Der Mad Stamper Interview

This sixth interview in our series serves notice to the letterboxing world that Mitch Klink, Der Mad Stamper, is back in the game. Conducted by Mark Pepe, our readers get an insight into the world of one this country's first letterboxing legends.

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Location: Kensington, Connecticut, United States

Monday, October 11, 2004


He's Back!!!

Der Mad Interview!!!!

This interview developed purely by chance! After completing our interview with Funhog, the Hog asked us why we had never interviewed Mitch Klink, Der Mad Stamper. We answered that while we had sent several emails asking for an interview, our attempts went unanswered; much to our disappointment.

Several months ago, we received a harried email from the Hog, which hurriedly told us that Der Mad Stamper had just joined the Pacific Northwest talk list and this was our chance for an interview. Quickly, we jotted down some thoughts, explained the purpose of our Interview Series and sent our first digital communication to Mitch. After a quick response and several emails, we cooked up this interview as a vehicle to not only document Der Mad Stamper's view of letterboxing but to use it as a method to announce his return.

To offer letterboxingdom the first look at a returning legend is not an honor that we have taken lightly. Our thanks to Mitch for agreeing to become part of our interview series and for giving us that exclusive that so many others sought. And, as always, thanks to that little piggy from the West Coast, Funhog, who continually watches our back!
Hog - you are the best!

The burning questions in all of letterboxingdom are: Where have you been? Why did you leave? What prompted your return?

Basically, I guess I pretty much experienced a complete system overload. Everything around me was getting way too stressful! The LbNA Webmasters group was degenerating into a back-biting competition. I mean, a couple of people were hitting way below the belt… not even trying to be constructive, just insulting. Meanwhile, my personal life was going to hell in a hand basket, and I was in all kinds of financial turmoil. I found myself becoming completely consumed with anger and resentment! It just wasn’t healthy. I had to take some time off and try to find a way to release some of the pressure that was building up inside of me.

I had been reading this book about Vikings, and I started becoming obsessed with their culture. I found myself infatuated with fantasies of becoming a real-life Viking… pillaging, plundering, and just basically having my way with the world. I was really losing it! Then, I heard about this school in western Washington that, as I understood it, would teach me everything I needed to know to actually become a modern-day Viking. So I went there, determined to sign up.

I guess I must have misunderstood, because when I got there, the lady at the front desk acted kind of nervous and told me that they weren’t into that sort of thing… no pillaging or plundering. I wasn’t exactly in the mood to take “No” for an answer, so she eventually referred me to a gentleman who specialized in campus security. I explained that I really needed an outlet to release all this pent-up aggression, and he suggested that I go work out some of my negative energy at the Student Rec Center.

So, I took his advice and went over there to channel all my hostility into their exercise equipment. I really worked myself into a frenzy… running, climbing, lifting, throwing, pushing, pulling. It did me a world of good. After many hours of physical exertion, I began to feel all my problems melting away. By the time I started feeling “normal” again, I was absolutely exhausted! I stumbled out of the building and wandered south across a parking lot. I seem to recall a small island of fir trees. I found a mound of rocks, and sat down on it to catch my breath. I guess I must have dozed off or something… anyway, when I woke up, my hair had grown down to the middle of my back and I had a graying beard on my face. It was really strange! I don’t know how much time had passed, but all around me were these plants with money growing on them! So I picked enough coins to fill my pockets, and bought a ticket back to Portland.

Feeling somewhat confused and disoriented, I pretty much kept to myself for a while when I got back home again. But eventually, a determined Funhog came along and rooted me out of hiding, like I was some kind of overgrown truffle, or something. The Funhog told me how much our hobby had grown over the past few years, and talked me into coming out to play for a while. I had lots of fun, and it really helped restore my enthusiasm again. So now, here I am, hitting the trails again… and loving every minute of it! Blame it all on the Funhog!

So we have the Hog to thank for your return! Can you let us in on any of your future plans without divulging any surprises?

Probably not. Expect more of the same, only different. I tend to be pretty impulsive. Sometimes I even surprise myself! Trying to predict my next move is kind of like trying to predict earthquakes. You’ll have to wait until you start to feel the ground shaking.

How have your letterboxes stood up during your hiatus? Are they back in place for us to hunt and enjoy?

I’m very pleased with the way my boxes have held up. I inadvertently put a couple of them in harm’s way. Around here, it’s hard to tell how wet an area can get when you’re hiding a box in the middle of summer. A few of them had been stolen, but I’ve replaced almost all of them, except for a couple that needed to be retired. I’ve updated all my clues to reflect the current status.

Given the fact that we play the game a little differently than when you left, how are you adjusting to the current game? You must be experiencing culture shock! How have things changed since your departure and, conversely, how are they the same?

There are a few new twists, but it’s still the same game… only bigger. I’ve never been much of a conformist, anyway, so I still do things my own way. I embrace the things I like, and just ignore the things I don’t care for. Conceptually, most of it’s not really all that new. When some of our earliest boxes came up missing years ago, a few people started talking about ‘virtual’ letterboxes and ‘postal’ boxes as ways of reducing the risks. Most of us didn’t care for those ideas back then, but I think we all knew it was just a matter of time before such things would catch on. I’m not really against any of those diversions… I’m just not into them. For me, personally, they just get lumped in with Geocaching… similar to letterboxing in concept, but just not quite as satisfying to me. But that’s just my opinion.

Hitchhikers are still a fairly new concept for me. There were several of them beginning to surface back when I went AWOL, but I guess I never really suspected they would become such a phenomenon. I think they’re pretty cool. I haven’t launched any myself, but I’m happy to include them in my Find count when I come across them… and I always help them find a new home.

Also, letterboxing now has a certain sense of legitimacy that didn’t exist in the early years. Everything was somewhat covert and secretive back then. Letterboxing was very much an “underground” movement. Now, letterboxing is showing up in major magazines, on television, and in practically every newspaper across the nation. Letterboxers are consulting with park rangers and having their events officially sanctioned by the authorities. I think it’s prudent, to some extent, that we have become so organized and willing to participate with the powers-that-be. But, then again, don’t be surprised if I continue to operate in my original clandestine fashion. Maybe I’m a rebel, or possibly just a creature of habit. Whatever the reason, don’t expect me to change anytime soon… and don’t bother telling me if you don’t approve of my old-school ways, because I don’t give a damn.

Why the name “Der Mad Stamper?” Was that trail name chosen or assigned?

Oh boy, are you ever going to be sorry you asked that question! Are you up for a synopsis of modern art history? Oh, hell, let's just suffice to say that I'm crazy about rubber stamps… leave it at that and move on to the next question...

Okay, if you're a real glutton for punishment, I will tell you the rest of the story. Try to stay awake...

I have been Der Mad Stamper for over twenty years. It all started when I came across a copy of a now out-of-print book by Joni K. Miller, titled "The Rubber Stamp Album." Until then, I had always felt like an artist without a medium, but that book introduced me to several radical modern art movements that would change the way I saw the world.

At the time, I was living in the Midwest, and was very sheltered from the avant-garde art community. But, after reading that book, I began to explore the works of artists (or “anti-artists”) like Ray Johnson, Ken Friedman, Anna Banana, Bay Area Dada, Buster Cleveland, Leavenworth Jackson, Bill Gaglione, and the Guerrilla Art Action Group. These innovative artists inspired me in profound ways.

I learned to relate to the Neo-Dada (absurdism) movement, and the Fluxus (social art) movement. Dadaism taught me to appreciate the significance of complete and utter nonsense. Fluxus showed me that art can exist outside of a gallery… that it can be dynamic, allowing the audience to take part in the creative process.

Following in the footsteps of the aforementioned artists, I started collecting offbeat rubber stamps, and carving many of my own. I began to participate in Mail Art, which incorporates aspects of both movements, since much of what gets stamped or written on the mailed pieces is pure absurdity, and various people (including the Postal Service) interact to form an ever-evolving composition that arrives in your mailbox, rather than sitting in a gallery waiting for an audience to come view it.

Then, I developed a passion for writing correspondence using stamped pictures instead of words to make wacky rebus puzzles for my friends, family, and artistic peers. Soon after, I began using my rubber stamps to make political and ethical protest statements. I used to pull some really absurd stunts, like sneaking into Wal-Mart and stamping “Tested On Animals” with permanent ink on thousands of product labels. I stamped other controversial and thought-provoking messages on posters, dollar bills, walls, food… you name it! In the Kansas City area, during the Eighties, the phrase “Der Mad Stamper Strikes Again” became almost as commonplace as “Kilroy Was Here” had been during the Fifties!

I really don't know exactly when the moniker occurred to me. It just sort of sprang up from nowhere... like a fungus. I suppose “Der” is some sort of tribute to my strong German ancestry, but the truth is, I can hardly speak a word of German.

As I got older and calmer, I began to outgrow some of my radical artistic and political notions. I became occupied in pursuit of the almighty dollar, and began devoting what little spare time I had to outdoor activities such as camping and hiking. My huge rubber stamp collection found its way into boxes that seemed to keep sliding further and further toward the back of my closet. Then, while sitting in the waiting room at a doctor's office one day, I picked up the April '98 issue of Smithsonian magazine and read about letterboxing.

Something struck a nerve. Here was an outdoor activity with all the characteristic aspects of the Fluxus art movement!

Like any Fluxus work of art, the letterbox journal was constantly evolving, with each member of its audience taking an active part in its creation. In true Fluxus fashion, it was intended to be viewed in its natural setting, out on the trail, rather than being hung on a wall or placed in a display case. I saw the letterbox as an art form that reflected the subtle nuances of the culture that created it.

Needless to say, I was hooked! I read that many of the British 'boxers used pseudonames, and I knew right then, while sitting in that waiting room, that Der Mad Stamper was about to be re-born!

Then you would agree with something Jay Drew once told me, although he says he never remembered saying it. To paraphrase, he said something to the effect that all hand-carved stamps, regardless of their quality will be viewed as a kind of folk art of these times. Do you agree?

Yes. In fact some of my favorite letterbox stamps might be considered crude by some people’s standards. I’ve seen some really beautiful ones that were carved by very talented artists. But I really treasure the ones that were carved by people who didn’t think they had enough talent to carve them in the first place, but gave it a try anyway. Those are the people who really put their heart and soul into a stamp carving… sometimes a little bit of blood, too!

Is your signature stamp a secret or can you share what the image is or why you chose it?

It’s not so much a secret, as it is an enigma. It has changed many times through the years, and will likely continue to evolve. Actually, from the very beginning, I refused to acknowledge any one particular stamp as my “signature.” Instead, I simply chose to adorn logbook pages with a myriad of various stamps… some hand-carved and some not. I always carried a sizeable collection of stamps around with me, and tended to squeeze as many images as I could onto the page. Some of my favorites were carvings of Bugs Bunny, a skull, and Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Newman. Another of my trademarks was a set of stamps that included a heart, a peace sign, and an ampersand that I used to spell out “peace and love” in rebus fashion.

Eventually, I guess the Alfred E. Newman stamp became most closely associated with my persona, although I have used several different versions of that image through the years. But, I’ve since retired it… for now, anyway. I still use quite a few different stamps when signing in. One of my favorites these days is a carving I made of my pet iguana. I also have several different stamps that actually say “Der Mad Stamper.” But the way I sign in changes from day to day, and from year to year.

Funhog, in her interview, said the following of you and Thom Cheney. “When they first began in the hobby, they were hiding boxes just for each other to find. Der Mad Stamper had placed over fifty boxes in the Portland area by the time I discovered the hobby. They both carve fine stamps and write clever clues, so the bar was set high from the beginning. Few of us here ever considered hiding a store bought stamp. It just wasn't how it was done.”

What prompted you to plant so many boxes in a place where there were so few of both letterboxes and letterboxers?

Insanity… pure obsession… plain and simple! I also had this blind faith that if I planted them, eventually SOMEBODY would find them. I wasn’t sure if they would be found later that year by a letterboxer, or fifty years later by someone who wouldn’t know what the hell they were supposed to be. Either way, I got a real kick out of knowing that they would eventually be found and appreciated on some level. I just felt compelled to go out and hide them. Of course, I always hoped that whoever found them would return the favor and hide some boxes for me to find. But I didn’t really know if that would happen or not. All I really knew was that part of my purpose in life was to go out and hide rubber stamps in the wilderness. I didn’t really question it… I just did it!

Is there any other reason than the obvious as to why you incorporate the year you have placed a stamp within that stamp’s design?

Actually, I haven’t even been doing that much lately. But I couldn’t help feeling that those early letterboxes were kind of like time capsules, or something. If and when somebody finally found them, I wanted them to have some idea of how long those stamps had been hiding there waiting to be found.

When did you realize that you enjoyed carving stamps and what was the very first image that you carved? Can you let us in on your method of transferring an image from artwork to carving media? What is your carving tool of choice?

The only reason I started carving stamps was because I wanted images to use for my rebuses and mail art that I couldn’t find for sale. I couldn’t afford to have them custom-made by a professional stamp manufacturer, either, so I carved them myself. I think my first hand-carved stamp was one that had a perforated border to resemble a postage stamp which enclosed the phrase “Stamp Out Postage.”

Originally, I did all my drawings in pencil and then rubbed them onto the carving media. Either that, or I drew them directly onto the media in mirror-image. Nowadays, I usually print my designs on a laser printer and transfer them with acetone. I have experimented with heat transfer, too, but it’s just too much hassle. By the time I drag out an iron and warm it up, I can soak a paper towel in acetone, transfer the image, and be halfway finished with the carving! I always kept acetone around the house anyway, for cleaning the ink off my stamp collection.

I carve almost exclusively with an X-acto knife. Sometimes I use a Speedball cutter for removing large areas, if I have one handy. But, when I carve on location, I just stick with the X-acto.

My media of choice surprises a lot of people. I prefer Pink Pearl erasers to anything else on the market when I’m trying to carve a design with intricate details. They are just firm enough that they don’t distort the way some polymer media does if you press too hard when printing. If they are not carved too deeply, they produce a stamp that is almost as durable as a manufactured red rubber stamp. I just wish they came in larger sizes! That’s why a lot of my letterbox stamps are rather small.

Sometimes I get lucky and find a nice batch of those huge novelty erasers that say they are “for really big mistakes,” but most of them are cheaply made and are much too crumbly or stiff to make good quality stamps. So, several of my stamps consist of more than one carved Pink Pearl eraser. I arrange and glue them onto a thin piece of lacquered wood with contact cement.

Don’t get me wrong… I carve other stuff, too. Speedy-Cut, Mastercarve, PZCut, polymer erasers, art gum erasers, soft green rubber erasers… you name it. If I can get my hands on it, I will carve it. But every time I go back to Pink Pearl, I remember why I like it the best!

Your very first post on what is now the LBNA talk list was post #7. In that post, you eluded to having predicted a problem on a different talk list. Does that mean that our recent talk list flames and problems are not new occurrences caused by growth since they date back to letterboxing’s very beginnings?

That is correct. From the very beginning, there were controversies and flame wars. In fact, I started what you refer to as the “LbNA” talk list in order to get away from another talk list that Daniel and I didn’t care for. The owner of that other talk list had been hinting around that he was going to publish an anthology of all our clues for his own profit. We got mad and left that list, and Daniel started distributing messages via normal email to a list of interested parties that he had compiled. Soon afterward, I convinced him to join me in converting that collection of email addresses into a new talk list. Some of those earliest Letterbox-USA talk list messages are actually conversations that took place via normal email, and then I later forwarded them to the talk list so they would be archived for posterity.

Who do you feel are those that made the largest contributions in those early years and what, in your opinion, was their most unique individual accomplishment?

To me, the father and mother of American letterboxing will always be Erik and Susan Davis. They were the heart, soul, and conscience of the original movement. Erik placed the first letterbox that I know of on this continent, and was the one who first established contact with Daniel Servatius. From their conversations, the concept of a clues website was developed. Erik is gone now, but his legacy lives on. I doubt that any of us would be letterboxing today if it weren’t for Erik. Whenever I have found myself at a turning point, trying to make an important decision about the future of letterboxing, I have always tried to consider what Erik would have wanted.

Susan is a fantastic artist and carver, and one of the nicest and most caring people I have ever corresponded with. She carved the stamps for Erik’s boxes, but more importantly, she was always the one who stepped in during the flame wars and set us all straight about what we were supposed to be trying to accomplish. She was always the one to remind us that people are more important than letterboxes. She still serves that noble purpose from time to time on the main list, and I never fail to be humbled by her patient, thoughtful words. God bless you, Susan.

I credit Daniel Servatius for recognizing that the Internet was the ideal way to organize our movement. The maps that are on the LbNA site today are derivative of Daniel’s original efforts. In my opinion, it was Daniel’s enthusiasm that kick-started the whole movement.

Early on, a topic that came to mean a lot to me, and Daniel, too, was the involvement of kids in the hobby. I think the first person to really make that happen was Bob Summers, a school teacher in Anchorage, Alaska. Although I think they are all missing now, his letterboxes were amongst the first few to be placed in this country. His efforts were inspirational to me in the creation of the “Letterboxing Kids” portion of the LbNA website.

Another person who was a HUGE inspiration to us in those early days was Graham Howard, a.k.a. The Moorland Wizard, from the U.K. Some of the original letterboxers in Dartmoor were less than enthusiastic about our plans to introduce their hobby to North America. I think Graham helped to ease some of this tension. He was instrumental in helping us maintain a sense of cohesiveness with the traditions of Dartmoor. He also was a great source of enthusiasm and support. There were times when his friendly messages were about the only thing that helped keep us from giving up on the project.

I think it’s important to understand that Dan and I did not build the first draft of the website for our own personal gratification. We honestly felt that we were serving a newly-evolving community. These days, people assume that the talk list was created to serve the needs of the website. It was actually the other way around. The talk list (and its predecessor, Dan’s collection of email addresses) came first. From that online community, the website sprang forth. Without all the people who were taking part in those early conversations, we would have scrapped the entire project. So I think we all owe a great debt to people like Thom, Lynn, Bonnie, Nisa, Linda, Giselle, Adrian, Julie, Shannon, Steven, Becky, Sheila, Deborah, Rachel, Sylvia, and any others who helped keep those early dialogs alive.

In time, new names began to show up on our talk list. Some of these ‘newcomers’ went on to become instrumental in the growth of the hobby. One of the first was Tom Cooch, another teacher, who invented “indoor” letterboxing by placing a letterbox inside a book in his local library. Tom ended up playing a key role in helping build a sense of community among boxers in the New England area.

As the result of an inadvertent spam message that I sent to an orienteering newsgroup, Randy Hall also soon joined our ranks. He still remains one of the primary figures in the hobby, and was the originator of the term “Mystery Box.” Many of his original letterboxes are such mysteries that I don’t think anyone has ever found them. I sometimes wonder if even he remembers where they are after all these years! :-)

I think Rae Record also deserves special kudos in the creativity category. She was the first person to disguise her clues as a short story. She really raised the bar for clever clue writing!

I know I’m skipping over a lot of people who played key roles, especially over the next few years. Jay Chamberlain, Ruthann Zaroff, John de (Lone) Wolf, The Ram and Kitty from EMS, the phenomenal Drew Family… lots of others. This is not a comprehensive list. They are just some of the people who stand out in my own memory.

As for me, I suppose my largest contributions were the graphic design elements of the LbNA site. But please remember that I didn’t create any of those designs in a vacuum! My role was that of taking the ideas of the community and breathing life into them. Nearly everything I created… the LbNA logo, the Letterboxing Kids area, the Old-World map and book atmosphere of the main site… these were all ideas that developed from the group consciousness of our talk list. We tossed around various concepts in text format for weeks before I converted some of our favorite ideas into graphic elements. Then, we all voted on the things we liked and disliked, and I used this input to create the final layouts. It was truly democracy at its best! I really miss those days.

How well did you know these people? Did you ever personally meet them or were the planning and organizing of this pastime in its formative years done strictly via email?

I met a few of people, but not a lot of the ones I wanted to meet the most. Since most of the action was taking place on the East Coast, Thom and I were pretty isolated out here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m still hopeful that I will meet some of them, someday. I really wish I could have met Erik Davis in person. I felt like I knew him very well, but we never actually met. It’s a shame.

What was the very first box that you placed, the date and why did you choose that particular location? Do you routinely choose a location for a box, then carve the stamp – or vice versa?

My first letterbox was the original Multnomah Falls box in the Columbia River Gorge. I placed it, as well as the boxes near Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls, on August 30, 1998. I had only recently moved from Kansas City to Portland, and that was the most awe-inspiring location I had come across in Oregon. So, I just HAD to place some boxes there! I think the Gorge is probably still my favorite scenic location in Oregon.

I do it both ways. Sometimes I carve a stamp for a specific location, either ahead of time, or on location. Other times I carve a stamp and carry it around with me until I find some place that just begs for a box. A lot of my early letterbox stamps were carved on location. I almost always carry a few extra erasers and an X-acto knife with me when I’m out letterboxing or hiking.

In looking at your placed letterboxes, there seems to be a Mid Western beginning with a Pacific Northwest ending. Is there any significance to the change in venues besides a possible relocation?

By the time I heard of letterboxing, I had already moved to the Pacific Northwest. But, my family still lives in Kansas. When I flew back to visit them for Christmas in 1998, I planted the first Kansas letterboxes. About a year later, I flew back there again and planted several more. Then, in 2000, I actually drove my car back to see them. On that trip, I planted a box in every state I drove through. I don’t travel much, but when I do, I try to place letterboxes along the way.

In the past year, the LBNA talk list, which some refer to as the “big list,” has seen a splintering movement into some smaller, more regional lists. While the big list still serves as “the” national news and communication tool, the import of smaller lists has grown by leaps and bounds. Do you feel that these regional lists help or hurt the big list? Do you see any irony in the fact that at its inception, the big list was used as a vehicle by which letterboxers from around the country could communicate and unite and now, while still vital, the big list has been eclipsed by many smaller, regional lists?

It’s ironic, perhaps, but entirely necessary. I think the regional lists support the big list by helping to keep it focused on the big picture. You know, I remember an email conversation that Daniel, Erik, and I had in the very early days… we discussed our concern that the hobby might eventually become too dependent on the talk list and the website. We never wanted these mechanisms to overshadow the social aspects of the hobby. We talked about how we felt that the talk list and the website were necessary to allow the hobby to grow on a national level, but how we all hoped that someday everything would begin to move underground to some degree, once we had reached a critical mass.

I’m starting to see that happening now, and I couldn’t be more pleased. We have finally reached that critical mass we were dreaming of back then. American letterboxing is being mentioned on CNN and the Discovery channel, and in Time magazine… LbNA is famous! It has become well-known as the “official” site for clues and information about the American letterboxing movement. Such an accomplishment isn’t just going to go away all of a sudden because of the regional lists.

In the early days, any type of alternate resource was accurately perceived as a threat to the LbNA community. We knew we needed to stay together and put up an organized front for the general public to see. This was the only way to achieve any level of legitimacy for our hobby. This mindset has enabled us to adopt representatives that were willing to meet with forest and park officials to explain that we are a responsible, conscientious community, rather than a threat to the environment.

To some extent, I realize that these efforts are still ongoing, but we are beginning to reach a point where many of these goals have been met. I think we are nearing the point where we can begin to move beyond that initial stage of our development. Regional talk lists, private email lists, word-of-mouth clues, alternate websites… these are all beginning to play key roles in the letterboxing community. I believe we are in the early stages of what I like to refer to as “Phase Two” …a subtle and gradual decentralization process.

These newest resources that are starting to appear are no longer a threat to LbNA. None of them have any chance, whatsoever, of completely overshadowing the LbNA presence. They are merely additional resources, with legitimate purposes. In the past, we have pampered letterboxing, like a tender young sprout, and helped bring it to life on this continent. Now it is stronger than ever before, and I think we can afford to let it branch out. LbNA will always be the trunk of the tree, but don’t be surprised when some of these alternate resources become branches capable of producing ripe, delicious fruits!

This situation reminds me, to some extent, of the circumstances in Dartmoor. We’ve all heard of the “100 Club” and know about their publication, which has become the “official” source of clues for Dartmoor letterboxes. However, if you talk to some of the most devout letterboxers in the British scene, you will learn that there are LOTS of boxes on Dartmoor that do not appear in that publication. One hard-core U.K. boxer even went so far as to tell me that the “100 Club” publication contains the clues to Dartmoor’s “tourist” boxes. “I don’t even purchase it,” he told me. “The boxes I’m interested in are all strictly word-of-mouth, or their clues appear in other boxes.”

I have not been so far-removed from the letterboxing community to be unaware of the fact that clues to some of the most coveted letterboxes on this continent are already available only by word-of-mouth. This is not a bad thing. It helps to bring us one step closer to the traditions of Dartmoor, where our hobby originated. While at first glance, regional lists and other resources may seem capable of dividing our community on a national basis, I believe they can actually help bring letterboxers closer together, on a person-to-person basis.

So Daniel, Erik and you never really saw the talk list and website as being the stage on which all of letterboxing would take place? Were there other venues that you had in mind? Can you see some other, yet-explored areas where the game may be played in the future?

No, we simply saw the Internet as the most viable means of getting the ball rolling. We really wanted it to eventually bring people together, face to face. The Internet will probably always be our primary venue, but I’m glad to hear that there are already a lot of boxes out there that are strictly word-of-mouth. I think letterboxing gatherings are wonderful opportunities. I would like to see even more of them being scheduled in the future. They don’t all have to be huge blow-outs. Some of the ones where only a handful of people get together are the most rewarding, on a personal level.

Surely you are aware of the recent spate of publicity that letterboxing has endured, culminating in this spring’s Time magazine article. What do you think are both the negative and positive aspects to this media attention? And, if asked by a national publication, would you grant an interview and why or why not?

It’s hard to know what I would do if asked to grant a major interview. It would depend on many things, such as what type of publication it is, my impression of the reporter who is asking, and my mood at the time. I suppose the most negative possible aspect of media attention would be the possible misrepresentation of what we are all about. From what I’ve seen so far, we have been very lucky in that regard. For example, most of the articles that have been published have stressed the sense of responsibility that our community feels for the environment.

A secondary concern is that we will become too well-known, stripping away some of the secrecy of our hobby. This might not only tend to spoil some of the romanticism of letterboxing, but could also jeopardize our boxes, as knowledge of their existence reaches people who are likely to steal or vandalize them.

But there is only so much we can do about these negative aspects of publicity. The bottom line is that our hobby is interesting, and therefore makes a good story. If someone wants to do a story, they’re going to do it. All we can hope for is that they manage to interview someone who truly understands the importance of etiquette and respect. There’s no sense trying to avoid the media. After all, there are still lots of decent, responsible people out there whose lives could be enriched by our hobby. Rather than trying to hide from the rest of the world, we simply have to take measures to make our boxes less vulnerable to the negative repercussions of publicity.

How can we protect our boxes? There are many options. We can make our boxes harder to find. We can take the time to find really good hiding places, and not just stick our boxes in any niche where they will fit. We can avoid high-traffic areas and places that look particularly inviting to curious youngsters, choosing more remote, out-of-the-way hiding spots, instead.

We can also make it harder to solve our clues. We can show our creativity by turning our clues into riddles or puzzles. We can make it less obvious what areas our boxes are hidden in, or make it harder to find our clues in the first place.

We can help protect each other’s boxes, too. We can show our respect and gratitude by re-hiding them well. If anything, we should hide them better than we found them! We can toss some leaves or a little bit of dirt on brightly-colored containers. We can take measures to reduce the impact we have on surrounding areas. We can scatter leaves or other rubble over spots that appear disturbed by our hunts. We can cover our footprints and try to avoid stomping on delicate plants and fungi. We can avoid replacing cover materials, such as rocks and sticks, in too organized of a fashion… placing them at odd angles rather than lining them up uniformly.

Most importantly, when someone asks us to tell them more about our hobby, we can make sure we stress how important it is to minimize the impact we have on the environment and the hiding places we visit. We can let people know how much pride we take in being able to leave an area as pristine as it was when we arrived, if not more so. We must learn to adapt to society, rather than try to avoid it.

If you could place a letterbox anywhere in the world, without fear of reprisal or worry about the box being lost, where would that location be and why?

I want to place one on Dartmoor someday. But I don’t just want to mail it to someone and have them plant it for me. I want to hide it myself, and write my own clues for it. Someday.

Related Links:

Der Hand-Carved Stamps

Der Mad Stamper's Letterboxes

How to Make a Rubber Stamp