Welcome to Episode 20 of Stationery Orbit where we are all here to learn more about creative letter writing, I’m your host John West and in today’s episode we will be talking about something I didn’t even know was a thing until it was brought to my attention by our guest. He brings joy to his pen pals by going well above and beyond by sending in letters for special postal cancellations and sending letter-locked letter au’ natural into the wild. He is a Postal system super user!
Please welcome, Evan Harris!
A cancellation (or cancel) is a postal marking applied to a postage stamp or a piece of postal stationery indicating that the item has been used. The primary purpose of cancels is to prevent the reuse of stamps. The terms cancel and postmark is used interchangeably.
What is your favorite letter lock so far?
What is your favorite pen?
Do you have a favorite fountain pen ink?
DeAtrementis Sherlock Holmes
What is your favorite purchase (stationery or not) in the last 6 months?
Par Escargot stamp
You can find him on Instagram
You can also write to me at:
Attn: John West
P.O. Box 621
Golden, CO 80402
StationeryOrbit is my main website where you can find links to the Stationery Orbit Discord. You can also find links there to my Patreon page and Stationery Orbit Merch which will help support Stationery Orbit and help keep you warm while you are making beautiful snail mail this winter.
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SO ep 20 evan descript
[00:00:00] John: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 20 at stationary or where we're, you're all here to learn more about creative letter writing. I'm your host John West. And in today's episode, we will be talking about something I didn't even know was a thing until it was brought to my attention by our guests. He brings joy to his pen pals by going well above and beyond, by sending in letters for special postal cancellations and sending letter lock letters on naturale into the wild.
He is a postal system. Super user, please. Welcome Evan Harris.
Evan: [00:00:27] Great to be here.
John: [00:00:27] Morning, Evan. But what I'm talking about when we were talking about the postal cancellations and stuff is. The postal bulletin. And I'd like to ask you, what is the postal bulletin? So the
Evan: [00:00:38] postal bulletin is effectively a fancy company-wide memo for the postal service.
It is the record of all the changes to the system. It has. It's a magazine, like things, articles mostly practical stuff. Things like, Oh, how to avoid heat stroke or avoid slipping on ice. But it's published every two weeks by the postal service. And it has [00:01:00] every single thing that the post office does.
John: [00:01:02] Yeah. I have actually had a chance to sit down and go through a couple of the postal bulletins and you're right. It's actually a lot of regulatory updates and like fraud updates and that kind of stuff. But in there they've got a couple of real gems. So what was your reason for getting the postal bulletin?
Evan: [00:01:20] Yeah, I'm not necessarily so interested in what it's at, what money order numbers, I can't cash, which is they're stolen, which is part of the bulletin. And it's the bulk of it's length. The reason I got interested in the postal Baltimore specifically because of the cancellations and the new stamps,
John: [00:01:38] I guess that's going to lead into the next part of it, which is what is your favorite part of the postal bulletin?
Evan: [00:01:42] Favorite part of the postal Bolton is the special cancellations, especially event ones, because there are two types there, the event. And then they're the first day issues. First day issues are basically just here's the new stamp where we made a special cancellation.
John: [00:01:56] And that does get into the next question, which is what our postal [00:02:00] cancellations, cause this is something that.
I know that you're very familiar with, but I don't think a lot of folks really understand from an outsider's point
Evan: [00:02:08] of view cancellations, a lot of people just refer to them as postmarks. I like to separate the two though, the technical term for both is cancellation is a Mark that goes over the stamp saying this stamp has been used because otherwise every stamp ever sold is legal, tender.
It's worth the amount it says on the stamp. So you need to Mark it with something originally postmarks and cancellations were literal stamps that, and just axes or Pash marks or other similar markings and carved by postmasters or each post station. But what they've done is a lot of images and pictures that commemorate things.
If you got a letter last month, it probably had a happy holidays. Postmark on
John: [00:02:50] it. Yep. I saw a few of those. Yeah. And I think you're right. I think that the post office does make a very distinct separation between what a [00:03:00] postmark is and what a postal cancellation is because some of the postmarks actually do not act as postal cancellation.
Some of the first day of issue postmarks are, as I understand it, not print it over the postage and they actually have a different postal cancellation for that.
Evan: [00:03:16] That's true. The post office also uses a UVA ANC on the bottom of letters, too, as a postmark. With Chaz date embedded in it. So you can get image it, you can get pictorial postmarks and cancellations over the stamp that don't actually have the date something was sent.
John: [00:03:34] Yeah. And I think that other cancer or the other postmark that's on there is also part of the post offices, individual emails that go out that show you the images of some of the incoming mail that you
Evan: [00:03:47] have, correct. At least to my knowledge, that is part of how informed delivery works. And. No. If informed delivery has been talked about here before, for anybody who doesn't know it is a great system, you [00:04:00] should sign up for completely free.
It doesn't get every letter in it, but it sends you in the morning, a. Copy of the front of everything, every piece of mail you're supposed to receive that day. So it's great to know, especially if you live in like an apartment building, do I have to do down to check my mail today?
John: [00:04:16] Yeah. And that also includes packages that are specifically addressed to
Evan: [00:04:20] you.
Correct. So like I had one image in mine yesterday and I got three letters,
John: [00:04:25] which was fun. Yep. That's always, it's always nice to get the friendly snail mail instead of the bill snail mail. Correct. Yep. In all of your time going through the post of bulletin, what are some of your favorite postal cancellations you've seen in the postal
Evan: [00:04:39] bulletin?
So I'm a big fan of all of the space ones, because I am a space person. I love pretty much everything related to space. And that's actually how I started getting into the postal cancellations. And the postal bulletin was that I saw for the space act through that or per demo. So demo two, there was a.
[00:05:00] Pictorial postmark that somebody posted on Reddit and that got me into, Oh, what is this? And I just started getting into a lot of the snail mail through Slack and was writing a lot of people for the first time and said, so I said, okay, I'll try that. And it was fun. It definitely is. There are a lot of there actually, I believe currently four space ones that you can get at any time, as long as things like the ISS are still in orbit.
My favorite postmark actually would be one from a canceled stamp lectin conference in Spalding, Abbey, Pennsylvania, which is near slippery rock, which is. A fun place mostly, but just as the name, slippery rock, but it was a night on horseback Lansing, a coronavirus.
John: [00:05:40] Oh, okay. There you go. That's awesome.
That post office managed to get a little humor into one of those. It does happen occasionally.
Evan: [00:05:48] It definitely happens in a lot of people can make, you can get, you have to request one, but you can make your own. For an event you have to get, there's a certain time period ahead of time. You have to [00:06:00] submit it.
I believe it's 12 weeks or you have to get all sorts of approvals and making sure it fits this and that with okay. ASPE with how the art fits, what the sizes are, what information it says, but you can request one or, yeah.
John: [00:06:16] And as I understand it, most postmarks are only active for about a month. So they
Evan: [00:06:21] are, there are two ways to get a special postmark.
There are ones that you can go to the event, which right now is not happening much, but you can go to an event and get one stamp there. That's part of the process is having a place for somebody or a member of the post office to sit and receive letters. The other is to send a self addressed or addressed to somebody else on envelope to them, with a stamp obviously, and they will then stamp it within and it has to be within a month of the end of the event.
And they will. Send it and they will forward it on that's how I've gotten the space ones. Or I tried that postmark that I tried [00:07:00] the stamp conference one. Unfortunately those letters went to Mia.
John: [00:07:04] Yeah, I think I remember you hearing you say that. So when you're sending in the envelopes to have them postmark, you end up essentially overpacking them into a larger envelope.
That they then open that up, take out the addressed envelopes and postmark them and then send them off to their final destinations. Is that pretty much a good synopsis?
Evan: [00:07:24] That's exactly what I do. I will also, especially if it, if I'm sending something to the main, the big postal cancellation facility in Kansas city, I will include as a short note saying, please stamp these and send them on with, at stamp.
John: [00:07:41] I have actually a neat little. Side story behind the subtropical lists out in Kansas city. The it's actually built into an old limestone mine in Kansas city, Missouri. And I actually ended up there back in 2001 during the anthrax [00:08:00] scare and they ended up with a detection there. And I was part of an environmental contracting team that had to go in and pull stuff out.
So it could be UV cleaned and or cleaned using
Evan: [00:08:12] bleach. Wow. I've never been to the facility. And I also haven't traveled at all since I found out about it, but that sounds really
John: [00:08:20] interesting. The entire mindsight in there has actually been divided and they have a bunch of different temperature controlled warehouses that are in the, in that.
Complex, including the postal facility that's there, which is, I believe one of the largest post of facilities outside of Washington, DC.
Evan: [00:08:38] I wouldn't be surprised. I've also noticed that is where anything you order from the post office gets sent from.
John: [00:08:44] Okay. Yeah. I hadn't noticed that before, but yeah, that makes complete
Evan: [00:08:48] sense.
Or at least anything that gets sent to me in Minnesota goes through that facility. Yep.
John: [00:08:53] So one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about, and it's how we got involved on Slack together [00:09:00] is the whole idea of letter locking. And it's something that you're a proponent of as well as myself.
And so I want to ask you from your perspective, what is letter locking?
Evan: [00:09:10] So letter locking is a method of securing letters without using an envelope instead using folding and putting and adhesives such as wax or tape the term though only originates in 2009, right?
John: [00:09:25] Yeah. That's correct. An MIT conservator at the library there had coined that name and her name.
Unfortunately I won't try to slaughter her last name, but Jana is her first name and she's been. Researching this kind of letter locking for a long time, as well as a couple of other researchers that are in that conservator realm. And what they were finding was is that during the middle ages, because of all of the black chambers that were throughout Europe and all of the different.
Hands that letters went through that they found [00:10:00] that they needed to have an advanced system of keeping those letters secured so that these black chambers couldn't just open up a letter, read it, copy it, and send it off to its destination that they needed to know if it had been tampered with, they ended up devising all of these different systems.
And a lot of these were either devised by. Chamberlains within a Royal court or by spymasters that were part of a court. And they were taught to the royalty so that they could go through and let her lock their letters and use adhesives and seals and special folds. And in the case of queen Elizabeth, she actually used a double writing pattern to disguise her letters and.
This kind of letter locking has actually been reverse engineered by these conservators. And now they're starting to release. Janet has put together a dictionary of letter [00:11:00] locking and talking about the different techniques that they used. And now we've got enthusiasts such as Evan and myself that are now getting into the letter locking and.
Starting to use some of those techniques. It's
Evan: [00:11:14] athletic. There's a lot of really cool techniques. And if anybody hasn't seen them on YouTube, they have a channel where she goes through and folds she's done a hundred or so different videos with different bolts. I'm incredibly surprised by the variations in style and technique that exist.
And almost all of these are based off of real historical letters though. There are few based off of fictional things like Harry Potter. Yeah.
John: [00:11:39] Yeah. That's exactly right. They actually had one of them in there and it was a really pretty advanced, but they decided that they wanted to do one that was Elvis stumbled doors will.
Evan: [00:11:50] So I've used that one. Have you.
John: [00:11:53] Yeah. Yeah. That one's, that's fascinating because they're actually a whack ceiling pages into a [00:12:00] larger document.
Evan: [00:12:01] Correct. So it is not exactly the most practical one, especially for a launder letter, but it was interesting. So I tried it, I used three don't recall those two or three.
A five sheets and watch sell them onto an a four sheet and then folded the larger sheet into a lot into a letter and sent it. Yeah, that's
John: [00:12:22] brilliant. That's a really cool thing. I watched the video for the Albus Dumbledore one, but I didn't think of actually try
Evan: [00:12:29] it. So it is not, it's an interesting one, but it can get more mangled than some of the other ones.
John: [00:12:37] yeah. I can definitely see that, especially since. You're sending letters out without an envelope, as a protection for it. So you're completely at the mercy of the postal service, correct? Yep. So what has been your favorite letter lock so
Evan: [00:12:50] far? So my favorite ones that I've sent would probably be. The Italian pinwheel, as I'm also not going to try and [00:13:00] pronounce her last name, Janet Pauls.
And it is really interesting and it puts the seal straight in the center of the back of the letter, which I think looks really neat. I've really been wanting to try one of the triangular letter locks, but I've not yet figured out how it's, how much. Trouble if any, get in by sending that. Yeah.
John: [00:13:22] Yeah. Cause that's definitely, it's not just off size, but that's off shape for the postal service.
As I understand it from talking with Jenny on one of my previous episodes, I think it's just a matter of putting enough postage on
Evan: [00:13:34] it. Yeah. So it comes down to, can I get away with a non machine double stamp or does it technically become a package and I need to pay more?
John: [00:13:43] Yeah, I think that's exactly right.
Yeah, I think that the pinwheel actually, I ended up with one of those coming to me from one of my listeners and I loved of course, anytime you get something that's letter locked, you're having to try to figure out how to break the seal without destroying the [00:14:00] letter too much. And so that's always a thing, but that one was really neat because once I broke the seal and opened it, it opens up like a flower.
So that one's, that's a really
Evan: [00:14:11] fun one. It's really neat. Go to for opening letter lock letters is to try and cut the seal, but that is harder with the supple wax that everyone uses, which is what is mailable versus the old style lat, which you could break. If you want to send us shellacked letter, you're going to want to put that in a padded envelope and send it as a flat or
John: [00:14:30] a package.
Yeah. And as I have found out the hard way. The difference between the new style malleable ones and the older style Schelok ones is also in their setup time. And I haven't quite gotten that whole thing figured out yet, but if you're one of the folks that are out there now that are using the modern waxes, trust me, it's going to take a little bit of practice to get used to an old style shellacked taper.
When you get around to trying to use one of those I'll [00:15:00] try to do a little bit more experimenting with that and hopefully I'll be able to shine a little more light on that in a future episode.
Evan: [00:15:06] Yeah. I've yet to try one, but I am interested in it. Do you have a favorite paper? So my favorite paper, especially when it comes to letter locking is Rodea.
Just the standard doctorate paper I've been used when I first got into fountain pens, rodeo was the most available one to me or nicer papers. And so that's what I been using for most of the time. And it holds well and it holds up and it's not, but it's not too rigid. Original crown mill is also a great paper, especially for letter locking.
I've gotten away though with letter locking some Tomway river.
John: [00:15:42] Oh, wow. That's yeah, that's a really thin paper. The crown mill that you sent me, I was really impressed with how well that paper holds the folds. And it it actually sounds a lot more like the kind of parchment or a paper that Jan has been using it.
Her letter [00:16:00] locks.
Evan: [00:16:00] Yeah, it is original crown mill is great paper for that. And it does sound like the parchment or paper that she uses. It is great for a lot of things though. Eighties is unforgiving. So once you fold it, Even if you haven't yet actually priests the paper, it does not like to move again.
Oh no. Taking the road. The road is a little more forgiving where you can put it in place before you crease it and get away with it and
John: [00:16:24] playing around with a couple of different kinds of paper. One of them I want to use is I actually bought a package of hand produced paper off of Etsy. And I'll put the link in my show notes for that vendor.
But I'm really looking forward to trying out a letter lock using that
Evan: [00:16:40] paper. That sounds interesting. I've wanted to do like a custom watermarked paper, but I haven't gotten the courage
John: [00:16:47] yeah. It's definitely a paper and seals and the, especially once you throw in the letter locking into it, there's so much variation out there in the letter writing [00:17:00] world.
I really encourage anybody that hasn't seen a letter locking stuff to go. Check it out and definitely try outs and different papers with that kind of technique, just because all of them are going to act differently the same way they act differently with inks. So do you have a favorite snail mail embellishment?
I would say
Evan: [00:17:19] that I have two. One is my custom watch seal. Which is actually part of how I got into wet sealing into eventually into letter locking itself was because I had, yeah, I got accustomed wet seal because I had an interest in heraldry, which is the study of coats of arms. And then I was started sending letters and I thought this is boring on an Island.
It's cool to put it on an envelope, but it's boring having this like a standard. Envelope with a white seal on it. A friend of mine virtually is a aerospace PhD at MIT, sent me a Townsend video on letter locking. And that's how I got into it in the first place. So I have a [00:18:00] custom white seal that is three Wolverines per Chevron.
If you're going to talk in the, her oldest language. But it looks cool. The other one is a ink stamp that I have that it looks like an old out airmail stamp, except it is a snail mail stamp. It says snail mail. Par let's start off. Yeah. It says both in English and French snail mail. Yeah. Actually
John: [00:18:20] I have it.
Evan: [00:18:22] I believe it. Yeah. I had it here on
John: [00:18:24] my desk. Yeah. Par escargo. Yeah,
Evan: [00:18:26] By snail. And I really liked the style of kind of pseudo official. So it looks like it is an official old time stamp. But it says something that is clearly not real. Yeah.
John: [00:18:39] I like the, I actually, I saw yours and I actually ran out and found the vendor and I'll make sure I get a link into the show notes for the vendor that does these, but I like the customized snail mail, like almost like a postal service snail.
That they did for that. I've also seen a, another version of that kind of snail mail take off of the U S [00:19:00] postal services Eagle with the Eagle head. But it's got a snail at the front.
Evan: [00:19:04] Yeah. I've seen that. And somebody on the panel, Slack as that as well.
John: [00:19:09] Yeah. The, those are a lot of fun with you being into snail mail.
I'm guessing you're also a pen attic. What's your favorite
Evan: [00:19:15] pen? So I'd say my favorite pen is probably the LaMi 2000. It's a great writer, not necessarily the most notable, but it is very reliable and enjoyable to you. Yeah. And
John: [00:19:27] it is, everyone is pointed out over the years. It is an absolutely classic design out of the Bauhaus style.
And it's definitely not something that it's not your normal fountain pen, especially with the macro lawn barrels on those. And I actually have one of those. I also have one of them. That's the multi pen version of it. And there's a little bit smaller than I prefer. I like bigger pens, but they are definitely a solid pen.
Evan: [00:19:55] Yeah. They, it's probably the small end of my normal range of pens, but it I love the 2000.
[00:20:00] John: [00:20:00] Yeah. And that leads into the next question. If you've got a fountain pens, then that means you've got fountain pen inks. Do you have a favorite fountain pen ink?
Evan: [00:20:07] Both of these are hard or hard buses just cause I love so many of them.
My favorite ink, those probably Dr. Demento is Sherlock Holmes. Wow. Nice. I
John: [00:20:16] haven't heard of that one. What
Evan: [00:20:17] color is that? It is a dark blue, but it's not blue, black dark. And it's solid and it writes very well without any sort of fancy features. It was one of the first things I got. I'm also a huge fan of Sherlock as the media, both most adaptations and the original stories.
And the ink is a beautiful ink. Blue happens to also be my favorite color and. Chance I've read. If anybody has done in the letter. For me, there's a good chance. Part of it has been written in it.
John: [00:20:51] Okay. So with all of the different stamps and wax seals and letter locking, is there a technique that you'd like to share with the listeners that you [00:21:00] think will help elevate their snail
Evan: [00:21:01] mail?
Not necessarily more than some of your other podcasts would say, but the one thing I would say is, especially with a wax seal, I think getting one that is not the standard. Helps. That means either not a pre-made single letter or there are a lot of kind of simple standard ones that you can get off of various online stores.
So if you get one that is yours and multiple initials or one with a custom design, I think that really elevates a letter or you make one yourself, anything you want, you could theoretically even just use it point. The issue is pulling the point out of the seal once you've made it.
John: [00:21:39] Yeah. I'm thinking there's going to have to be a, some kind of a dowel rod and super glue involved with it.
Evan: [00:21:45] Dowel rod. So super glue, or you could solder some it's the back of a coin. Oh, there you go.
John: [00:21:50] Yeah. Solder or a metal rod onto it. But yeah, I think that you're right. I think that with the snail or with the the wax seals that there are so many out there, [00:22:00] I've got. A couple of them that are our Hogwarts style.
I've got one that has like owl post on it. That's really a big, wonderful design to it. I've got one that has a death star on it. I got one specially made from Jonathan Brooks here just recently. That's got the stationary orbit logo on it. So yeah, there's all kinds of stuff you can do with wax seals out there.
And I agree with you that, I think a lot of folks start with. A single initial, just because it's something that's very common for, like wedding invites and that kind of thing. But once you decide you want to go further into it, there's a lot of stuff out there. So I really encourage everyone to go out and check out some of the different Etsy stores and other stores that carry wax seals.
And like you said, even going to the point of getting one custom made
Evan: [00:22:49] and custom made ones are surprisingly affordable. You can get them for. $30. And when a bank, when a pre-made seal costs 15 that's, it is [00:23:00] definitely double, but to me that is a very reasonable purchase. Yeah,
John: [00:23:04] absolutely. And a lot of this is being driven by the fact that they've got all of these laser CNC machines out there.
You can just laser etch into a brass face and make an Antalya seal. Off of just a laser at her. So that's how a lot of these custom ones are made. And again, that's why they're not, they don't cost you a King's ransom to have one.
Evan: [00:23:24] Exactly. And even a machine one with CNC versus a laser etching is not very expensive to do.
I, unfortunately, I, when I had access to a, when I had access to the CNCS that could have done it, I never just got down to it and made a bunch of them. I should have. Yeah,
John: [00:23:43] that's one of those regrets once you realized what you had in your hands, but you didn't realize what you could deal with. It's actually one of the questions I always ask, I ask everyone, is, are there artists out there, like on Instagram or elsewhere that are doing amazing work that stationary lovers need to know
Evan: [00:23:58] about?
I would not [00:24:00] really say there are any I follow that I not learned about or heard about from listening to this PA this podcast or the others. I listened to a lot of. Fountain pen and of stationary podcasts, including this one. I also listened to bent times Toto inklings, of course the pen addict. Yeah,
John: [00:24:15] of course.
But one of the things a list might not know about you is that your, so an avid photographer. So are there any photography accounts on Instagram that you enjoy following? There are a
Evan: [00:24:25] lot that are pretty interesting. Matt day photos. He's a YouTuber who does photography has an interesting style. I also follow several of the brands that actually make photo equipment.
Kodak always has interesting photos. They're showing off as does Leica and hostile blog. Oh yeah. And
John: [00:24:42] hassle blog. No, that's a place. That'll take your money in a heartbeat though. You think of fountain pens are
Evan: [00:24:47] expensive and like it's not much cheaper. Oh
John: [00:24:51] yeah. Yeah. There, there are definitely a couple of them out there.
I've been really lucky in my second hand cannon purchases. So that's been [00:25:00] Cape
Evan: [00:25:00] and Miguel. Yeah. I've got both film and digital. I'm Mo mostly Nikon though. I've got things like my dad's old F three. I do have a Leica, which I got lucky with on the purchase and they bought a power supply just before the pie prices spiked.
John: [00:25:16] When was that? Just out of curiosity,
Evan: [00:25:19] just before I saw the prices spike again, which was, I bought mine in 2013. Okay.
John: [00:25:27] Yeah. I think that was just as house of blood was getting it really seriously into digital. Wasn't it? Oh yeah.
Evan: [00:25:33] I have a film though. I do not have a digital path. Mine is a a used 500 C which medium format.
That lasted camera that you see in a lot of film and TV, when it's a fancy camera.
John: [00:25:45] Nice. This might actually run into the next question. What is your favorite purchase stationary or not in the last six months?
Evan: [00:25:53] Favorite purchase? The I'd probably say the aforementioned snail mail stamp is one of my [00:26:00] favorites in the last six months.
I've not gotten too much just because I don't go anywhere. So by communicate, we get letters. The stamp was fun. I also am currently working on designing my own similar style. Yeah, that's great. With that are looking like official ask stamps, but in foreign languages saying mostly mundane things I'm working on one that is playing on that says the day is a good day to write.
I'm working on one in I'm probably going to do one in French that says warning contains words.
John: [00:26:34] That's awesome. Yeah, you're actually Getting into some of the stamp art that's
Evan: [00:26:38] really cool. Yeah, it's fun. And again, rubber stamps are surprisingly affordable to get your one by one inches, seven or
John: [00:26:46] $8.
Thank you very much, Evan, for being on stationary orbit with me, for all of you that are out there that would like to see more of Evan's photography, you can find him on Instagram at Evan Harris photo.