Mostly postal but art and other things of interest too.
Come and visit.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Secret Language of Stamps

Language du timbre

Recently I read a (wonderful) book called The Language of Flowers. A story about how people once communicated by giving each other flowers that had special and secret meanings.
That started me thinking about the Language of Stamps -- an upside-down stamp
on the corner of an envelope used to stand for "Love" a while back......

Le Langage du Timbre

Ohlala - then I came across this great old French postcard which explained the meanings of the placements of the stamps.
I have a lot of vintage French postcards and letters and I had often noticed stamps all over the place in odd angles...

Article from
Picture Postcard Monthly, August 1997 from the UK

I had picked up this free magazine at the vintage paper fair and leafing through it I came across this article by David Gerrard (no relation).
According to him. this stamp language craze was going strong in the USA and the UK as well as France and Germany.
Who knew?

YES -- I have often wondered why -- and now I am wondering why we mail artists
don't revive The Language of Stamps and get the whole secret message thing going again.
Who needs Facebook?

The stamp on these lovebirds card means - M'aimes-tu or
Do you love me?
Awwwww......(I don't know if the fact the stamp is half folded over to the other side of the card adds anything to the message).

This stamp placement means the same thing - maybe la fille sent this to her grand-mare?

Apparently these things were taken very seriously back in the day.....

The article says "In those days, the Post Office didn't mind whereabouts on the envelope or card you put the stamp, or in which direction it was facing......Popular magazines of the time educated their readers in the rules of clandestine messages by means of a simple postage stamp."

He continues "The secret language of stamps flourished from late Victorian times until well into the late 20th century.....some still dreaded finding a particular card in their mail. It would bear a stamp in its upper left-hand corner, placed cosily on its side but, for those who knew its meaning, it carried the unequivocal message"I hate you".


These stamps are all on envelopes from my mom --they may not be upside-down or sideways but the message is clear!

More Love.....

Stamps all over the place......

Soyons Heureux (Be Happy)

OK, now what is going on here? I'm afraid to ask.....
Je souffre de ton absence
(I suffer from your absence)

I was thinking maybe "Don't Ask, Don't tell" but what do I know?

Top postcard from Canada and bottom is from the Helvetia Republic (which, from what I understand only existed as a state for five years). Stamp placement means Ecris moi vite
Write Me Quickly! (hum.....)
Love the beautiful handwriting.

OK--there is goes--a secret message of stamps going in to the letter box.

Now, don't you think we need to set up a secret stamps language of mail artists?

I will await your comments!

Leave me a comment in the comment section and describe the placement of the stamps and your suggestion for the secret meaning....
I will do something fun with the answers -- maybe make a zine so we can all be on the same page.
Let's start a secret language of stamp movement!


  1. So cool! I want to make a co-op handbook with our own version of stamp placement meaning!

    1. I want to make that zine -- so what's your suggestion for a secret meaning?

  2. That is really interesting! I had heard about an upside-down stamp meaning "I love you", but I didn't know there were all those other meanings!

  3. That might be a little too specific for my brain! I just put them where they might look best, or where there is room left on the envelope! :D
    I sure hope I haven't placed any in the manner of the aforementioned "I Hate You!" :(

    1. Oh Gina! Your brain can do -- plus we can make a little cheat sheet. It'd be fun.

  4. So now I'm realise I hadn't understood anything when I posted this:

    Thank you for the post (and the blog!). Very interesting and suggesting.

    1. Hawwa -- i couldn't open this link unfortunately! Thanks so much for the comment. I did take a look at your blog and love all that mail -- and the little hand carved envelope stamp you made.

  5. What a great post. Makes sense the Victorian's would have it, they liked that sort of thing, that hidden and revealed and flirtatiousness. xox

    1. Yeah, C -- they were more discreet than we are today, weren't they?

  6. I didn't know all of this about the secret language of stamps...fascinating! I definitely think it should play a role in modern mail art. I'm not sure how "understanding" the USPS would be about folding stamps around the sides of postcards and envelopes, though. I'm not sure how many different options we would have: perhaps stamps that overlap slightly, or two stamps that tilt toward one another? We could use placement to indicate a "write back soon" message or a "friendship" message. Hmmm...I'll have to give it some more thought!

    1. I think this should have a place in modern mail art too. It is such a good idea......

  7. Oh my gosh, the other day, while sending some mail I was thoughtfully matching stamps to what I was sending. Then I wondered if anybody even pays attention. It was great to see this post!

    1. Thanks, Nina! Happy you enjoyed reading this -- and I know you can read the French too.

  8. How interesting! I've not seen enough older mail to know that the stamps were placed at odd places, how fascinating! Love seeing all of the mail art on your blog, thank you!

  9. It's great that the ones from your mom fit right in.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...