When I was a kid in the 1960s – even through my teenage years – one of the things that often seemed to start getting publicised at this time of year was the charitable stamp collection.
The idea was that you’d be asked to save the stamps that came your way on letters, cards, parcels, etc. and send them to a collection point whereupon they’d be used in some way for charity fund raising. I think the programme ‘Blue Peter’ did it, but I might be wrong. I never worked out how money was made; I doubt very much that they went through the stamps to see if there was a rare ‘Inverted Queen’s Head First Class’ or whatever the valuable stamps of the day were.
Being an occasional stamp collector myself (I still have the albums and a large box of first day covers, etc. sitting in a box here at Pritchard Towers – burglars note, nothing worthy of stealing) I would actually go through the letters and cards that came my way and get anything unusual for my own collection. This was particularly the case in my teens, by which time I was getting letters and cards from overseas as a result of my interest in short wave listening and amateur radio.
I seem to remember the collections still being made when I’d entered the workforce and through the 80s and early 1990s, but I don’t recollect the collections being made from the mid-1990s onwards. I guess that a combination of cheaper overseas phone calls, faxes and then email basically stopped the need for there being large numbers of bits of ‘snail mail’ – and also franking became available to more and more smaller companies, so that even where letters WERE sent they often came with franked postage rather than stamps.
I guess that it’s one of the interesting ‘spin off’ effects of the advances in communications technology that came particularly with email. These days, any ‘snail mail’ that comes with stamps on is usually from family members who don’t have access to the office franking machine. When a non-franked letter arrives these days with unknown writing – or even better, a typed address – it really is something to be pondered on. It’s occasionally spam mail, but sometimes it’s a letter from someone who prefers to use snail mail – this time of the year usually gives us a particularly good haul of letters and cards from family and friends that we’ve lost touch with a little.
I’m beginning to wonder whether I should try and write a few letters to people, and pop them in an envelope with a stamp on, before the whole concept of ‘snail mail’ disappears forever. Maybe ‘slow mail’ , where we take care with the preparation of the letter and even submit it to a delivery process that takes days to reach the destination – might become a way of communicating that shows you care a little more than just whizzing off an email or a text message.