A small box of memorabilia of a late friend (I'll call him S.) was recently given to me and I relished each memento of what was important to him when I went through it. Prior to his death, he had given all his literary stuff to his university archive and sold what had value. So sending me some of his “unimportant stuff” was strictly sentimental. A few times in my life I have been given letters and papers of family and friends who have passed. If there is interest, I see that it goes to a historical museum or appropriate archive. I am a professional archivist myself and I LOVE when "old stuff" comes in to school. But, this was strictly personal. S. was an English professor and poetry from former students comprised most of the box.
However, S. had apparently been a stamp collector when he was a young man and I gave most of the first issues to a friend who collects. I knew S. only casually and didn't know anything about his childhood or young adulthood. I did keep a 1934 envelope called “Tin Can Mail” by collectors. I had never even heard of this term before, but I was intrigued and began to Google to find out more.
This is what my Tin Can Mail looks like:
A Google search for yourself will provide countless samples of Tin Can Mail, but a woman named Betty Billingham in the U.K. apparently wrote a book about it that several people refer to. For detail, click on the link above.
I’ve excerpted a brief description of Tin Can Mail from Post Crossing that provides the basics. Don’t you just love it when you learn something new, especially when you’re up in years yourself? I checked to see if the envelope had value, and found a few less than $20 on the Internet. I will keep it as a memory of a long ago friend--and make copies of it for collages.
On the remote country of Tonga in the South Pacific, there's a very special island. It's name is Niuafo'ou, but it's most commonly known as Tin Can Island for the way mail was delivered and sent for many years.
The concept of Tin Can Mail started in 1882 in this island when William Travers, a plantation manager, found himself without a way to receive mail from the rest of the world. The island had no harbor and was very steep so ships wouldn't go there. So he came up with the idea that mail could be delivered inside of the ships biscuit tin cans that would be thrown overboard when they were passing by! He proposed this to the Tongan postal authorities and soon mail started to be delivered this way. But, don't think this was an easy feat! With strong sea currents and distances of over a mile, this meant that to retrieve mail they could have to swim up to 6 hours!
Eventually the Tin Can Mail became extremely popular and also a tradition and soon ships started to come with passengers just to watch this incredible way of mail delivery. In 1928, Walter George Quensell produced rubber stamps saying "TIN CAN MAIL" that started being applied to all outgoing letters - over one million and a half, Quensell claimed.