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Delightfully Delving Into the Classic Correspondence Kit

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Last week, we featured the Correspondence Salon for Ladies & Gentlemen sponsored by Neenah Paper at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. I was the event’s “producer,” and today I will tour you through the Classic Correspondence Kit that each guest received – starting with the front label (below).

The Classic Correspondence Kit is a papery party favor par excellence. It’s also a play on words, because all the sumptuous envelopes, cards, and epistolary accessories are made from Neenah’s Classic brands: Columns, Cotton, Crest, Laid, and Linen. The kit and its contents were designed by Studio A, whose founder, Antonio Alcalá is also an Art Director for the USPS and the designer of several exhibitions at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

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Writing your name on the label makes it easier to keep track of your supplies. Stock: Classic Laid Avon Brilliant White.

The kit’s palette was developed by Helen McNiell, Studio A’s color guru. (She is also married to Antonio Alcalá.) She talks about her choices, “I focused on two goals: to showcase harmonious shades of Classic papers with a slightly postal sensibility, and to give our ‘correspondents’ a chance to feel – and write on – the range of textures available. The suite of envelopes and cards I ultimately pulled together features nine different Classic colors, including a wonderfully brilliant red, several whites, and two blues, rounded out by two grays and a pair of neutral tones – Saw Grass and Tarragon. I also included three duplexed cover stocks.”

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The A-10 envelope flap is engraved with the event’s return address and a little dingbat. Stock: Class Crest Saw Grass. Engraving: DataGraphic Design.

The salon’s most prolific correspondent may well have been Bonnie Jeanne, whose mail art moniker is Post Muse. She arrived in the morning with a small entourage, whose members gradually left the salon to check out the new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery… and to stand in line to have their mail hand-cancelled with one of the three special postmarks available. Bonnie stayed in the salon for hours, and I watched her pile of post cards grow. At about 2:00 p.m., I overheard her say to a recently arrived guest, who she did not know, “I highly recommend you try this card – it’s like writing on velvet.” I turned around to see her holding up the kit’s A-7 card, a duplex of Classic Crest Canyon Brown and Windsor Blue.

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Close-up of the Canyon Brown side of the A-7 card, digitally printed in Windsor Blue.

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Bonnie Jeanne and one of her fountain pens sent an appreciation to Neenah Paper right from the salon.

The stamps on Bonnie Jeanne’s post card (above) are all on the topic of Air & Space, fresh from the packet of useable vintage U.S. stamps she received as her enclosure in A Brief Guide to Topical Stamps. Bonnie Jeanne also brought deep reserves of her own vintage postage with her – and was generous about sharing.

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Bonnie Jeanne even sported some imaginary postage on her skirt, which she sewed herself.

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The 12-page (including self-cover) topical collecting booklet measures 4-13/16 x 6-15/16-in. Stock: Classic Crest Digital, Solar White Cover. Digitally printed at Fey Printing.

Helen McNiell designed the booklet’s cover. She comments, “Variety and organization were key for the cover, where we wanted to preview a wide array of possible collecting themes on a small page. The grid of stamp details allowed us to crop closely and enlarge particularly interesting areas of the normally tiny images for better viewing. The cover is colorful and energetic, within a calm and orderly structure. The twelve images are all taken from stamps shown inside the booklet.”

On the cover, I love how Ben Franklin (lower right) and Bessie Coleman (upper left) seem to be gazing at each other across the centuries. Ben Franklin (1706-1790) has been portrayed on dozens and dozens of U.S. stamps, starting with the very first issue, back in 1847. Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was the world’s first female licensed African-American pilot. The stamp honoring her (issued in 1995) is part of the Black Heritage series. Click here to be whisked to the National Postal Museum’s great online exhibit, The Black Experience: African-Americans on Stamps.

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The booklet’s first inside spread, introducing topical stamp collecting in general.

Antonio Alcalá designed the interior of the booklet. All eighteen stamps shown across nine pages share a sight line (meaning their top edges align) as a unifying concept. Antonio adds, “It was a pleasure working with the copywriter to perfect this keepsake – including selecting the stamps to illustrate each topic. We also received expert input from Pat Burke (Exhibition Manager) and Cheryl Ganz (Chief Curator of Philately) at the museum, both for fact checking and for the locations of specific items we wanted to reference.”

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Mail from Alyson Kuhn to Tom Wright of Neenah Paper, during the planning phase for the Classic Correspondence Kit.

The top envelope (above) features stamps on the theme of Natural Beauty, one of the six topics presented in the topical collecting booklet. The bottom envelope features Air & Space stamps, also presented in the booklet. The middle envelope showcases stamps where typography is a key element of the design.

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Antonio Alcalá’s initial sketches for the Classic Correspondence Kit logo.

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The souvenir blotter lists all the correspondence components in the kit, plus production notes. Stock: Neenah Printable Blotter White. Letterpress: DataGraphic Design. Perforating: John Held, Jr.

Cecilia and John Wan came to one of the afternoon sessions with their grown son Jason. Their daughter Chanda had discovered the event online and registered the whole family, but then was unable to attend. I noticed John penning a couple of cards in beautiful Chinese characters, and though I had no idea what he was writing, I was captivated by his penmanship. By the time I asked whether I could possibly take a photo, John’s notes had been sealed into their envelopes. I expressed my regret – and admiration – and went to help another guest arrange some postage. A few minutes later, Jason Wan walked over and handed me My Own Card written by John. A lovely gesture, an excellent surprise, and now a cherished keepsake of the day. Here it is, red ink on Classic Crest Windsor Blue.

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Top line: Alyson. Second line: Thank you very much for your warm-hearted reception. Third line: Wan Family / Thank you. Bottom line: Month / day / year.

Jason confirmed my guess that his father is an architect. A subsequent email from Jason included this: “We were pleasantly surprised at the materials provided to us to mail letters the old-fashioned way. The rubber stamps were also so much fun, and there were so many to choose from. I used them thoroughly and enthusiastically. The kit is definitely a souvenir keeper – and so is the letter we sent to ourselves! :)” Graciousness definitely runs in the family.

John himself wrote me later about his fondness for stamps. “I have been fascinated by stamps since middle school, when collecting new and old stamps became a hobby. Stamps have given me lots of memories. They record history and share beauty, nature, and the arts, as well as special events in time and place. Whole sheets of first day issues were my favorites. Nowadays, with modern inventions such as email, I am gradually losing touch with stamps. But I have not forgotten the joy and sweet memories that stamps have brought me.” Of the Correspondence Salon, he said, “We particular enjoyed your program inviting the whole  family to share in creating together.”

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Souvenir ticket, foil stamped in deep plum on Classic Crest Earthstone Cover. Foil stamping: DataGraphic Design. Perforating: John Held, Jr.

Guests filled in their ticket stubs to enter the drawing held at the end of each session; the prize was a box of correspondence supplies. The main part of the ticket can be mailed as a post card.

Jennie Hinchcliff, founder of the San Francisco Correspondence Co-op and co-author of Good Mail Day, produced a four-block of Cinderellas for the Classic Correspondence Kit. A Cinderella — also known as a poster stamp or sticker stamp – looks like a stamp but is not valid as postage. Jennie’s Cinderellas honor her postal hero, Mr. Zip.

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Each and every four-block includes four rubber-stamped mini-cancellations and a rubber-stamped limited-edition number. (Jennie produced 400 sets.) Stock: Classic Cotton Avon Brilliant White.

Jennie enthuses, “It was an honor to have my Cinderellas included in the Classic Correspondence Kit, and it was wonderful to meet other letter writers and correspondence artists. In addition to the Correspondence Salon, the beautiful new Gross Gallery, the exhibits, the participatory events, all provided a full day of inspiration – and much food for thought with regard to organizing next year’s Ex Postal Facto events in San Francisco.”

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Jennie is pleased with her afternoon’s mail production.

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And she’s not the only happy mailer!

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Kathy Kemps, brand manager for the entire Classic family, basks in the late afternoon glow of James Madison. Kathy’s support infused the Correspondence Salon with exquisite materials that exceeded everyone’s expectations. Heartfelt ex-oh-ex-oh-ex to her!

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    10:21am
    Dorothy Yuki said:

    Wonderful things happen at the Postal Museum with the special support of Neenah Paper. Hooray to all the Mail artists and our own from the San Francisco Correspondence Co-op, Jennie Hinchcliff!

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    7:30pm
    PostMuse said:

    This is such a wonderful post! Thank you, Alyson, for encouraging mail enthusiasm and producing the fabulous Correspondence Salon. I had such fun and really enjoyed chatting with others, especially about postage and stationery and pens.

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    12:14am
    SallyW said:

    I couldn’t be there, so I appreciate this in-depth write-up, Alyson! So great to see so many enthusiastic about mail, stamps, paper & the USPS. Thanks!