top of page
  • Writer's pictureFlea Market Love Letters

Writing Through the Decades: "What Shall I Say? Correct Correspondence Styles" (1940s)

Today, ladies and gentlemen we have a bit of a unique addition to the 2021 Writing Through the Decades Letter Writing Guide Collection...the "What Shall I Say? Correct Correspondance Styles" guide from the 1940s! In this flip through guide we will see many interesting and practical suggestions for the every day letter writer.

You've heard of Western Tablet, we bet!

It appears that this mail-order guide was published in the early 1940s, as a note from the previous owner indicates an April 8th, 1940 date.

This guide came to the Flea Market archive in its original packaging! As you know, the envelope or packaging of a parcel can tell us much about the history of the period. In this case the label tells us so many things before we even open the guide inside.

This Guide was shipped to "-ean Arnold" in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in April 1940. This lines up nicely with the handwritten date inscribed above. It cost 2 cents to post with a "SAINT JOSEPH MO" Killer through the postage stamp. That means we know it was processed in the, you guessed it, St. Joseph MO post office.

It came from the Western Tablet & Stationery Company from St. Jospeh Missouri. Western Tablet & Stationery Co. was founded in 1906 and rebranded in 1947 as "Big Chief" Tablet company. Popular culture references of the brand are in the Film Forest Gump (1994), Little House on the Prairie (1978) and even a Ray Bradbury poem! Big Chief tablet ceased production in 2001 but in 2012 it was acquired and began production again.

So yes, it's safe to bet that while Western Tablet & Stationery Co. may not sound familiar chances are you've heard of -- or even used! -- a Big Chief writing pad.

How to Order Your Copy

It appears that "-ean" ordered their copy of What Shall I Say? following an offer heard on the radio. HyTone, it seems from the note pasted to the inside of the little guide, was the stationery paper used by Western Tablet.

And here we learn the mystery of the "-ean", for "Jeanie"! Hello, Jeanie. Thanks for ordering this guide back in 1940 and for keeping it in such great shape for us to look at eighty-one years later.

So, What Shall I Say?

As with letter guides covered previously this beauty is more of the same: how to write your thank you notes, your condolences, and your congratulations. Easy peasy! What makes this guide different is something you might not expect: the spiral binding.

Various sources online tell us that Western Tablet & Stationery -- or Westeb -- either invented the spiral binding of notebooks or that they popularized them. If they didn't invent them, that was an English bloke in 1924 named Edward Podosek. Western Tablet & Stationery CO. which was Big Chief by the 1960s saw huge popularity for this this convenient and affordable binding method. Which they were obviously deploying in 1940 also.

The spiral binding means that this is by far one of the easiest guides to handle, despite its age. The ease of making this book lie flat would have made it very useful to have beside the letter writer on their desk. Here you can see a suggestion of Personal Invitations from the "Formal" to the "Informal" Wedding, Home Wedding, to even just telling someone you are "at home" -- called "an At Home".

But it is the back of the guide that really captured my imagination: the Birthstones! As some of you may be aware in my day job I work for a jewelry company and every month I am writing about birthstones. I knew from my work there that there are what we consider "Modern" and "Ancient" classifications but it was so interesting to see them referenced here in a 1940 letter guide.

This guide was a bit like an early smart phone, with a bit of everything the letter writer might need to know at their finger tips. There are letter writing templates, dates to remember, an address book of sorts, and even Postal Information for the informed patron of the United States Postal Service.

Friendly reminder for those who might not be aware: the Zip Code was only invented in 1963 so the suggestion to "use [of] a street address permits more certain and more speedy delivery of mail" was genuinely some of the best advice that you could give someone looking to mail a letter: get the address right, or else!

Get in Touch. This was genuinely one of the best guides yet. What did you think? Have you been enjoying these flip through history blogs? Let us know! Send us an email at

532 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page