New to me: letterboxes

I’ve discovered a new neat thing. Letterboxes. You may have heard of them, but I never have. They’ve been around since 1854 (according to letterbox lore).

It’s kind of like old-timey geocaching. Legend has it that a bloke in Dartmoor, England left his calling card in a jar in a remote spot, with a note directing anyone who found it to leave their card as well.

Considering the lack of Nintendo Wii and Internet, this was a pretty fantastic way for people to enjoy themselves, so the idea caught on, and more people began leaving other letterboxes throughout the moor. There was a catalog of clues, but you had to find enough letterboxes on your own to get ahold of it, which is why it took so long for the fad to spread beyond Dartmoor.

Smithsonain magazine ran an article [full text] about the British fad in April of 1998, and by the end of April, letterboxes began springing up in the U.S.

At this point, how it works is you have a blank book, a stamp of your own, the clue and maybe a compass. You get clues from, and go have an adventure. Many of the letterboxes are in a natureful area, although I can think of one letterbox that isn’t.


When you find a letterbox, there will be a book inside for you to stamp your personal stamp on (the modern-day equivalent of leaving a calling card. Or you could make up calling cards, which would be very Heathcliff of you) and you take the site stamp to your personal book. WoOt.


Unlike geocaching, you don’t NEED to have a GPS unit. And you get to take constitutional strolls. I used to be into orienteering as a Girl Scout (I secretly want to set up an orienteering course some day when I own land) and I like that the clues are either riddles “the book who’s name the owl can pronounce”, or by orienteering.

And since I’m living in a new area, this is a spectacular way to explore. And I get to make a stamp! And collect things, like country stamps in a passport!

This is a nonfiction post, and here is my source:
Randy Hall (2004). The Letterboxer’s Companion. ISBN 0-7627-2794-2

  1. ooh, with all my recent walkabouts and such, and I do have an empty blank book on hand, and some stamps and pads….oh yes, must look into this!! thanks 🙂

  2. My ex-girlfriend and I did some letterboxing – we actually planted a box in Iowa City, though I don’t think it’s there anymore.

  3. I just read about this the other day when I was searching around. Let’s go find some letterboxes sometime soon…

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