To the untrained ear, “letterboxing” doesn't sound too exciting. A letter. A box. How fun could it be? But for the thousands of enthusiasts around the globe who call letterboxing their hobby of choice, it's a great way to go on an outdoor treasure hunt that combines creativity, problem-solving, and family friendly fun!
Letterboxing is said to have originated on the moors of Dartmoor, England in the 1850s, when a guide placed a bottle at Cranmere Pool for visitors to leave letters to friends and relatives. The next party to venture across the moors would collect the accumulated letters and mail them. Because the “letterbox” was so remote, only the intrepid and adventurous tended to reach it, laying the groundwork for the adventurous outdoor hobby that letterboxing would become.
Letterboxing is a treasure hunt of sorts, with a set of clues to follow that lead you to the loot: a hidden box in a publically accessible place. Inside the box you’ll find two things: a log book, and a stamp with the letterbox’s unique symbol. Letterboxers carry with them their own log book and personalized stamp. The letterboxer imprints her personal stamp in the log book found in the box as a way of marking her visit there, and she uses the stamp found in the box to mark her own log book as proof that she found the treasure! In addition to using the stamp, the letterboxer can also write the date and any additional notes or messages she likes. This exchange shows that the letterboxer and the letterbox found each other.
Most letterbox clues can be found online. The best places to start are Letterboxing North American or Atlas Quest: both have databases of letterbox clues, as well as information and FAQs about the hobby. Just search for your city or area, and you’re sure to dig up some buried treasure just waiting to be found! All you need to get started are a logbook, and your own personal (or family) stamp to get you started. Here's how:
- Rubber eraser (preferably the firm pink kind)
- Exacto knife (should only be handled by older children and adults)
- Blank paper
- Pen and pencil
- 2” x 3 ½ ” wooden block, or piece of durable cardboard
- Wood glue or super glue
- Ink pad
- Take time to do some sketching on paper until you have perfected your stamp design (it should be on a scale that will fit on the pink eraser). The more detailed the design is, the harder it will be to cut out. Make sure that the design is just what you want, then sketch it straight onto the eraser using a pencil. Follow the pencil with pen to make the outline of the design clear and strong.
- Using an Exacto knife (or having a parent help), carve away at the edges of the eraser around your inked design. When you reach the outline of your design, make sure to make clear cuts (you can do these at an angle; the sides do not need to go straight down).
- When you have finished, ink the eraser design using the ink pad and test it out on some paper. If you like what you see, stamp the design onto the block of wood or piece of cardboard.
- To finish your stamp, apply glue to the back of the eraser and glue it firmly onto the block or cardboard on the opposite side from the stamped image. Let dry. Now get letterboxing!