Friday, October 2, 2009

Looking for Tupperware in the woods

One of my hobbies is letterboxing. For those that do not know what that is, let me explain a little.

"Letterboxing, at its basic, is a like a treasure hunt type game. Small boxes are hidden in various locations—usually outdoors, though many are planted indoors as well—and the creator of the box will release clues so others can go out and find them later. The box is expected to have a logbook that finders can log into and a unique stamp, usually hand-carved, that the finder can stamp into their own personal logbook as a record of all the letterboxes they've found. Most letterboxers have a unique stamp to represent themselves, called a signature stamp, they stamp into the logbooks found inside letterboxes so others who find the letterbox later know they found it." Atlas Quest web-site

There are many web-sites devoted to this hobby, but two of the most popular are Atlas Quest ( and Letterboxing North America (usually referred to as LbNA)( The two web-sites co-exist and, as is usual among hobbyists, both have their followings. In fact, many letterboxes are listed on both sites or cross-referenced from one site to the other. Much useful information about the hobby can be gleaned from those two sites.

Letterboxing actually evolved from a man named James Perrot leaving his calling card in a bottle at Cranmere Pool on Dartmoor in England in late 1854, and invited friends to find it. Later someone replaced the bottle with a tin box where visitors could leave self-addressed post-cards for subsequent visitors to mail back. Hence, the name letterboxing. Since then, Dartmoor has become the 'Mecca' of the letterboxing world. It really began to take off in the United States when the Smithsonian Magazine ran an article about the Dartmoor boxers in 1994.

While there are some purists for whom letterboxing refers only to the actual planting or finding of hidden boxes, there are others off-shoot activities such as letterboxer gatherings, exchanges, letterbox trading cards, postal rings and even virtual letterboxes.

Many letterboxers are also stamp carvers. Some of the letterboxers I have met both in person and on-line are 'blow-your-mind-away' artists. Recently, I've tried my hand at carving some stamps, and while I don't consider myself an artist at it yet, I do admit I'm getting better at it. Here is an image of the latest stamp I completed:

The tools I used are an X-acto knife and a set of Speed-Ball linoleum carving gouges. In fact, other than the hollow plastic handle instead of the wood handle, these are the same gouges that my brother used to do linoleum block carving back when he was in junior high (He let me make one with his stuff back then.). As I keep working at it, I'll post some more images later.

The other thing about letterboxing that attracts me is that the search for these hidden boxes (and actually, Tupperware is not the preferred brand of containers for hiding the stamps and logbooks in; the title phrase is from a discussion on one of the sites) often takes me to places I'd never go to otherwise. A few months ago, my wife Patty and I went on vacation in Arizona and New Mexico. We thought we'd take along the clues to find "one or two" boxes. It turned out we did nothing but look for boxes and ended up finding almost 50 in the one week we were there. We went on a lot of back roads and saw a lot of things we wouldn't have seen if we had just stuck with the books from the Dept. of Tourism. We also met eight very nice letterboxers that were only just bytes in cyberspace to us before this trip.

I've only been involved with this hobby for about a year and a half, but I can see that my interest in it will last for quite a while.

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