Foto Friday: Stamps

Postage stamps from penpalsOur family didn’t travel very much growing up. Family vacations just weren’t as commonplace as they are now. One of the ways that I channelled/fuelled my wanderlust during my teenage years was by corresponding with pen pals.

Being the sort of person who doesn’t do things in half measures, and also someone without an especially vibrant teenage social life, I didn’t have just one pen pal. I had about 100.

I’m transitioning to new phase in my life. I’m selling my house and becoming nomadic. That means I have to seriously pare down my belongings. So today I chose to recycle my stash of old letters from pen pals.

I didn’t read any of the letters. I don’t need to reconnect with the vestiges of cringeworthy teenage angst contained therein, thanks very much. But I did clip all the stamps off the envelopes to donate them to Oxfam Canada’s Stamp Out Poverty programme.

stamps from old letters

As I leafed through the envelopes I became aware just how much of the world I had “seen” through the eyes of my pen friends before I had ever travelled internationally. There were stamps from at least 50 countries, some of which no longer exist. I found myself wondering how things have turned out for my old friends since our correspondence tapered off.

I’ve always loved poring over postage stamps. The vibrant colours, exotic languages and heraldry, historical figures, and compelling artwork — all were  springboards for my curiosity about the world, spurring me to research what tickled my fancy or what I didn’t understand. If the Internet had existed when I collected them I likely would have been even more of an obnoxious know-it-all than I am today!

So it isn’t easy to part with such treasures. But on the other hand it seems like a fair bargain — trading my old postage stamps for the opportunity to collect passport stamps instead.

postage stamps

Did you ever have a pen pal? If so, where were they from and what did you learn from them?


  1. I had a pen pal in grade 5. His name was Dougie and my school (at that time it was all 8 grades in one room) was paired with another school somewhere in Ontario. The teachers set it up and it only lasted for that school year.
    I remember it was exciting to get a letter addressed to me!

    1. I think getting mail addressed to me was one of my motivations too. It’s still exciting to get a letter in the mail, especially now that email is more prevalent.

  2. I’ve never heard of Stamp Out Poverty. Thanks for sharing that link, because that program looks really great. And how cool is it that you saved all those stamps and letters (I wouldn’t want to read any of my old letters either, but the stamps would be cool to see).

    Personally never had a PenPal, except for a brief period when I was 7 (I was PenPals with a girl from Kindersley, Saskatchewan so it wasn’t anywhere too exotic). My mother, however, has a PenPal (Jayne) from England. They’ve kept in touch for almost 40 years, and met for the first time about 8 years ago in New York.

    1. That’s amazing your Mom and her penpal have been corresponding for so many decades. How their lives and the world must have changed in that time!

      I think Stamp Out Poverty is such a great idea. I used to collect stamps, but I eventually realized that I wasn’t actually a collector, I was saving them more out of the sense that they are beautiful and interesting and should be kept rather than discarded. The Stamp Out Poverty program lets me rescue stamps and people simultaneously, which is a win-win.

  3. At one point I had more than 60 pen pals. All through college and a little beyond, though I don’t correspond with anyone any more, beyond an occasional postcard. It’s sort of sad, in a way.

    My first penpal was a class project between two different Rothwells–mine, in West Yorkshire, and another, in Northamptonshire. That was at a younger age–pre-teen.

  4. Where do all those fantastic stmaps come from? Which countries I mean? I live in Canada. Beautiful country. Worlds most boring stmaps. Do you have penpals that send them to you? I’m literally swooning over them!

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