06 June 2012

Fictional Correspondences: Creating "Really Real" Mail

The phrase "really real" came from one of the 'students' who attended last Summer's wizarding event.  It was early on, when the only information the kids were given about things was to be found in the 2-sided broadside newspaper I made for each of the 5 months preceding Event Day in July.  Each edition was different. For instance, one month it looked like the New York Times; another it was more like the now defunct tabloid Weekly World News.

Our young wizard wanna-be happened to be visiting his neighbor, my brother Architect -- who was one of the key producers of the event.  The boy had just received his first newspaper and was raving that it was "really awesome" and  how much he loved "how old-looking it is" and  how it was "really real." 

Really Real became a motto for our makings from then on.

For a fictional correspondence, one aspect of the fun is the making of the stuff you'll be sending. Keep in mind that what is "really real" depends on the style of your particular game.  Letters can be as simple as ball point pen on ruled paper to typewriting on leaves (yes, that's been done -- see here and here!) or even on aluminum foil (aka "tin foil" - see that here and here). What accompanies your letter, what you use for envelopes, and how you decorate or enhance stuff all adds to effect.

Actual Letter Envelope
Image source/credit

Prop Letter Envelope


In addition to the content of letters, what those letters are written on can be part of your creative game.  You can find unusual paper at crafts stores, like Michaels and Jo Ann's, as well as at artist supply stores.

Thanks to the hobby called scrapbooking, the big crafts stores have tons of unusual papers that can be used for letters (and envelopes).

Sample of scrapbooking papers from online store

Scrapbooking papers typically come in 12x12 inch sheets. Those with less detailed designs, such as these two below, can be used as letter stationery.

Formal stationery can be used as well.  Crane & Company is a long-time purveyor of fine writing papers.  If you want your letters to look a little high end, try their Monarch size business correspondence stationery.

Another source of unusual stationery is so-called art paper, the paper used by fine artists, book artists, and calligraphers for their work.  Any good artist supply store will carry a range of papers such as papyrus, rice paper, hand made paper, and heavy watercolorist papers.

 (L) Papyrus (R) Lakota Paper

But one doesn't have to spend a lot of money.  One of my favorite letter-writing papers is brown craft paper - the kind used to make grocery bags.  I cut up bags to the size I want.  Or I stop in at my local Utrecht Art Supply store for this handy notepad.

Letters can be typed, handwritten, or done on computer.  If typed, real typewriters are a lot of fun to use.  (I have a small collection of portable machines that I regularly employ in my letter games.)  


I also have some fountain and dip pens which I like to use.  If you are good at calligraphy this can be a very satisfying way to create imaginary letters.  I am not much for fancy penmanship, but I do enjoy trying to create different kinds of handwriting.

 My trusty Esterbrook 407 inkwell!

I also have a heck of a lot of fun creating letters with my computer.  You can find a boat load of free and shareware fonts at DaFont.com and the for fee site MyFonts.com.

Here are a few of DaFont's typewriter fonts.

And they've a wide range of "Dingbat" fonts (collections of symbols).

And even some postage-related fonts (under Dingbats - Various).


Envelopes come in many sizes and shapes and are made of different kinds of paper.  You can also make your envelopes easily enough by folding up any piece of paper that strikes your fancy.  I've used old calendars, wrapping paper, posters, and paper from my stash of recycled printer paper.

Or you can use a template/form.  You can make these, buy them, or download them.

(1) To make one, take an existing envelope and gently open it at the seams.  Then lay the now-flat-open envelope on to a sheet of paper and trace it.  Fold it up along those same seam lines.  Use double sided tape or glue along the edges.

Unfolded envelope

Map envelope made from traced envelope above (see how-to on this here)

(2) Purchased templates are often made of plastic. This makes them longer lasting and, for some people, easier to use.   
  • Paper Source has a kit that contains traceable plastic templates to make envelopes in these sizes: 4bar, A2, A6, A7, 5 3/4" square.  
  • Papercraft Templates has a nice product (and video showing you how to use it).

(3) Downloadable templates work well if you print them out on cardstock - and then use the printed template for tracing.  Here are some links for free downloads.

Finally - there is a lot of info on this online.  If you search the term envelope template on Google Images, you'll find a bunch of good stuff.  For the more kinetically-oriented, a search on YouTube using the phrase handmade envelope will locate a nice collection of videos.


Neferneferland Postal Administration
by Eric Whollem
virtual stamp sheet

Last summer, as part of my reporting on the wizarding event I worked on, I posted about the making of Faux Postage.  Rather than repeat it all here, please hop over to that info via this link.


The term realia comes from the field of Library and Information Science: 
"In library classification systems, the term realia refers to three-dimensional objects from real life such as coins, tools, and textiles, that do not easily fit into the orderly categories of printed material. They can be either man-made (artifacts, tools, utensils, etc.) or naturally occurring (specimens, samples, etc.), usually borrowed, purchased, or received as donation by a teacher, library, or museum for use in classroom instruction or in exhibits. Archival and manuscript collections often receive items of memorabilia such as badges, emblems, insignias, jewelry, leather goods, needlework, etc., in connection with gifts of personal papers." [from the Wikipedia entry]
A fictional letter can be enhanced by the addition of realia such as photographs, pressed leaves, faux business cards, snippets of 35 mm film, sticks of incense . . . really almost anything. I've sent along books 'redressed' as old library books (complete with faux check out cards), bottle caps from an ostensibly much favored brew, keys of all kinds, and sketches allegedly drawn by my fictitious character.  Here are some inspiration images of things you can include in a fictional correspondence.

Old photographs

City/Travel Maps

 Theater tickets


 Pressed, dried flowers

One can find historical realia items at antique shops, estate sales, and the like.  There are also online resources that can be mined.  These sites tend to specialize in ephemera and/or genealogy.

Ephemera are "Those bits of throwaway paper of every day life (e.g.: advertising, ticket stubs, programs, some booklets and pamphlets, etc.)" (definition from the Northwoods Bookshop Guide to Book Terminology).

Log Driving Receipt
Front of receipt from Machias Log Driving Company

Here are a few links to some ephemera sites I've used.
Vintage brochure from

An especially good genealogy site for images and ideas is The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives: Social and Cultural History - The Future of Our Past.

[from their home page] "One of the largest collections of Social and Cultural historical documents from the 1800s through 1954 with concentrations in Steamship and Ocean Liner documents and photographs, Passenger Lists (Transatlantic European Voyages; Some Australian and South African), U.S. Navy Archives and additional materials covering World Wars I and II, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Immigration documents from Ellis Island, Castle Garden and other Immigration Stations."

Some final notes.

In a previous post on creating really real stuff, I included the following:

Paper documents are often easier to make than 3-dimensional props,  but getting them to look "really real" can take time.  Some inspiration and resources for making prop documents can be found at these sites.

The Cartographer's Guild - A site for those interested in creating maps. Includes mapmaking tutorials and a library of free symbols, textures, and fonts.

Prop Replicas by Indy Magnoli  - A personal collection of props inspired by the Indiana Jones movies and TV series.

H.P.Lovecraft Historical Society -- These folks have created an extensive paper props collection, some available for free download and some for sale on CD.  NOTE: "Permission is granted for individuals to print copies for their own personal use in role-playing games, but any theatrical, commercial or illegal use is prohibited." 

Propnomicon - [from the site] "Propnomicon focuses on horror and fantasy props of interest to fans of H. P. Lovecraft and players of the "Call of Cthulhu" role playing game. That includes items directly inspired by Lovecraft's writing, DIY information for creating your own works, printable paper props, and source materials related to the 1920's and 30's, the "classic era" of the Cthulhu Mythos."

Eric Hart, assistant props master at the Public Theater in New York City, and a longtime prop maker, has posted some useful links and instructions on using Flickr to locate visual resources for paper props.  That link is here.

Next (and last) in the series: Real Mailboxes for Fictional Mail (to be posted on 18 June)

You can follow the series via these links.

7. Fictional Correspondences: Creating "Really Real" Mail (this one) 

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