Post Script: Laura Brown, Author of ‘How to Write Anything’

Meet Laura Brown, author of the newly published book, How to Write Anything, which is a guide to exactly that. From composing everything from a research paper to a recipe, it’s a necessary addition to any proper writing desk. Here, the well-seasoned writing instructor of more than 25 years talks to us about pen pal-ing with Shakespeare, fountain pens and a truly memorable A-. 

laura brown and book

When did your interest in writing begin?
It started when I was small. I wrote little stories when I was a child, and then when I started having to write at school, I found I really enjoyed it. I was lucky to have some truly inspirational teachers who encouraged me, partly by giving wonderful assignments where we could stretch our wings as writers. I’ve always felt a kind of flow with writing, being in the zone, and that’s very pleasant.

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Post Script: Snail Mail My Email’s Ivan Cash

When San Francisco-based artist and filmmaker Ivan Cash decided to create a project that involved handwriting emails, he figured it would be a one-time experiment. Soon, though, he had so many requests that he had to enlist the help of hundreds of volunteers around the world to help him write. In all, more than 10,000 letters were sent, and Snail Mail My Email has become an annual, week-long  event that takes place each November. If you can’t wait that long, however, the project’s letters are also available in book form. Here, Ivan talks with us about his dream Zen pen pal, in-the-moment correspondence and why including plastic dinosaur toys with your notes is pretty great.

Tell me about your snail mail project and how it came about.
I’ve always loved letter writing, but when I lived in Amsterdam during 2011, I found I was working all the time and not writing enough letters. When I quit my job just six months in, I decided I needed a project to help immerse myself back into the world of letter writing. I also wanted to use my skills in advertising to share the magic of snail mail with others.

snail mail my email letter 3

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Post Script: Travis White, A Letter for Better

It all began with a touch of mailbox envy. Eyeing the handwritten letters his roommate seemed to receive on a daily basis, Travis White decided everyone should have that feeling that always accompanies receiving a letter. So he started A Letter for Better, a group of students that randomly chooses names and addresses from the White Pages and sends the unknowing recipients a handwritten letter. The organization now has 45 active members — up from just four when it began. Below, the Central Michigan University student talks to us about pens, Steve Jobs and an unexpected visit from a police officer.

travis white a letter for betterTravis White (right) with ALFB Vice President, Ashley Coners

When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
It began in my first year of college. I lived (and currently live) in the residence halls at Central Michigan University where we have mailboxes for each one of our rooms. My roommate that I lived with had a girlfriend at the time who attended an institution in Ohio. One of their major forms of communication was through letter writing, and it seemed to me like he received a letter almost every day. Since I was the one who passed the mailbox on a regular basis, I would be the one to pick up all of the mail. A couple months went by that I would open the mailbox, seeing only a letter that would be addressed to him, never seeing the words “Travis White” printed in the handwriting of someone close to me.

One day in late October/early November, we went to lunch in one of the residence halls on campus, when he received an email that was sent directly to his phone. It was from one of the front desk workers notifying him that he had a package waiting for him at the front desk of our residence hall. Being the great friend that he was and knowing that I did not receive any mail before then, he teased me about it.

Jokingly, I told him, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to go onto Whitepages.com, find a random address and become pen-pals with them.” It wasn’t until a couple days later that I finally received my first letter in the mail and, surprisingly, it was from my Marching Band back home. I was the Drum Major during my Junior and Senior year of High School, and my entire band wrote to tell me how much they miss me and wished that I would come back to play with them for their Homecoming.

The feeling that that letter gave me was something that I have never experienced before, so I decided to take that and turn it into an student organization. We turned my “joke” into a reality, where we literally go onto Whitepages and find random strangers to write to, simply to make them smile.
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Post Script: Designer John Segal

His sketching table in the New York City Crane office wasn’t even warm before our new head designer, John Segal, was tasked with bringing four new collections for our boxed line to life. Flights of Fancy features two-pass engraved motifs inspired by all things that reach for the stars; Explorers, engraved in gold on ecru stock, pays homage to the 450th birthday of Galileo; the engraved and embossed Vintage Lace is presented in a palette of vibrant hues; and Tools of the Trade is letterpress printed on our coveted Lettra paper.

Here, the avid cyclist and 4 p.m. chocolate fiend talks to us about inspiration, the joy of being delighted and why he’s particularly excited about a recent delivery from China.

john segal

Describe the person who would love these collections.
The Crane customer, in my mind, is someone who loves to be delighted. It could be by an exquisitely engraved hummingbird or a lovely gold lined envelope.
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Post Script: Our Finishing Department

The holiday season is the busiest time of year at Crane. Our factory is bustling with Christmas card and invitation orders, and our printing presses are humming as ink is fixed to paper. Again and again and again.

Once the ink dries, the orders are sent off to the Finishing Department, where ribbons are tied, envelopes are lined and cards are duplexed (a process that involves affixing a smaller sized paper stock atop a larger sized paper stock to create a layered look).

crane & co. envelope liners

Below, we talked with four women in Finishing — who work hard to make sure every detail is just so — about Presidential inaugurations, letters from loved ones and brand new puppies.

finising dept ladies

Tell me about how you ended up at Crane.
Nancy Randall:  started working for Crane when I was 20 years old. I had worked in retail previously but I like the work schedule Crane offered and the pay was better than retail.

Adriene Davine: I came to Crane out of high school.

Becky Riley: When I first started at Crane, I worked in [envelope] Liners. When I was hired full time, I moved to Inspection.

Lori Mulder: My husband worked at Crane and encouraged me to apply.

Tell me what a typical day is like in the Finishing Department.
LM: Busy.

BR & AD: Very busy!

What is your favorite part of the job?
NR & BR: Tying ribbons.

crane & co. ribbon baby announcement

AD: Making sure the order is correct and watching what people order.

LM: Working with my co-workers — they are a great group of people.

And the most challenging?
NR: Duplexing* a card that has a ribbon around it. It is more difficult to keep it consistent.

crane & co. duplex card

LM: Hitting the deadline to ship at 6 p.m. Most orders are time sensitive and need to ship the same day that the order arrived in Assembly.

What do you see most of come through the Finishing Department during the holidays?
BR: Most orders involve ribbons, which are on the majority of orders at Christmas. There are also many photo digital cards.

LM: Digital pictures or photo mount pictures with added ribbon. They come out beautiful.

Describe the most elaborate job you have ever had to work on.
NR: A wedding invitation with the invitation card being duplexed after having a ribbon wrapped around it and the base card was an engraved folder.

AD: The inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

BR: A Princess wedding where each invitation was in a separate box that we tied with a ribbon, tissue closed for 2,000.

LM: A bat mitzvah. We had a program with seven inserts and furnished ribbon. We have to collate on two long tables to make sure that every page was correct. The customer wanted two pieces of the ribbon tied at once with the narrow ribbon on top and wide chiffon on the bottom, then had to twist and turn the ribbon in order for everything to be the same.

What are you doing when you are not at Crane?
NR: I spend time with my daughters and granddaughters, I attend a fitness class, go out with friends and take walks.

AD: Taking care of my four-month-old puppy.

BR: I enjoy cooking and baking mostly. I love animals and find them very entertaining.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
NR: The one thing most people don’t know about me is I can be analytical of people and why they are the way they are.

AD: How religious I am.

BR: It is a secret — that is why they don’t know.

LM: I collect statues and pictures of the Blessed Mother.

Tell me about the most memorable letter you’ve ever received?
NR: From my youngest daughter when she was at boot camp for the Air Force. She didn’t have a lot of time to write but she tried to put as much as she could explain quickly about how things were there and re-assuring me that she was okay.

AD: From an old boyfriend that I met on cruise ship.

BR: It was a letter from my niece thanking me for a blanket I made for her son. This made me feel special. She also sent a picture with the baby loving his new blanket.

LM: When I was a teenager, my brother joined the Navy and was stationed in Italy. I loved his letters telling me about his adventures and the people he met there. This was back in the 80’s when cell phones were not invented yet.

All photos taken by the wonderfully talented Dan Morgan.

Post Script: Modern Day Snail Mail’s Cristina Vanko

cristina vankoAccording to her bio, Cristina Vanko is a “designer, idea person, visual storyteller, printer, letterer, illustrator, data visualizer and an aspiring art director.” For one week, she was the girl “texting” using ink. After discovering her father’s old calligraphy pen, Vanko fell in love with writing words that glided across the paper in lovely flourishes. So, she decided that for seven days she would only “text” her friends with hand-written messages. The result was visually and socially extraordinary. Here, Vanko talks about her snail mail experiment, correspondence as an artform and her father’s delightfully creative envelope addressing.

When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
My dad would always send snail mail to me when I went off to college and decorate the envelope with silly stickers and interesting type, but it wasn’t until I was taking classes in all the different art areas at school until I got really interested in the epistolary world.

Although I had been interested in art at a very young age, at the beginning of my undergraduate career my understanding of art had not yet been developed to think that art could be more than a painting or drawing. But when I was at Indiana University—Bloomington, I came across some really inspiring printmaking graduate students who helped me fully understand what the definition of art is and what it could be.

Kristin Carlson’s MFA thesis, Large Letters, Small Signs, was when I truly fell in love with mail and mail art. It was then when I discovered how you could really push the boundary of surface, type and technique. I remember speaking with her when she was screen-printing this piece and she explained to me that in art school you spend so much time with your work that you miss out on relationships with people.

Not only did I see her thesis as an interesting way to send mail but also I saw her thesis as a good way to share her talent with people she cared about. After being introduced to mail art in such an extraordinary and beautiful way, I became more aware what I sent through the mail.

Tell me about your Modern Day Snail Mail project.
I resurrected my dad’s old calligraphy pen and I was immediately stunned with the range of line thickness that the pen could achieve. After texting some doodles to friends, I decided to send handwritten messages to people for that next week. I wanted to create my own modern day version of “snail mail.”

My rules for this type of experiment were simple: Create handwritten text messages for seven days, i.e. no using the keyboard on my phone to send a message. I wrote out my message on paper and then I snapped a photo to send as a text message. What started as an experiment to improve and learn more calligraphy quickly became an interesting social experiment all together. Not only did I learn a lot about calligraphy, I learned a lot about myself, my friends and technology.

modern day snail mail

modern day snail mail text messages

Why do you enjoy writing letters and/or correspondence?
I appreciate how it’s a more genuine and personal way of creating and/or maintaining conversation with a person. The physical pieces are elements to add to your shared story with a specific person, so it’s interesting to see how your relationship unfolds in a tangible way. Also, I’ve been working on more digital projects as a designer so it’s a nice way to revisit and maintain my analog roots.

What is your favorite step in the process of written correspondence?
I enjoy the final step of the process—constructing and embellishing what contains the message whether it be an envelope, box, etc. Since it’s the first thing you see, I want the recipient to know that this isn’t an ordinary piece of mail.

envelope mail art

If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
I’d love to start conversations with my ancestors to ask about their stories and to see their handwriting. I have noticed similarities in handwriting among my family members and it’d be interesting to see if there was an evolution involving handwriting style.

To whom do you most often write?
I mostly write to my friends and family, and by write, I mean that I mostly send mail art. After graduating college, my friends are sprawled out all over the country, so I like to send mail art and postcards to friends every chance I have some free time.

Unfortunately, I have noticed it becomes a one-way street. Luckily, I have a couple of good friends from undergraduate with which we consistently send mail art back and forth. My one friend and I give each other challenges to push ourselves, so we try to master a new skill or learn something new when relaying our message.

mail art

Can you describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received?
Besides from visually intriguing letters, simple handwritten letters that reveal your most genuine thoughts and feelings about someone make for some of the best letters I’ve ever received. There’s nothing more personal than handwriting when truly expressing yourself.

What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
Knowing that someone wanted to fill a blank page with their a message versus picking out something reconstructed and/or only requires a signature. The extra effort of a physical letter is refreshing.

What makes your correspondence distinct?
My dad literally pushes the envelope with the address alone. Wherever I’ve lived, he’s always figured out a new way to construct an address by using city nicknames, spelling things out phonetically, etc. It surprises me every time I receive a letter that the post office figured out a way to decode the address. Naturally, I picked up the habit of crafting creative addresses and have been applying it to my mail.

What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
I think classic correspondence will continue to become rare, but I can only hope that it will evolve into something new—even if that means digitally. While today people are more connected than ever, receiving a personal email could seem like a rarity. Sometimes I know that I get tricked into thinking that liking, commenting or re-tweeting means that someone cares when really it takes little effort to do such things. I could only hope there will be a way to digitally differentiate correspondence and make it more personal.

Have a question for Cristina or know someone who should be featured in Post Script? Contact our Crane Concierge at concierge@crane.com.

Post Script: Blacker & Kooby’s Vanessa Kooby

vanessa koobyOne might say Vanessa Kooby was destined to own a stationery shop. Her father, Fred Kooby, along with his business partner Joe Blacker, opened Blacker & Kooby on Madison Avenue 50 years ago. However, it’s dedication, not destiny that has made Vanessa and her family’s shop Upper East Side staples. Here, the Wharton Business School graduate talks to us about letters to camp, Zazzle and what she would ask her 19th century French painter pen pal.

When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
I have always loved stationery and written communiques. I was a doodler as a child and always had pen pals. When I was a teenager, I collected stationery and stickers.

What’s the story behind your store’s name?
In 1963, my father, Fred Kooby, met Joe Blacker through a business broker. They decided to join forces and literally set up shop on Madison Avenue. It was a fruitful and happy partnership, and I still work with my father and have very fond memories of “Uncle” Joe.

What inspired you to open a stationery boutique?
I guess you can say I was born into it, but it is so much more than that. I have always been a visual learner and I am artistically inclined. After completing my MBA at Wharton, I did financial services marketing for Chase Manhattan Bank, but my heart was always in retail, the family business. People fascinate me, and I like establishing relationships and creating. The stationery business let me combine my visual skills and artistic sensibilities with my management training — and work with a nice clientele every day.

Why do you enjoy sending correspondence?
A well-written thank you note makes me swoon. I can still remember customers and friends who have sent me the nicest thank you notes ever. When I receive a sincere note with a nice sentiment, my opinion of the sender is magically elevated!

Additionally, receiving mail is so much fun. One summer when my daughter was at sleep away camp, I wrote random letters to her bunk mates, and it became a game. The whole bunk would wait to see who Stephanie’s mom wrote to next. My daughter will never forget that, and it was so amusing for all of us.

If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
That is so easy! I would write to Picasso, Matisse and Bonnard, and ask them what their inspirations were for their most famous or lovely paintings. Painting is a passion of mine, and I never tire of New York City and its abundant art exhibitions and permanent collections. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to ask Pierre Bonnard what his relationship was like with all the people in his kitchen and garden paintings? It would explain their expressions and Bonnard’s treatment of them as subjects.

To whom do you most often write?
I write to my kids. My grandfather wrote me the most magnificent letters when I was growing up. He told me, “be independent and to rely on yourself.” I try to impart some life lessons on them when I get a moment, and maybe one day it will all make sense.

Describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received.
Well, Letitia Baldrige did wish me good luck with all my brides, but my grandfather’s letters had the most impact.

What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
For me it is the paper and the handwriting. If the paper feels like quality, and there is neat cursive or block print by a human being, I will take note and appreciate it.

Do you have a favorite stamp or stamp series?
I am a total Zazzle.com fanatic. When I do a stunning invitation, I cannot wait to coordinate stamps for my clients. I scan, I tweak, I create, until I am happy… and they are pleased.

What is your favorite product created by Crane & Co.?
I still love Crane Kid Finish Ecru 32 lb stock. No other paper feels so luxurious and present.

What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
I think we all must accept the fact that correspondence will be a combination of electronic and hard copy. Once we accept that, it actually increases the value of a written letter. As email has become so important, and texting is almost a religion, a written letter or a printed invitation really stands out. Wedding invitations and Bar/Bat Mitzvah invitations set the mood for a celebration and leave no doubt in a guest’s mind that they were not just an afterthought.

Have a question for Vanessa? Email our Crane Concierge at concierge@crane.com.

Post Script: Needle in a Haystack’s Yash Parmar

NeedleinaHaystack-006

Everything is bigger in Texas. And that includes the stationery business. Catering to Dallas’s finest, Needle in a Haystack has been a purveyor of exquisitely printed paper for more than two decades. Here, co-owner Yash Parmar — who runs the boutique with his wife, Bhavna and daughter, Krishna (pictured above right and left, respectively) — talks to us about the power of pen pals, to whom he writes most and how he may not have been where he is today without sewing.

When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
Writing handwritten letters to my pen pals in various countries.

What’s the story behind your store’s name?
Needle in a Haystack started off as a needlepoint store in 1971 – hence the name.  In the 70’s and 80’s there was strong interest in needlepoint. The previous owners of Needle in a Haystack were avid needlepointers.  They gradually introduced gifts and stationery in the 80’s. We bought the store in 1989, when it was about 80% needlepoint and 20% “other.”  

What inspired you to open a stationery boutique?
Emphasis on stationery was dictated by the market and our interest in paper. Our customers demanded greater variety of stationery. This matched our interest.

Why do you enjoy sending letters and/or correspondence?
It is great to put your thoughts on paper. I had pen pals as a teenager and loved writing and receiving letters.

If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
Mahatma Gandhi. I have so many questions that I could ask. There is so much that one can learn from his life and experience.

Gandhi

To whom do you most often write?
Customers!

Describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received.
As a student in England, my grandfather wrote to me regularly from India. I loved receiving his letters with all his grandfatherly advice.

What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
Handwritten letter on personal stationery.

Do you have a favorite stamp or stamp series?
Scenic American Landscapes series of stamps.  Some of these, such as Yosemite National Park, Glacier National Park are just beautiful!

Glacier-park-slideshow

What is your favorite product created by Crane & Co.?
The Black Label album (that has long been retired) had some fabulous engraved stationery with wonderful motifs and liners.

palmetto engraved black label red cards

What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
I think the classic correspondence in a decade or two will remain classic: handwritten note on engraved stationery.

Have a question for Yash? Email our Crane Concierge at concierge@crane.com.

Post Script: Avalon Stationery’s Sue Littleton

sue littletonMeet Avalon Stationery and Gifts co-owner Sue Littleton, who opened her Houston shop with her daughter more than 25 years ago. Here, one of our favorite and longtime Crane & Co. retailers talks about owning a small business, her customers and the power of a particular postcard.

When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
When my daughter, Charlene, was small, her playtime adventures always centered around selling things. After graduating from Baylor University, a family friend asked Charlene what career path she would like to take. We had been fantasizing about having a store together and even called on several locations. Twenty-six years ago, we could not ever have imagined that we would get to work together and love the small business challenges, but our devotion has rewarded us beyond any goal we could have ever set for ourselves.

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Post Script: J. Saunders, Crane Stationery Director of Operations

J. Saunders likes organization. He listens to Podcasts on the subject. He has “medium term goals.” And he was just hired as Crane Stationery’s Director of Operations. The Maine native is in the process of moving from Kennebunk, Maine — where he managed William Arthur’s amending and boxed product manufacturing — to North Adams, Massachusetts, where he will be in charge of all manufacturing. Which, of course, will require a lot of doing what he enjoys: organizing.

j.saunders

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