Saturday, 18 September 2021


Beginning a week after the 9/11 attacks and continuing over the next month, a bioterrorist—likely a scientist at the US government’s biodefense and research labs in Fort Detrick, Maryland—posted letters laced with anthrax spores to several media outlets and the offices of two US senators, killing five individuals, mostly mailroom staff and infecting a further dozen with the bacteria. Compared to the hunt for the Unabomber for its range and time to identify a culprit and motive, the FBI operation named with the above portmanteau pursued a number of false leads, the attacks spawning, several copycat hoaxes. The notes in the envelops which purported to come from a non-existent grade school contained variations on the message:


Al Qaeda and Iraq initially blamed, focus not turning to the possibility that it was a domestic actor within the government until 2006, forensic geneotyping just reaching the sophistication needed to trace the particular bacterial strain back to its source, though the ordered destruction of all anthrax stockpiles limited the chance for future research into the crime. The US mail service is still hyper-vigilant over suspicious packages and prone to false-alarms.

Saturday, 7 August 2021


From the start of the Space Age and ensuing Space Race, adjacent stamp collecting became a serious pursuit with commemorative cover depicting every mission and milestone (see previously) with the bubble inflated to bursting with the scandal surrounding Apollo 15, returned to Earth on this day in 1971 with a payload of four hundred postage stamps sent to the Moon and back.

The astronauts had been compensated, bribed for sneaking the unauthorised souvenirs on board by West Germany dealer Hermann Sieger. The story broke the following year and though the money was returned and most of the remaining covers (the postal term for decorated, signed pre-stamped and cancelled envelops) were retained by the agency, museums or given as gifts, the astronauts were reprimanded for ethics violations and never flew on a mission again, reassigned to other departments within NASA. Such mementos were considered contraband for future missions.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

the velocity of money

In the unfolding of the worst case of hyperinflation (previously here, here and here) and devaluation in history, the Hungarian pengล‘ (an onomatopoetic word for the ringing of silver struck, the clinking of coins), itself a replacement currency for the Austro-Hungarian korona, liquidated under the terms of the Peace of Saint-Germain that dissolved the joint bank of the monarchy, battered and bashed by the ensuing Great Depression and a second world war, was pegged to the reintroduced forint (in use prior to the imperial union in 1892 and named for city of Florence) at an exchange rate on this day in 1946 of one Ft for four hundred octillion pengล‘k, shedding twenty-nine zeros and starting over, notes in the millions and billions reused and reissued marked with exponentially higher values.

A last ditch effort to rescue the collapsing economy in January brought in a parallel currency that would hold its value called the adรณpengล‘ for tax and postal payments—sort of like those forever stamps that aren’t subject to rate hikes or the specie of old pennies with high copper content, starting at parity with what was then in circulation but eight months later each was worth two sextillion. The largest denominated bank note issued was the one hundred quintillion (ten to the twentieth power, one million billion and worth about two US dimes) featuring an anonymous Hungarian woman wearing scarf on her head who back in March appeared one the one hundred million pengล‘ bill.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

franking privilege

Via the always engaging Present /&/ Correct (check out their sundries and notions), we learn that the postal authority in the Kingdom of Bhutan in 1973 issued commemorative stamps that were tiny vinyl records that could be played on a full-sized turn-table with a stylus, most featuring traditional folk music and acoustic samples of the country. More at the links above including a rendition of the Bhutanese national anthem replayed from phonographic postage.

Friday, 2 April 2021

the yellow fleet

Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we are given a bit of historical perspective on the six-day plight of the Ever Given (previously) which has antecedents with a much longer, large-scale stranding resulting from the Six-Day War that broke out in June of 1967 between Israel and Egypt, trapping fifteen international ships and their crews in the Suez Canal that were passing through when the conflict broke out and remained impounded until 1975. Blockaded by Egypt to prevent its use by Israel, debris put in place continued to prevent transport and traffic for eight years during a time when the waterway was not the major artery of trade it is today. Named the above for the colour of the desert sand that accumulated on the decks of the vessels moored in Great Bitter Lake, a turning around point off the main canal, the ships’ crews from West Germany, the UK, the US, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Bulgaria quickly forged a community, sharing resources and even holding a mini-Olympic Games—the Swedish ship had a pool, and issuing their own Cinderella postage stamps with the recognition of host nation postal authorities. Within the first few months, countries flagged with these vessels were able to reduce crews to a bare minimum and repatriate their members, rotating in and out skeleton crews for the basic upkeep of the ships and though the population turn-over was regular and complete, the sense of comradery and community endured with each generation. The Suez was reopened with the Yom Kippur War in October of 1975, restoring this trade route but with the spectre of supplies being cut off again, businesses were pressured into making ever larger cargo ships to reduce one’s exposure, like the colossal Ever Given.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021


penn station’s half century: vignettes of the original New York Beaux Arts transportation hub painstaking brought to life to experience the station prior to its 1957 demolition and renovation 

delightful creatures: drone captures manatees and dolphins frolicking in Florida Everglades 

raven story: Alaska Tlingit artist features on new US postage stamp with a depiction of the trickster spirit

poisonous green: the paint that might have been the death of Napoleon and other toxic tinctures—see previously  

de-programming: interviews with children of parents radicalised by QAnon trying to get their moms and dads back 

morph and mindbuffer: a mesmerising hypersurface of a globe composed of expanding isohedrons 

preservation watch: conservationists fear that the iconic, Art Deco lobby of the McGraw-Hill Building might be under threat

Saturday, 6 February 2021


high dive: Casa Zicatela in the Oaxaca coastal region references Le Corbusier and the retro look of municipal swimming pools 

rip: legendary actor Christopher Plummer (*1929) has passed away 

polar flare: visualising the true size of terrestrial landmasses through cartographic distortion plus mapping countries as offworld colonies  

gulf stream: lack of circulation during ice ages past may have meant the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans had fresh water 

dataviz: sleek, informative infographics by the Great Grundini  

rรฉseau pneumatique: an exploration of the pneumatic postal system of Paris—see also  

hq2: a preview of the new Amazon headquarters (previously) building in Arlington, Virginia

Saturday, 16 January 2021


Manx illustrator Jay Cover has created a uniquely triangular series of stamps for the Royal Mail, Isle of Man Post Office, which celebrates the Lunar New Year and upcoming Year of the Ox (see previously). This set of hopefully postage is the distillation of some earnest research and illuminating fact-checking undertaken by the artist into the Chinese zodiac to ensure he was making the most of his embracing and honouring new traditions on a tiny yet representative canvas.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020


tanssinopettaja: a few dance lessons from the reigning king of disco, ร…ke Blomqvist

haunted bohemian shrine aunt: a truly cursed real estate listing from McMansion Hell (previously)—via Pluralistic  

ascertainment: Trump directs General Services Administration to credential President Elect Joe Biden’s transition team 

philately: United Nations honoured with a beautiful, retro series of postage stamps for its seventy-fifth anniversary 

mons rรผmker: China launches a unscrewed mission to the Moon to retrieve mineral samples from a young crater—all to be accomplished in the span of one lunar day (a terrestrial fortnight)  

after school special: times when television grappled with social issues in affecting ways—via the morning news  

monumenta antiquitatis: a scribe’s quill and quiver 

linus & lucy: tag your Charlie Brown dance—via Swiss Miss

Thursday, 8 October 2020

ducks unlimited

Via Super Punch, we learn that in order to meet a federal mandate issued by the Trump administration in May that the US Fish and Wildlife Service make permanent the theme of “celebrating our waterfowl hunting heritage” and thus require the inclusion of hunting paraphernalia in the art works submitted for its popular annual “duck stamp” contest.

Purchased primarily by bird-watchers and conservationist, the yearly licensing image has generated revenues in excess of a billion dollars since the 1930s to purchase and protect habitat for wildlife by the service and many are afraid that the politicising, shift will alienate contributors. Submitting artists have found subtly cartoonish ways to insert spent gun shell casings, discarded duck-calls, etc. in their work.

Friday, 4 September 2020

early and often

Whilst what Trump advised supporters to do upon mailing in ballots only serves to further his narrative that the postal system is unreliable (the encore performance for rubbishing public confidence in the efficacy of medical science and the undoing of suffering and hard-won gains) and would needlessly endanger poll-workers as well as constituents by causing unnecessary foot-traffic (and delaying egress to already over-crowded and under-served communities) by going to one’s physical polling place to ensure that it had in fact been received and tabulated—and if not vote in person—was not technically urging people to vote twice, effectively it comes across as such. Even if one could verify in real-time that one’s vote had been counted, the disruption and drain on an already fragile may prove overwhelming, encouraging the assembled crowd to test the system as Trump made an appearance in Wilmington, North Carolina to proclaim it a World War II Heritage City just before corroborated revelations came forward on Trump’s history of disparaging remarks regarding the fallen, service members and veterans.   Please vote if you are eligible, but needless to say only once.

Sunday, 23 August 2020


cassandra drops into verse: a thoroughgoing appreciation of Miss Dorothy Parker (*1893 – †1967)

jazz pigeon: from the same creative studio that asked “Are you tired of being a bird?”—via the Link Pack of Swiss Miss

going postal: the United States may soon see the return of post office offering financial services—see previously

it’s not the heat but the humidity: meta-study suggests that dry air may help the corona virus propagate

the gosling effect: another example of machine pareidolia, wherein a computer detects the Canadian actor’s face in a fold of a curtain—like seeing Jesus in a burrito

susan b. anthony: champion for women’s suffrage rejects Trump’s offer of a pardon for her arrest and fine in 1872 for voting illegally

Saturday, 15 August 2020

stays these couriers

Though never an official motto, the phrase from Herodotus about another determined set of postal workers, the Persians, unparalleled in Antiquity, the words are stirring and befitting such a beleaguered though indefatigable group.
Knowing that he cannot win honestly and outright or retain a controlling majority of the legislature, Trump is dismantling the US mail to stop postal balloting—with the added bonus of ensuring knock-on delays downstream, for people that need to receive rent or pension cheques through the mail and potentially deadly deferrals for those refiling prescriptions. Though there was turmoil beforehand over the United States’ leaving of the Universal Postal Union, this new phase was not a necessary consequence and the actions being undertaken now could not be characterised as anything else but sabotage.

Friday, 5 June 2020


ppe: for the cost of one kit of battle rattle riot gear, one could fully outfit over fifty care staff

world leaders have floated the use of sanctions on officials close to president trump to help protect america’s ethnic minorities: applying the tone of reporting on foreign wars and civil unrest to the US

by-line: questioning the wisdom of New York Times’ editorial policy, via Super Punch

history will be kind to these painstaking recreations of these corrupt criminals responsible for the end of democracy: 2020 Battle for the White House commemorative chess set

harlem renaissance: the US Post Office issues stamps celebrating four important literary figures

history will judge the complicit: Fresh Air’s Dave Davies interviews historian and Atlantic correspondent Anne Applebaum on imperiled democracy

white collar jobs: Facebook will destroy society

Friday, 1 May 2020

penny black

Whereas prior to the introduction of a pre-paid, flat-rate and conveniently adhesive postage stamp, first issued on this day in the United Kingdom in 1840, the Royal Mail was beset with complexities and high rates usually collected upon delivery determined by distance travelled as well as the sheet-count of the correspondence.
In order to remedy this situation and make the postal system more customer-focused and efficient (see also), inventor, social reformer and educator Sir Rowland Hill (*1795 – †1879) commissioned a government inquiry which resulted in not only the Uniform Penny Post but also an inexpensive, mass-produced version of an adhesive envelop for privacy, further facilitating the rapid and reliable exchange of correspondence. Honouring the monarch and promoting its adoption amongst the public, Hall and the committee selected a cameo image of then fifteen-year-old Victoria created by engraver and illustrator Charles Theodosius Heath (*1785 – †1848) and son Frederick, this portrait of the Queen used on stamps for the remainder of her reign.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

postmaster or fancy-cancels

Via the always stunning Present /&/ Correct, we appreciated making the acquaintance with a wonderful resource for vintage ephemera in the Bulgarian Virtual Museum for Socialism through the lens of this cheerful collection of postal seals and cancellation (oblitรฉration, ะธะทะผะธั€ะฐะฝะต) stamps, especially this one commemorating sixty years of radio broadcasting in the country. With an abundance of travel, film and political posters, company and trade logos and extra philately, there’s much more to explore at the links above.

Monday, 29 July 2019

mail order

Withdrawal from conventions—especially in the form of old, established treaties always have unforeseen consequences and benefits mostly those that are positioned to take advantage of what happens at the margins, negotiating between those inside and outliers.  One knock-on effect of Trump’s announcement  last year that the US would be quitting the one hundred forty-four year-old Universal Postal Union of which almost every other country in the world is party to could result in severe delays (or expulsion of the community mail rooms altogether) for US military and diplomatic staff stationed overseas receiving packages and parcels just in time for the holidays and the shipping season.
America would reconsider if it can renegotiate terminal-dues in such a way that does not economically advantage China, but given the ill-will that the administration has already fostered with host countries with tariffs and even suggesting that nations should pay protection money for the privilege, it seems unlikely that any wants to talk terms with the US.

Sunday, 12 May 2019


Previously we’ve explored how the existing infrastructure, network and antecedent of the mail delivery system—not to mention how every other advanced and most emerging economy on Earth already have allowed their national postal systems to provide non-usurious financial services support for convenience and for to the large swaths of the precariat that are otherwise locked out of traditional banks—might supplement and back the savings and bill-paying needs of those who cannot by dent of poor credit or remoteness avail themselves of mainstream branches, so we were quite excited to learn that a bill in the US legislature has two sponsors, both contenders for the presidency, and might have a fighting chance to counter the predatory, self-perpetuating institutions that people in a pinch have had to turn to in the States. Learn more at the link above.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

franking privilege

Found on Booooooom, we enjoyed these little figures composed of stamps and cancelations by Sapporo-based artist Baku Maeda. The cut-up typography includes the stylised katakana symbol〒(yลซbin kigล, read more here) the service mark of Japan, derived from the word for communications teishin and used to as punctuation to indicate a zip code as well. Explore more of the artist’s portfolio, his collaborations with fellow creative Toru Yoshikawa and peruse a large gallery of his drawings and photography at the links above.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

thurn und taxis

Breaking with a one hundred and forty-four year old convention that regulates postal rates world-wide in order to prevent barriers to entry by poorer nations and promote the ease of cross border communication and commerce, Trump is signalling that the US will withdraw from the treaty that legitimised and continued the Universal Postal Union, an arrangement that has fully one hundred and ninety three signatories with the four outlying states relying on other members to execute their mail delivery.
Drafted at a time when European powers were dominant exporters and much of Asia was agrarian society (also kind of a myth borne out of the idea of exceptionalism), the US believes the conditions of the treaty disadvantages American business by subsidising shipments from China and flooding markets with cheaper wares. Prior to the agreement, countries needed to negotiate separate treaties and issue stamps for each leg of the missive’s journey, often outsourcing mail delivery to forwarding agents under conditions and protocols created during the sixteenth century by the Lombard-German royal house referenced in the title. The US was already given the dispensation to dictate rates for large packages but small parcels (under two kilogrammes—in keeping with the union’s original charter to establish a uniform and affordable flat-rate across currencies and purchasing-parity for sending letters and vendors’ samples) were under the jurisdiction of the international body. The proliferation of on-line shopping translated to opportunities for retail sellers. What do you think?  Maybe the house of Thurn & Taxis were the original postal Illuminati but this recent investigation on the treaty and the Universal Postal Union from Planet Money is helpful and comprehensive primer for understanding what is at stake.