Stamps. And postcards. And connections. Thats’s what Ale the Philatelist and I talked about on this show.
Ale collects stamps. You’ll have to hear her story about building an art installation using blue stamps she sourced from people she connected with around the world. She also collects postcards. And makes friends.
This is a show about community. And about how postcards (and stamps) connect people.
The work that Marti Mills and Sylvanus Paul are doing with Santa Fe Sticker Fest is really interesting. And there’s a postcard link. Do you add stickers to your postcards? After this thought-provoking show, you will.
You can submit stickers for the curated collection by sending them to:
You can find Santa Fe Sticker Fest on Instagram here. And you can find the website here. If you submit stickers, don’t forget to add your return address. You’ll hear back from them with a cool postcard.
What are the odds anyone is going to read an email 50 years from that you wrote about a trip you took this year? But what if you wrote details in letters and postcards? The odds go up considerably.
Ana Padovani, the writer of Cartas y Postales is doing just that: looking at a series of letters and postcards from 50 years ago. And she’s making the story come to life on her blog. In this show, we talk about that series, Ana’s writing, and the price of postage in Argentina. Oh, and there’s an extra guest you’ll just have to listen to find out who.
Did you see the Academy Award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher ? It’s like a real-life Charlotte’s Web. But instead of a clever spider, there’s a clever octopus that provides lessons that are unexpected. And true. On the surface, the movie is about a man who found joy and purpose through immersion in nature and a remarkable bond with an octopus. And it’s really remarkable. But it’s deeper than the story of just a diver and an octopus. It’s also about how that man created a connection with his son while he built this deep admiration for an octopus. And that octopus taught him so much.
Postcards, in a way, are my octopus. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. You’ve heard me talk about how postcards connect people. Mainly, I mean that in the sense of one person getting to know one other person. That part holds. But there’s more. It’s deeper than that.
Postcards connect people…as in we’re people of the world. They connect us to something larger.
What made me start thinking about all this? Colors. And a postcard. This podcast is about a group of 10 recent incoming postcards and what I learned from them.
Note: If you would like to read a complete transcript, including substantial research links, please click here.
Do me a favor, please. Leave me a comment about what you’ve learned recently from a postcard. Also, what do you think about a little postcard club to discuss a couple cards you like?
Ms. Nadeau, as he students call her, set out a social media post in November 2021 that got it going.
And the cards started coming in. Orla Hegarty posted an appeal to an international audience, and I know lots of people who sent cards (I did…and so did my grandson, Jamo). By the time the CBC did an interview with Stephanie that was published on January 23, 2022, the class had already received more than 100 postcards from around the world. And that number grew after the publication of that article.
Here’s a display wall Ms. Nadeau created for her students at Labrador Straits Academy.
In this episode, I chat with Stephanie about how the project started, what additional goals she has for the project, and the excitement the students have with learning about the world.
Orla created Imbolc postcards and set them out last night to catch Brigid’s magic dew on Imbolc Eve. Lucky are we who might benefit from a bit of this fairy dust in the form of a postcard.
In this episode of The Postcardist Podcast, Orla Hegarty and I talk about Imbolc; making postcards to honor the holiday; cognitive awe as we look out over the ocean; the mesmerizing qualities of humpback whales Orla sees from her living room window; giant potatoes and Irish immigration in Prince Edward Island; iron-on patches in school uniforms; and how Orla helped a small class of students in Labrador get a large number of postcards from around the word. Postcards connect people — and knowing smart people like Orla helps us connect to the world around us.
First, I’m imagining some of you might be wondering about Imbolc and its meaning. I’d heard of it as a kid growing up, but I didn’t know enough. Let’s all start with a little grounding about what Imbolc signifies.
Imbolc, which means in the belly as in the pregnant belly of a sheep, was a time when the breeding cycle of sheep started and ewes began to lactate. It’s a time of rebirth. The onset of spring. The modern holiday is also now known in Christianity as St. Brigid’s Day. You can listen here to a a little more about the ritual In Ireland in this 10-minute Almanac of Ireland podcast that’s a compilation of schoolchildren from the 1930s telling about the tradition. Plus, you can hear slight variations on the pronunciation of the word.
And if you’d like to listen to a pretty song about Imbolc, here’s Lisa Theil’s song of that name:
Now that you have some grounding in Imbolc (listen to the podcast to get a whole lot more from Orla), here are some of Orla’s Imbolc postcards in process. You can see the pieces of cloth and the St. Brigid’s Cross she refers to.
We also talked about P.E.I. and the world’s largest potato. You can visit this 14-foot tall super spud at The Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary, Prince Edward Island. This definitely has to be a stopover on The Peace, Love & Postcards Tour. Who’s with me?
And we talked about the postcard project Orla promoted for the school children at Labrador Straits Academy in L’Anse au Loup, Labrador, Canada.
In this show, we also talked about the word “wyrd” and its link to fate and weaving; postcard goggles; and whale watching from the beach at St. Vincent’s. This is the view Orla has from her house. Now that’s a connection to the sea.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with something Orla said that still has me laughing. Challenge accepted, Orla. Challenge accepted.
I was wandering around my house this morning, shuffling in my moccasins, with a little watering can in my hand, flitting from plant to plant. As I sat down to write postcards this morning, I noticed that a couple plants in my postcard office were stressed. Drying out. Drooping. (Let’s not even talk about the avocado I grew from a seed in the summertime, only to have it wither and die nearly overnight.) I have to up my watering routine. As I walked around giving a needed drink to the palms and ferns and mothers-in-law tongues, I thought about how often plants should be watered.
As with everything, I looked it up.
The Empress of Dirt wrote this in response to being asked that common question from all of us who grow houseplants: How often should we water? As often as they need it. Yes, as often as they need it.
She explains a little more:
It’s a cheeky answer, but it’s also the right one. I started out thinking a routine such as watering houseplants once or twice a week would be right for my varied collection of plants.
Each plant is an individual with different needs. And they go through cycles throughout the seasons, just like outdoor plants do in summer and winter. This could be flowering, fruiting, producing seeds, or months of rest in the darker months.
During some cycles the plants are thirstier, either due to growth or drier indoor conditions, and sometimes they can go long stretches while the potting mix remains adequately moist.
Yep, it’s dry in here. And the conditions for my plants have changed a lot since the open window days of the summer. Here we are in the dead of winter. The furnace kicks on constantly and blows hot, dry air in the rooms. And sunlight is hard to find. My houseplants need a new watering schedule. Which leads me to the topic of today: How often to you need watering?
And although I’m not talking about. drinking water (you should do that — Mayo Clinic says eight glasses a day), I’m talking about the watering of your psychic energy. You know that little burst of dopamine you get each time you get a new piece of mail? That’s the best kind of watering.
How often do you like to get a postcard or piece of mail from someone? And how do you find out how often someone you write to needs watering? (Please don’t tell me you wait until they’re withering like I did with a couple plants in my office.)
There’s science behind all of this. This is the science about how and why postcards connect people. An article in Psychology Today titled Why We’re All Addicted to Text, Twitter, and Google describes the Dopamine Loop that we get into with social media — and to some extent with slow mail. Here are some excerpts from that research:
Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking and reward. The latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behavior. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is critical. The dopamine seeking system keeps you motivated to move through your world, learn, and survive. It’s not just about physical needs, but also about abstract concepts.
FRANK HERE: Pay attention to the seeking behavior. That’s an essential ingredient, and why I asked about how often you need watered with postcards. Now back to the Psychology Today article.
Dopamine makes you curious about ideas and fuels your searching for information. Research shows that it is the opioid system (separate from dopamine) that makes us feel pleasure. These two systems, the “wanting” (dopamine) and the “liking” (opioid) are complementary.
The wanting system propels you to action and the liking system makes you feel satisfied and therefore pause your seeking. If your seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then you start to run in an endless loop.
The dopamine system is stronger than the opioid system. You tend to seek more than you are satisfied. Evolution again — seeking is more likely to keep you alive than sitting around in a satisfied stupor.
It’s easy to get in a dopamine-induced loop. Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking, which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.
Interestingly, brain scan research shows that the brain has more activity when people are anticipating a reward than getting one.
FRANK AGAIN: Do you let people know you’re sending a postcard or a letter? And do you show them what you’re sending? Anticipation is a powerful drug. And a great song…now, back to more dopamine data.
Dopamine is also stimulated by unpredictability. When something happens that is not exactly predictable, that stimulates the dopamine system.
FRANK AGAIN: This is like when our mail shows up. We could have an empty mailbox. Or a single postcard. Or many. It’s unpredictable. And that’s what gives us a dopamine jolt. One last point from Psychology Today:
The dopamine system is especially sensitive to “cues” that a reward is coming. If there is a small, specific cue that signifies that something is going to happen, that sets off our dopamine system. So, when there is a sound when a text message or email arrives, or a visual cue, that enhances the addictive effect.
Okay, jeez. I started out talking about watering plants, and now it’s all dopamine all the time. There is a psychology around all of this, and if you’re interested in more research on the topic, I’d be glad to delve deeper. For now, let’s say this: We like getting postcards. And postcards connect people.
I asked you earlier how much feeding and watering you needed. I’ve been thinking about that myself. I guess for some people it’s satisfying to hear from them once a year at Christmas. I like getting those Christmas letters that wrap up an entire family’s year in just a page or two. I like hearing from other people more often. On top of that, I like hearing from people I didn’t even know the previous year. It goes like that.
So, what’s your feeding and watering schedule? Does it change throughout the year like it does with my plants? Right now, it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and for those of us who live in cold climates, the furnace runs, and hot air dries out the plants pretty quickly. The plants need more water now. Do you? Do you like getting more mail in winter when the days are short (and grey, like they are here in New England from December through April)? And do you have less of a need for postcards in summer when you’re more active outside and have more things to occupy your mind?
I don’t know the answer to these. But I’d love to hear back from you.
Early postcard connections are easy. Here’s a postcard. And here’s a postcard back. But then what? I’ve never gotten this intermittent reinforcement down smoothly. In fact, it’s why when anyone asks me if I want to swap postcards my instant answer is…no. I don’t like the one-for-one-for-one-for-one approach. You’ve heard me say that before. I tend to write in bursts. Which also means there can be long lulls.
How do you do it? Do you ask people how often they’d like to get a postcard? Do you gauge your choices based on how a recipient reacts when they get a card from you? (That’s another whole show…do you let people know when you get mail from them?) Again, leave me a message and let me know. I’m gonna pose this question to the people I write to. I’ll do it on a postcard.
Also, is there such a thing as too much? Not as in not appreciating it. The science of satiety tells us we get signals when enough is enough. But those signals don’t always arrive at the same time. Ever have just one more piece of pizza? Then regret it later? Makes me wonder a little about postcards and mail. I’ve seen people show pictures of their mailboxes with sad faces when they have a few pieces of mail. How many is enough? (In terms of pizza…for me, too much is just enough. As Oscar Wilde said, nothing succeeds like excess.) I’m curious about this. What’s your number?
Which leads me to wrapping this up. You know, there was something satisfying about going around and watering the plants in my house today. I talk to them. I can hear the gurgling when I pour water over them and it’s almost like they’re talking. They seem really grateful. And I’m grateful to be the waterer.
Let me turn this discussion on its head for a second. I’ve been talking about incoming postcards. But there is the satisfaction we get from sending postcards. Right? And I don’t want to ignore that. So, my first question to you was about getting — now it’s about sending. How many cards do you send? How often do you like to send cards to people? (I know you’re answering me right now — and that answer is A LOT.) Postcards connect people. And that’s both in the sending and the receiving.
Maybe that’s the lesson it took me an entire show to come around to.
Postcards connect people. And you do what makes you happy.
Every once in a while you say something as a side comment and that blows up.
Like, for instance, when you’re talking to Magda about the commercial potential of color versus black-and-white postcards. And somehow, by saying color postcards outsell black-and-white postcards, you’re suddenly cast as the president of the Black-and-White Postcard Hater’s Club — someone who doesn’t appreciate Henri Cartier-Bresson. Or Pedro Luis Raota. Or Dorthea Lange. Hell, one person told me to look up Ansel Adams.
But it’s not that black and white. Nothing really is.
What I talked about with Madga is the commercial advantage of color versus black and white. And lest you think I was just talking off the top of my head, maybe a little background would be beneficial. You might know I spent a large part of my career in the communication business. That is, using communication to drive messaging. And that’s not only using words. It’s timing. Visual impact. Priming. And audience preference.
All of which affected my choice of words when I mentioned to Magda that black-and-white postcards won’t sell as well as color postcards. There. I said it.
Now, before you turn off this show or are tempted to dash off a dismissive email, let me explain. Saying color sells more than black-and-white doesn’t mean I don’t like black-and-white postcards. In fact, I have tens of thousands of them — many from wartime. And real picture postcards. I have lots of those, too. Plus, I have some really great black-and-white postcards from OG that I have in frames on my office wall. Dave Wolanski has created many really nice cards from his black-and-white photographs. So has Moni Smith with her pinhole photos. Nan works in black-and-white. And so does Magda. I love all that work. And I love the postcards made from those photographs. Let’s start there. Then let’s do a little science here about why I said color postcards sell more than black-and-white.
Here’s the part on The Postcardist Podcast where we do the guided meditation. Oh, you missed those episodes? Well, don’t think about that now. It’s time to think about color versus black-and-white postcards.
Let’s all close our eyes for a minute. Are your eyes closed?
Now imagine you’re walking into a shop that sells postcards. Maybe it’s a a bookstore — like Stand in New York City. Or El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires. Or Scarthin’s Books in the Peak District. Or Powell’s in Portland. Or Shakespeare & Company in Paris. Or if it’s not a bookstore in your imagination, think about traveling. Think about postcard spinner racks in tourist areas. (Hey, are your eyes still closed?)
Think about a passeggiata near the Duomo di Milano. Or ambling along Arbat Street in Moscow. Or imagine a late-night walk along the Cotai Strip in Macau. Think about slow walks along the canals of Amsterdam; think about standing in front of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona; think about queueing up to listen to Big Ben toll its bells on the hour. Heck, think about standing in a gift shop at Disney. Or think about wandering around the aisles of a gas station on the turnpikes of the U.S. When you see postcards in your imagination, what do you see?
Hey, are your eyes still closed? This is guided postcard meditation.
What do you see when you see postcards? Are they predominantly color postcards? Or are they black and white? Seriously, what do you see? (And don’t say “I see dead people.” That was from one of the creepiest movies ever. And that would be a totally different show.)
I see color postcards. Racks and racks and racks of color postcards. When I look at the 5,000 or so blank postcards surrounding my writing desk, I see color postcards. When I stop in gas stations on the turnpike, I see color postcards. When I go to tourist places, I see color postcards. And when I set off on my world tour of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, I’ll see color postcards.
There’s a reason for it.
Remember when I mentioned those elements of communication? Timing. Visual impact. Priming. Audience preference? Each of those have a reason why we naturally gravitate toward color versus black and white. Much of this is hard wired into our DNA.
Research shows that a black and white image holds interest for less than two-thirds of a second, whereas a colored image holds interest two or three times that long. We’re visual beings. We have to be. And that goes back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who had to process a visual landscape. Color made distinctions. Color indicated safe versus scary. In a study titled How Color Enhances Visual Memory for Natural Scenes, researchers from the American Psychological Association discovered that we make instant decisions about color and black-and-white and remember color scenes more. Back in the Cro-Magnon Era, that recollection was the difference. between life and death. It’s not quite that dire now, but the wiring is there inside us.
Remember what I said about visiting tourist locations? Or fabulous bookstores? It’s color postcards I remember. It’s genetically encoded in me to do that. Color is more stimulating for our brains — and our brains crave stimulation. Color is more memorable — and my caveman ancestors used that to their great advantage. (Do you ever think about how your ancestors were the fastest and smartest and most adaptable ones out there? They were, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.)
So, there’s science behind what I said about color and color postcards. There’s also a few other items I brought up earlier. I talked about visual impact. That’s what color gives us in terms of instant recognition. I also used the term “priming.”
Priming is a communication theory, whereby we are more likely to take in new messages when our brains have been prepared in advance. It’s why I said the word “priming” early on. In cognitive psychology, we know human minds make decisions based on the preconceptions that are already been stored in our memory. I said the word priming. And now I’m saying it again. The priming concept goes for color postcards as well.Here’s a little postcard history — and why we’re primed to buy more color postcards than black-and-white.
In the United States in 1939, Union Oil Company began selling what’s known as photocrome-style postcards in their service stations. Those were color postcards that mostly look like photographs — and they are the predominant way we think about postcards in the modern era. To use the psychological term, we were “primed” to see color postcards as normal. But those weren’t the first color postcards by a long shot.
In the 1880s, many postcards were printed with small sketches or designs (called vignettes) on the message side, initially just in black, but increasingly also in color. Slowly, Germany came to dominate the industry of chromolithography, with many postcards being printed there. A large number of these featured illustrated views of a town and the expression Gruss Aus (or, Greetings from), leaving enough space for a message.
At the end of the decade, the Eiffel Tower made its debut on the Paris Exposition of 1889. French engraver Charles Libonis designed postcards for the occasion featuring the monument. The novelty postcards, which could be mailed from the Eiffel Tower itself, were much beloved by the visitors and became known as Libonis. Those had color illustrations.
In 1908, Curt Teich Co. introduced postcards to their portfolio, and over the next few decades became the world’s largest printer of view and advertising postcards.
Teich was an early pioneer of the offset printing process, and the first to understand the advantages of using lightly embossed paper to speed up the drying of ink, allowing the finished product to retain brighter colors. Because of their texture resembling linen, these embossed postcards became known as linen cards.
Again, color postcards (and even though many black-and-white real photo postcards were produced using the Kodak No. 3A Folding Pocket Camera, which was introduced in 1903 and allowed photographers to create a postcard from any photo they took starting in 1907) dominated the Golden Age of Postcards from 1900 to 1915. If you’re a collector, you know that many from that era were illustrated and produced in Germany using brightly colored inks.
Let’s fast forward to modern day. Like how about today — January 12, 2022. I just went to Lantern Press dot com — one of the biggest and most recognized publishers of high quality postcards in the United States. The have 13 black and white postcards listed. Thirteen. They offer 1,882 postcards in their Photography section alone — and thousands upon thousands more in other sections like Nautical Charts, Everyday Art, and Lighthouses (to name a few). Thirteen total black-and-white postcards, which is seven-tenths of a percent of just their photography art offerings. And on Etsy, I got 25,128 results when I typed in black-and-white postcard; that’s out of 370,838 results when I just searched the word “postcard.” That adds up to 7 percent of the Etsy postcard offerings being black-and-white.
Now, you understand that when I’m giving these numbers it’s not that I’m celebrating the dearth of black-and-white postcards versus color. There’s a big difference between market desirability and personal appreciation for a card (or cards). I spent a while going back through cards I’ve gotten. And I have much appreciated the artistic quality of black-and-white postcards. I told you, I have framed several of them.
As the American photographer Joel Sternfeld said, “Black and white is abstract; color is not. Looking at a black and white photograph, you are already looking at a strange world.” And how very strange all of this is. The original assertion that started all this was one of marketing and commercial viability: will color postcards sell more than black-and-white postcards? Unequivocally, the answer is yes.
Then again, I don’t want this to turn into the postcard world version of an East Coast – West Coast Hip Hop Rivalry. No need to lay down any diss tracks over postcard choices. Let’s celebrate them. Postcards connect people. And that’s at the heart of all this. I hope you keep connecting with people, no matter what color palette you choose. Even one in black and white.
Just a side note: if anyone has any original Ansel Adams postcards they wanna part with, as Tupac said, Hit ‘Em Up.
Postcards get damaged in the mail. A lot. In fact, it’s a surprise when I get a card that’s unmarred. I’ve noticed the same reaction with others in the postcard community, who write with delight about receiving the rare undamaged card with words like, “This looks like it was hand delivered.” Sadly, undamaged postcards are few and far between. Which led me to The Great Postcard Quality Project and this look at mangled mail.
For this initial pass, I used a set of postcards I received that spanned the date range from October 1, 2021, to December 31, 2021. I examined the cards for signs of damage. And wow, did I ever find damage. My mail is a mess.
First, I selected 100 random cards from the 448 total cards I received in that timeframe. Then I documented the damage. My mail was mangled and mishandled. Here’s what I found. Out of 100 random cards:
Bent corners (91)
Scuffed on image (44)
Scratched on image (15)
Peeled on message side (31)
CANCELLATION AND STAMP DAMAGE
Multiple overspray (10)
Cancelled on image (9)
Pen cancelled (2)
Bar code sprayed on image (42)
No card was untouched. That’s right, every single card had at least one element of damage, and many had multiple flaws from handling through the postal service. (That’s why the totals add up to more than 100.) Most cards were mangled.
How is it possible that the USPS handles a product that gets damaged with that frequency? I know it’s a mechanical process. And they deliver 429.9 million of pieces of mail per day. But I didn’t even get into the poorly calibrated and downright messy overspray cancellations. And I can’t figure out why in the world so many cards get scuffed. In my sample, I had large format, small format, thin, thick, coated, uncoated, and odd-shaped postcards. Ninety-one out of a hundred had damage to the edges. Most of the damage would render the card nearly uncollectible in future markets.
This is just the start of The Great Postcard Quality Project. I’m going to collect data for every single card I receive in 2022. And I’ll gather feedback about the cards I send. Plus, I have plans to crowdsource and assemble data from our postcard community. Yes, postcards connect people, but they shouldn’t connect people over the shock of every once in a blue moon getting a card that’s undamaged. Mangled postcards shouldn’t be the norm. That’s wrong. And it’s bad business. Let’s take action.
Here are photos of some of the mangling inflicted on this set of postcards.
Artists gather inspiration from many places. When you’re a prolific postcard designer like Magda Wojcicka of Travel Trinkets Canada, that inspiration can come from playtime with her adorable Basset Hound puppy, Albert; from seeing the Aurora Borealis in the night sky in her town of Calgary; and by having coffee with her best friend who just walked 5km in -40C and had ice-frosted eyelashes.
In this episode, we talk about those inspirations, and much more. This is the last episode for 2021, and I wish you joy as we head into the New Year.