How Letterboxing Works

American Letterboxing

Cranmere Pool, the first letterbox
Cranmere Pool, the first letterbox
Image courtesy AtlasQuest

American letterboxing is similar to the English tradition, but is far less secretive. In the United States, the hobby really got started in 1998 after an article in Smithsonian Magazine described the peculiar English pastime. Before long, Americans began to carve stamps, hide letterboxes and invent devious clues. Unlike English hobbyists, American hobbyists often show others their stamps and reveal their identities.

While some clues are still passed around by word of mouth, most American letterboxers publish clues on the Web. There are many sites that host letterbox clues, such as the Letterboxing North America (LbNA) and Atlas Quest. Clues can take practically any form, from simple directions, to rhyming couplets, to fiendishly clever riddles. Letterboxers take great pleasure in collecting stamps in their personal logbooks.

In order to find and log a letterbox, you'll need the clues to the box's location, a personal logbook and a personal stamp. Some people buy a pre-made stamp they feel represents them in some way. Others order a custom-designed stamp, or carve one for themselves. Your stamp should be unique so that others will know you've visited a letterbox when they see your stamp in the logbook. It's a good idea to bring along an ink pad as well, just in case the box doesn't have one in it.

You may need additional gear for some hunts. Read the clues carefully and think about where you'll be searching. If you'll be outdoors in warm weather, you may need to bring sunblock, bug repellent and even a first aid kit. You might also find a map and compass useful on your search. Most letterboxers will include any additional requirements, like park entry fees, in their clue post.

Depending on the provided clues, you might need to solve a puzzle, break a code or do some research to figure out where to start. It's always a good idea to have as much information as possible before you head into the field. Half your search may take place in your own home with a pad of paper and a pencil.

­Once you follow the clues, solve the puzzles, hike through the unknown and search out the hidden box, it's stamping time. Stamp the box's logbook using your own stamp and use the box's stamp to mark your personal logbook. Now everyone will know you've found the box, and you will have proof of your own to show off to everyone else.

After you have exchanged stamps, you should re-seal the letterbox and hide it for the next person to find. Many letterboxers believe you should hide a box better than the way you found it, but at the same time you shouldn't move the box to another spot. Make sure the clues for the box will still be valid.

In the next section, we'll talk about how to hide a letterbox.