On the Real Mail Trail: Putting the Ah! Back in Correspondence

Written by in Events

The Smithsonian National Postal Museum by night. Exhibition manager Pat Burke describes the dramatic effect – part of the design of the new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery – as “an amazing cathedral of stamps.” Perfect.

I (Alyson Kuhn) was recently in Washington D.C. to help celebrate the grand opening of the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. In happy fact, I was there as the “producer” of the Correspondence Salon for Ladies & Gentlemen, a day-long papery paradise and philatelic fantasyland sponsored by Neenah Paper.

The tie-in between Neenah papers – from supple sheets to heavy cards, from excellent envelopes to distinctive labels – and the sending of beautiful mail is obvious. And what could be better, even suaver, than to showcase Neenah’s Classic brands in a ‘Classic Correspondence Kit’? The entire tactile Classic family (Columns, Cotton and Crest, Laid and Linen) came to the party, presented in a deluxe packet of supplies for every guest.


The Classic Correspondence Kit was designed for the occasion by Studio A.

The kit also included a glassine envelope of unused vintage postage, so that guests could mail a letter bearing stamps from the ’40s to the ’70s. In our follow-up feature next week, you’ll see the kit in all its postal palette glory – and the marvy mail it inspired. Guests came from near and far – and a few sported philatelic fashions. Most people stayed for a single 45-minute session, but more than a handful of aficionados and mail artists installed themselves for several hours.


The Correspondence Salon was held in the new Byrne Education Loft, on the mezzanine above the Gross Gallery.

Carol Thomas flew in from Illinois and came almost directly from the airport. This was her second visit to the museum. She had read about the Correspondence Salon on the Letter Writers Alliance blog and “started packing. I’m a retired airline employee, and I go on trips without blinking an eye – any excuse to travel. The event was everything I’d hoped – and more!”


Carol Thomas (left) and Janet Klug (right) had never met before, but they arrived within minutes of each other, in elegant epistolary regalia.

At the salon, Carol also met Jennie Hinchcliff, founder of the San Francisco Correspondence Co-op and co-author of Good Mail Day. Jennie promptly revealed that she has the same blouse as Carol, though it’s not what she had chosen for the day.


Jennie Hinchcliff (left!) and Mr. Zip share a moment. In our next feature, you’ll see Jennie’s enchanting birthday tribute to Mr. Zip, who turned 50 on July 1.

Janet Klug, in the peachy pantsuit and keen postmarked blouse, is a worldwide stamp collector (meaning that she collects stamps of the entire world) – and her specialty is military postal history. She and her husband drove eight hours to attend the festivities. Janet is past president of the American Philatelic Society, and also serves on the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee. She pronounces the materials in the Classic Correspondence Kit gorgeous, and then instantly edits herself, proclaiming them sumptuous. She observes, “Email is fast, but it is also impersonal and transitory. You can’t tie up a bundle of emails with a ribbon and tuck them away to remember a love, a child’s summer at camp, or a soldier fighting for his country. Real letters are treasures that we save.”


Congressman Robert Aderholt of Alabama dropped in. He proved to be armed with a pair of mobile devices and a beautiful pen.


Congressman Aderholt settled right in and penned a pair of notes. He struck us as someone accustomed to sending hand-written correspondence.

Pum and Jake Lefebure of Design Army checked out the Gross Gallery with their almost nine-year-old daughter Sophie, before coming upstairs to the Correspondence Salon, where they all made some mail.


Sophie Lefebure confirms, “I was excited to see my letter arrive in the mail. I made it for my Mom.”

Pum comments, “The new postal museum exhibits were really well done, but the event was even better. I was able to be creative in a medium I’ve not really thought about before – analog – and it was the perfect chance to make a birthday card for Sophie.” Jake adds, “It was a very interactive and creative experience. We knew that with first class postage you can mail almost anything anyway – but the multiple stamps of various smaller denominations was a very fresh new way of bringing design to letter correspondence.”


Stamp reserves were plentiful at the salon, all organized by topic. The stock page above holds stamps relating to collecting stamps and sending mail.


Alyson Kuhn presents Tom Wright of Neenah Paper with a thank-you gift: 50 glassine envelopes each containing a first-class letter’s worth of vintage postage on one of six topics.


Mid-afternoon stamp shadows on the carpet in the Byrne Education Loft. The 54 stamps in the windows reflect every aspect of American history and culture. During the day, a black scrim shade “hides” the window images so that the outside of the historic building looks as if nothing has been “disturbed,” but the natural light can still shine in.

  1. 10

    Thanks for sharing stories and pictures of this fun event. I’m a long-time fan of Alyson Kuhn’s knowledge and enthusiasm for Real Mail. I especially like her gift idea to Tom Wright! The new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery looks wonderful and inspiring.

  2. 11

    Thanks to Alyson for the fantastic write up of this oh-so-postally-perfect event! Not only was the National Postal Museum a wonderful experience (my first time visiting), but the Correspondence Salon was the perfect way to wrap up a postally perfect day! It was both an honor and a pleasure to be part of the festivities.

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    SallyW said:

    I can’t wait to visit the Stamp Gallery! This place looks like a dream for all of us who love to write and receive mail. It’s something worth saving. Thanks for the article and all the great photos!

  4. 11

    I’m so excited to see you post the photos from this event. I live nearby but was unable to attend, sadly, as I missed meeting Jenny Hinchcliff, and the camaraderie of other letter writers. I can’t wait for the opportunity to see the new gallery. And, by the way, I love Neenah papers.

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    miss polly said:

    nothing short of magic!!!!

  6. 11

    Hi Allyson,
    OHHHHHHHH I would have so loved to have been there but thank you for sharing it in this blog so we all could see how uber luscious everything was. Be well…ju 13

  7. 11

    Beautifully related report on an event that shows how fun corresponding can be. And now I want sunlight filtered through stamps on my rugs, too. Thanks, Alyson, & thanks, Neenah!

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    Reg Cote said:

    Wish I was there…. There is nothing so fulfilling then to send a real traditional letter to a loved one or a friend. It does not have the same impact as for an unpersonal email. Loved the report!

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    […] week, we featured the Correspondence Salon for Ladies & Gentlemen sponsored by Neenah Paper at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. I was the event’s […]

  10. 11
    Andria said:

    I came here from Jennie’s blog, and love the photos of the participants in the day’s events. Thank you for sharing!

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    Cheryl Lee said:

    Wish I had been there for the festivities! A wonderful opportunity missed.

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    S Guenther said:

    WHO do I gotta shmooze to get my hands on one of those hot little kits!? I just know there are a few extras kicking around somewhere. A long-time philately enthusiast and graphic artist, I beseech thee! Help a design-sister out. :)