Letterboxing is an interesting phenomenon that appears to have begun in 1854 at Cranmere Pool on Dartmoor, a vast boggy area of SW England that is now a National Park. (You may remember Dartmoor as the setting for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles).

A letterbox is a waterproof container in which is stored a notebook and a rubber stamp. It is hidden by its maker somewhere among the crags and waterways of Dartmoor. People who enjoy hunting down letterboxes obtain clues to a letterbox's whereabouts -- usually including the box's name, compass bearings relevant to the box's location, map coordinates, and references to cultural or geographical features -- and use those clues to attempt to locate the container. When they do, they extract the rubber stamp, ink it from a stamp pad they carry with them, and make an impression with the stamp in their own notebook. This serves as proof and reminder that they found the box. Then they use their personal rubber stamp to make an impression in the notebook contained in the letterbox. This lets other finders of the letterbox know who else has found it. The impressions in both books are usually annotated with the time and date the box was found.

Letterbox finding is done by individuals and small groups, initally as an interesting personal challenge, then as an obsession. Letterboxers collect stamp impressions for the same reasons anyone collects anything. As a bonus they spend time amid settings of natural beauty and get a workout for body and mind.

According to an article on the topic in the April 1998 issue of Smithsonian magazine, letterboxers don't socialize much with one another, at least not on the moor, though apparently there are groups that meet off the moor to compare notes in various ways.

If you're interested in letterboxing in its original location, you might want to take a look at Ray Aucotes' Dartmoor Letterboxes page.

For information on letterboxing in the U.S., go to the Letterboxing North America Website.

With a friend, in July 1999 I placed five letterboxes in the Hyalite Canyon area of southwest Montana. For clues to their location either visit the Letterboxing North America Website and click on the state of Montana or download and print this cluesheet (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader). Happy hunting!

In March 2000 I placed two letterboxes in Monroe County, Indiana. Click the Indiana Map on the Letterboxing North America Website for the clues.

Mark Sheehan
   Homepage  (http://www.homepage.montana.edu/~sheehan)
   E-mail  (sheehan@alumni.indiana.edu)
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Last Update September 8, 2000