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Books About Letters: "Fifty Mysterious Postcards"

It's time for the November installment of the Books About Letters series, where we review exactly that...a book about letters. This month we're taking a look at Kathryn Baird's "Fifty Mysterious Postcards" (2022). Baird users her expertise in Pitman shorthand to decode 50 postcards from the 'Golden Age' of the picture card.

What is 'Pitman Shorthand'?

According to Brittanica, Pitman Shorthand was:

"Invented by Sir Isaac Pitman, an English educator, the Pitman shorthand method was first published in 1837 as Stenographic Sound Hand. Pitman's system classifies the sounds of a language into basic groups and makes use of simple abbreviations for rapidity." - Brittanica

Baird explains that many who were 'fluent' in Pitman Shorthand used the coded language to write long messages on the reverse of picture postcards. While it was generally best practice to use a lined sheet, Baird talks in her book about the variations and fluctuations of individual use of Pitman. There's even, Baird writes, a tendency in writers to blame their pens for their penmanship, or 'pitman-ship' as it exists. Some things it seems never changes, including a writer blaming their handwriting on a messy pen, paper or writing surface.

A Book About Letters?

It's that time again to ask: Is this a book about letters? Absolutely! We're delighted to add this easy to read historical text to our shelves. Perfect for those looking to understand their own knack or instinct for collecting. Baird applies her expertise to the 50 postcards with approachable, friendly ease and leaves the reader looking between the original postcard and her transcription with a satisfied 'Well, of course that's what it says!'. Baird herself started collecting picture postcards, many from the 'Golden Age' of postcards in the early 20th Century, during her own time teaching and learning Pitman Shorthand. Baird breaks her book down into categories such as "Pen Friends" and "Sweethearts" selecting letters within each category to showcase beautiful, full colorized scans and transcriptions.

This is ideal for the historian in your family or friend group who is curious about ways to curate and present a collection in a digestible and enjoyable way. And while you're ordering them a copy, add one or two or three more to your cart for your letter loving friends who are sure to enjoy this well researched and professionally produced book about letters -- er, postcards.

Get in Touch.

Do you have a book in mind about letters you think I should read and review for "Books About Letters"? Let me know! Send me an email at

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