In my last blog entry I said Wendy had a long list of family activities to do with the grandkids this summer. One was Letterboxing. I kind of knew what that was. Visions of geocaching came to mind. So I wrote a reminder to myself and looked it up when we got home.

Letterboxing is an old activity. It was first done in England in the 1800’s but got it’s modern start in America because of a Smithsonian Magazine article in 1998.

Basically, a “planter” creates a letterbox and plants it in a secret location. The planter posts clues to the location, usually at AtlasQuest.com or Letterboxing.org. Letterboxers follow those clues to find the box.

When (if) they find the box, it will contain a rubber stamp, a journal, maybe some informational material, and rarely, a stamp pad, all wrapped up in a waterproof baggie and inserted into the actual letterbox. It is usually a waterproof box of some sort. Often they are Tupperware. The letterboxer uses the rubber stamp in the letterbox to stamp an image in his own journal. Then he makes an impression of his rubber stamp in the letterbox’s journal. Usually they will add other information like date found, letterboxer nickname (trail name) and any notes, etc.

Inside of a Letterbox

They replace the letterbox where they found it and go their merry way.

You can sign up at one or both of the two websites mentioned earlier. Once a member you can find the clues and keep track of your successes and failures. I thought this would be a great activity to do with our granddaughter Rachel when she came to visit.

I was too impatient to carve my rubber stamp and set out to find my first letterbox without being fully prepared. You can say that again. Not only had I not assembled my Letterboxing equipment, I departed without giving any thought to the fact that it was a windless, 93 degree day. I didn’t have a hat, sunglasses, or water and I had on the worst imaginable shoes a person could wear. I knew I had to walk a bit to get to the letterbox, but I had no idea how far. It turned out to be over a half mile out and a half mile back. By the time I was no more than a third of the way to the site, my shoes were wearing holes in my heels. I took them off, which was fine as long as the lush soft grass held out, but soon enough, the stems of the grass turned into hard, sharp stubble. I had to put my deck shoes back on but I stepped on the heels so they were little better than flip-flops.

Following the clues I found the letterbox. I had to climb up a small hill and back down when I was done. No mean feat in the aforementioned “flip-flops”. I did get to see what the Letterboxing phenominum was all about. But since I didn’t record my find, I have to go back out to the site and do the rubber stamping for real. I hope to borrow a bike so it will be a less taxing experience.

I knew I had to have a carved a rubber stamp (the most sought after ones). I also wanted to carve one for Rachel. For my trail name I chose “Skeppist”. We tried to come with one for Rachel. As we drove along we tried out one name then another. We couldn’t decide on the best one. But after a while, it came to me – Nose In A Book! That was a tribute to Grandma Karen whose mother Ruby always used to call her that. A fitting name for the next generation. I bought the materials and these are what I came up with for rubber stamps.

Skeppist and Nose In A Book

A couple of weeks later, Karen and I drove down to Des Moines to look at a new sofa and we took that opportunity to find a letterbox right by the store. Little did I realize there were 3 or 4 in the area we could have visited. But I did get my first real find. And, inside the letterbox was a bonus. Something called a “hitchhiker”. That’s a letterbox with no fixed location. When you find one tucked away in another letterbox, you record it as normal, but then you take it along and put it in a different letterbox.

First Letterbox

In the mean time, Lance and Cherise took Rachel out on letterboxing adventures of their own. She soon outpaced me in spades. Iowa City is one of the most densely populated letterboxing areas in the state.


A week or so ago Karen and I got our first chance to take Rachel out. What a disaster. We did not find any of the three letterboxes we looked for and had to return home empty handed. I talked to another letterboxer who was the last one to find one of the three we looked for and he gave me a good clue so I think we can find it the next time we look. Our next letterbox attempt was also a disaster so we were getting kind of down about the whole business.

But this is an ongoing story so we will have more later…

A question for my English cousins. Since this all started in England, I wonder if any of you have ever gone letterboxing? If so, I would love to hear about it.

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4 Responses to Letterboxing

  1. Jessica says:

    Gramma Judy brought this idea back to us in Tucson. I had been thinking about it since seeing it on Cherise and Wendy’s post, but hadn;t done it. We went and found our first two boxes Monday when she got home. She is in the process of making more stamps so we all have one. We really enjoyed it!

  2. Zach says:


    Do you use a GPS when letterboxing, or is finding one mainly clues-based?

    We’ve been trying our hand at geocaching lately. It’s pretty fun too. The kids really like it because typically you get to take something (and leave something in its place). So it’s like a treasure hunt.

  3. Robert Thorpe says:

    Some of the clues have GPS but I don’t think you can rely on it. I think they are automatically generated by the web site. So if your site is some particular place in Cedar Rapids and you list Cedar Rapids as the location, you get the GPS address for the geographic center of CR. Not very helpful. The clues are better leads. The geocaches we have seen do not have very nice little treasures, but really cheesy Sponge Bob Square Pants stickers. In one combo Letterbox/Geocache thing we found, the geocachers took the Letterbox stamp because it was the coolest thing in the box. Tacky.

  4. Anonymous says:

    We found a letterbox in the library by us that was the same idea as yours. (Larry Lizard Loves to Read) The clues are a puzzle. Pincher Girl and Ninja Boy are working and I just finished Jessica’s Firefly. Bill and Brian don’t seem too interested.

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