faraway as Africa. Our mail carrier didn’t know what to think. I later met a few of these pen pals. I still have a few letters from boyfriends and other friends that date back to the 60’s. I don’t write much now, but when I’m in the mood, there’s nothing more satisfying than a good letter-writing session. By the way, my letters are always handwritten, even the ones I’ve written to Presidents.

  34. Lola Campbell

    I think texts and emails are ok but theyre so blaz’e and steril like a joke can sound serious or a serious sound joking or a sweetheart can be misinterpreted for a looney im an autistic savant but im not crazy i got the paperwork to prove it lol but i prefer letter writing and my penmanship ive been tolds as pretty as my art but if i could write a dead person it be vincent vangoh expressing my love for his art and i probly like to have been his friend or pen pal to create such beauty from a mind that few can get i can relate .i express what i cant physically say in art and letters ive already wtitten mike and it was a thrill he responded by sending it to a friend i was writing on behalf of a friend and fellow junk lover at the unt college ..im a fan of junk and history and art so it was thrilling to write the pickers.but idve also liked to have been alive in the 60s cause even if im a little ol anglo gal from texas my parents raised me not to be a jerk but i think id have loved to have written Dr.king and Rosa parks.i grew up sickly still am physically i mean and penpaling was an outlet i remember writing my favorite singer at 12 holding on to the photo for 17 years till i got to see him live in McKinney Tx and waiting and explaining to his manager and he took the photo and got him to sign it..i was blessed to feel well enough to go but touched my photo as old as it was got signed.but if you take the time to get a handcramp and put some thought and intelligence into your correspondence that shows the recipient you took the time to care…but its fun just to say hello or write your favorite nobody somebody in entertainment and get a response or a new friend..im not starstruck or dont get it people are people reguardless of how and where Gods placed them.in life..there’s a famous pen pal story about Elvis writing a young girl with cerebal palsy in a home till the day he died and after he died .she died but for all the crummy things people said about him i think thats class write there..and shows his heart.but people are people reguardless but if your someone like me or another friend whos chronically ill letterwriting and recievings fun..and i think anyone tv or movies or average jo should always keep it going but has alot of decency to keep it up..

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