Many philatelists and deltiologists may well have heard of the growing global phenomenon that is Postcrossing. In a nutshell, Postcrossing is a project that allows participants to send postcards and receive postcards from random people around the world. While the project is coordinated online, the postcards are real, sent and received via regular mail and using postage stamps.
And it’s a phenomenon that has taken off! Postcrossing members have sent more than 43 million postcards in just over 11 years. And those members are from all around the world – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Australia’s 6,662 members have sent more than half a million postcards to date, which is a respectable effort given our population size and is a relatively high number of postcards sent per member. However, the biggest states in terms of membership numbers are Russia (84,155), the USA (63,045), China (64,472) and Germany (48,194), though many Scandinavian countries are also well represented, especially given their relatively small populations.
We spoke to Australian Postcrosser Vicki Crawford. Vicki, though based on tiny Hindmarsh Island in South Australia, is part of the Postcrossing support team and the administrator of the Postcrossing online forum.
When did you get involved in Postcrossing and why?
“I saw it mentioned by Paulo Magalhães, the founder of Postcrossing, on a forum I used to participate in about books. This was on 19 July 2005, which was only five days after he launched Postcrossing.com. I was the third Australian to join. The first postcard I sent was AU-3. It took 12 days to arrive in the USA!” says Vicki
What is it about Postcrossing that appeals to you?
“The idea of postcards intrigued me. I have two albums of family postcards that were sent by my grandparents and different family members from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and I loved looking at the pictures and reading the family events on them as a child.
“Connecting with someone around the world through the medium of a postcard and learning about them and their country seemed a good way to let me travel without leaving my armchair. I also realised that Australia was quite an exotic place to many in the rest of the world. I wanted to show off Australia to other people and what better way than through a postcard. We have koalas and kangaroos and platypus and we are an island that is also a continent. Australia is large and most of Europe or USA would fit inside it. I also liked the idea of not just getting bills in my letterbox all the time!
“Postcrossing gives me a glimpse into the world far away from me. Australia is quite insular, and postcards show me other places and give me context of what is happening elsewhere. I like learning about the rest of the world, and often reference a comment on a postcard in daily conversation e.g. the weather somewhere else. Postcards have shown me so many interesting places and events in other countries that are now on my interest lists. Friendship and information on a piece of cardboard with a picture on one side, what more could you want!”
What were your expectations when you began Postcrossing?
“Initially my expectation was that I might get a postcard back and learn something about another country. I also wanted my handwriting to improve. (I have been using a computer keyboard since 1986 and had noticed my handwriting become poor.) Writing on a postcard was a way of reversing the trend.
“My expectations have been far exceeded (well, my handwriting is now legible again, though I’m not sure it has improved!) I have learned so much about other countries, and there are places now on my travel wish-list, all because of the picture on a postcard. In Portugal, for example, I was intrigued by a postcard I received that showed Padrão dos Descobrimentos. This is such a magnificent monument and I went online to read about it and what it represented. There is, after all, evidence of Portuguese explorers discovering our continent between 1521 and 1524, well before Captain Cook. The Portuguese were famous explorers and the monument is a worthy testimony to this.”
Is there a typical Postcrossing demographic or does it have broad appeal across many?
“The majority of members are female, though some countries have a high proportion of male members. Age-wise it is across all ages, from babies to 90 year olds. Many school classes participate, through to retirement groups and every one in between. There are even non-human accounts (managed by their human owner) including cats and dogs.”
While it is coordinated online, Postcrossing seems to be very much a personal and offline activity. Is that true?
“Definitely! From my perspective, it is the sending of a postcard through the mail that has a personal message from the sender to the receiver. It teaches us that there are other forms of communication out there that aren’t instant (mail takes time) and so to have patience.
“We can connect with a stranger and have something to hold in our hand (the postcard) supporting that connection. I am as excited about receiving a postcard in the mail as from the beginning. I look at the picture then love turning it over and seeing where it has come from and what the sending member has to say. I love looking at the stamp and any decorations. I will use the internet to read more about many of the places or items featured, as well to view locations on maps.
“Part of the appeal of Postcrossing is that you don't know which country the next postcard will be to or from. I have learnt about different countries and customs and even styles of hand-writing through the postcards.”
Do you know if many Postcrossers are also stamp collectors?
“Many are. I know I look at the stamps as part of the overall postcard experience. The colours, the design; the story they tell. Postmarks are another interesting thing to look at for me. Several countries have produced Postcrossing stamps in collaboration with the Postcrossing community and they are highly collectable.”
How can people get involved in Postcrossing and what kind of commitment does it involve?
“Postcrossing is a perfect way to showcase our country Australia and its landscape and customs. All it costs is the price of a stamp and a postcard and a willingness to show friendship to other people. Using Postcrossing is free, but members do need to buy their own postcards and stamps and take the time to write on the postcard.
“There are Postcrossing meetings happening regularly all over the world, organised by members about postcards and Postcrossing. I have been to a few in Australia and they have been a source of a lot of fun and friendship. “Postcrossing also has an active forum and members participate in a large range of topics.
“As a tip, don’t get too hung up over a members profile suggestions. Postcrossing profiles are just a little about the person you are sending to and suggestions of what they like. Pick a postcard to send that you would like to receive yourself and you can't go wrong!”
Postcrossing stats (from Postcrossing.com, as of 7 September 2017)
- 692,197 members
- 211 countries
- 396,596 postcards are travelling
- 43,066,381 postcards received
- 216,782,106,095 km travelled
- 5,409,410 laps around the world
To learn more about Postcrossing, visit Postcrossing.com
This content was produced at the time of the article’s publication date and will not be updated.