Thursday, April 22, 2010

What makes you happy?

With the final melting of the ever present snow in my front yard - after all, I live in upstate NY - I find myself feeling happier, lighter, more carefree and ready to experience everything out there that I can! Ok, I may be exaggerating a bit as I do still tend to have those days where things just aren't....well, perfect.

But then I think about what makes me happy. What it is about life that can bring a smile to my face?

Well, there's the enjoyment of seeing your name on the cover of a book - see mine
below! Yea!

This certainly brings a smile to my face. But there's many other things in life that give me reason to smile.
1) My kids, hubby, and family
2) My dog - she is a bundle of hyper tension and excitement!
3) My blessings - home, job, etc.
4) My creativity - even on those days where my Muse Mistress takes a break.
5) My friends -especially my best friend an
d fellow author, Holly Greenfield.
6) My health and the health of my family
7) Just being alive.

There's so many others to think of, but this is my mini-list I use to remind myself of things to be happy for on those days where it feels like everything has gone wrong. And believe me, I have those days. Who doesn't?

I firmly believe that we make our day what it is by the attitude we carry with us. If I wake up with the worst attitude, or let a brief moment of irritation ruin my mood, then my day is shot to
negativity. And believe me, working in customer service as I do, there are MANY moments of irritation (don't tell my boss). But if I can try to focus on the things that make me happy, I can move past those moments and be positive again.

So let's take a minute and think about what makes us smile. Tell me - what are your happy thoughts? No trying to fly now, please. :)

Available now at The Wild Rose Press
Lover's Bargain - a historical romance


Desperate to be free of her wretched life, Mattie Evans trusts her dishonest father and embarks on a journey to Texas to live with an aunt she never knew she had. When she finds herself sold into a mail-order-bride service, her hope quickly fades.

Rancher Cole Hartley wants no part of long-term commitment. But what's wrong with a little satisfaction in the arms of a beautiful woman? Especially when she needs his help to escape a hopeless situation. Cole proposes a bargain to Mattie. He'll pay her release fee and send her wherever she wants to go the following day. The catch? She spends one night as his wife -- in his bed.

As feelings long buried surface, can Mattie and Cole open their eyes to the promise of happiness a future together can bring?

Thanks for visiting with me today!
Shannon Robinson

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Judge Roy Bean, the Law West of the Pecos

Langtry, Texas-Pop. 30

Judge Roy Bean, the self-appointed “Law West of the Pecos”, became a saloonkeeper and Justice of the Peace on the Rio Grande in a desolate stretch of the Chihuahuan Desert of SW Texas. He brazenly held court when the Texas Rangers weren’t around.

Roy Bean found himself in trouble most of his life from Texas to California. He killed, stole, cheated, swindled, and abused his wife.

Young women considered Bean handsome, and often competed for his attention. In San Diego, a Scotsman named Collins challenged Bean to a pistol shooting match on horseback. He allowed Bean to choose the target, and Roy Bean decided they would shoot at each other. Bean shot Collins in the arm. The sheriff arrested both men and charged them with attempted murder. During the two months in jail, Bean received many gifts of flowers, food, wine, and cigars from the ladies of San Diego. The last gift included knives encased in tamales. He used the knives to dig through the cell wall.

In Southwest Texas by the Rio Grande, the small town of Langtry was established as a construction junction from east and west during the building of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway. Two origins of the town’s name are under dispute. One claim says the town was named for a civil engineer named Langtry who directed a group of Chinese laborers in the railroad construction. The other more popular and accepted claim is that Judge Roy Bean, an eccentric, colorful character, insisted he named the town after his idol, English actress Lillie Langtry, the “Jersey Lily.”

Today, a Texas Visitor’s Center sits next to the preserved 150-year-old-saloon in Langtry, Texas. The center is well maintained, with clean restrooms, a snack area, landscaping, and a gift shop.

Celia Yeary
Texas Blue—now available

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Suspension of Disbelief

It’s a little nerve-wracking to start a new blog, particularly when you’re a writer of historicals, because there’s just so darn much you can talk about! And I tend to be scatterbrained at best, leaping from one topic that interests me to another. So don’t be surprised if on the 18th of the month, you suddenly find some oddball topic that is just, well…odd and not the least bit scholarly.

Speaking of odd, today I want to talk about something that has come up several times lately. It's been on my mind and as a writer, I find it fascinating. You may find it less so. Sorry.

Anyway, the topic for today: disbelief.  You know, that thing you have to "put aside" when you read a story, especially one that just seems unbelievable to begin with.

Well, as a writer, it's my job to suck you into the world I create and make you believe it enough to stick with the story until the end. However, lately, I’ve discovered that what causes the reader to stop and say, “hmmm,” isn’t necessarily the tricky plot point or too-stupid-to-live (henceforth known as TSTL) heroine, or hero. It is often the thing the writer thought she could just assume was believable, because it’s a real event. Or real something that actually occurred or was used in the past.

I’ll give you someone else's example first. I had a colleague who included a brief mention of the War of 1812 in her manuscript. A reader doing a critique objected on the basis that “one shouldn’t make up a war like that—everyone knows there was no war between England and the U.S.A. in 1812.”

When the writer (in tears) spoke to me about it, it took me a while to understand the problem. I thought I misheard her and couldn't understand what the scathing comments concerned. The war was real, how could the reader object? But this is an example of something that perhaps called out for either a brief explanation in the book, or an Author's note giving the bare facts of the war.

Later, I had personal experience of this phenomena when I was questioned about a 19th century scandal in England. During the Napoleonic wars, some people made money by selling spoiled grained to the military. Rest assured, the culprits were caught and tried. Found guilty and punished.

Sad, and sadly true. There seems to be very little that humans will actually stop short of, historically speaking. So it wasn't the activities of the hero and heroine that seemed odd--it was the "real reality" that actually sparked that, "hmmm, I find that hard to believe" moment.

Which actually brings me (long-way-round) to my point. It’s the "real things" that may cause people to assume the writer doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.

We writers spend all our time justifying the fictional elements. At least I know I do. We all take for granted the historical reality and forget all the hours of research into truly odd and bizarre historical things. I'm frequently guilty of making short shrift of the history, forgetting that the reader has no way to know which bits are "made up" for the convenience of the story, and which are really, well, real. I may spend many extra cycles on making the bizarreness in my plot believable, forgetting that I haven't adequately explained the historical underpinnings.

I’m beginning to learn that it might not be the plot elements that need explanation. It may be the historical facts, themselves. We may need to place into context that tidbit of history we include, perhaps within the story (if it makes sense) or in an Author’s Note at the end. I’m personally very fond of Author’s Notes and read them religiously, so I might have an unfair preference for that vehicle. But as a reader, I hate it when the author digresses from the story to throw in some long-winded, historical "this is how things were, then" passage that isn’t germane to the action at hand. It often seems to slow things down.

For me, "the reader", the fewer, “As you know, Caroline, the fact that in 1812…” digressions, the better. And I appreciate Author’s Notes, because they don’t interrupt the story and you don’t have to read them unless you really want to. But I'm always curious about what other readers think or feel about this.

What do you prefer? An explanation of the history within the context of the story, or an Author's Note at the end?

By the way, this inspirational topic was brought to you by a recent question about an obscure historical fact. Or rather, a strange-but-true phenomena that resulted in a serial murder case in England.

“Yes, Virginia, there really was a serial murder team known as Burke and Hare, comprised of (not unexpectedly) William Burke and William Hare.”

This deadly duo murdered folks around Edinburg Scotland from 1827 through 1828, for the express purpose of selling the corpses to physicians’ colleges for dissection. They were so successful (until they were caught) that the word “burking” comes from their infamous method of killing folks by compressing the chest and smothering the victim.

The actions taken by Burke and Hare led one person to ask me if such heinous behavior could ever be true. It really is hard to believe, especially since the money wasn't even all that great.

“And yes, my dear, it is sadly true. Burke and Hare popularized the crime, after they ran out of ready bodies in the graveyard.”

History is definitely stranger than fiction.

It’s our job to make it seem real.

I only hope I succeeded in I Bid One American, and my most recent historical romantic mystery, The Bricklayer’s Helper, (Aug 2010 release).

But ultimately, it's up to the reader to decide!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cooking Up A Tale Of The Old West by Laurel Natale

Wow! In preparation for my contribution to this blog, I read through the previous posts and was blown away by the valuable information and interesting variety of subjects presented.  Despite the imputation that we write "bodice rippers", it is intriguing to note the serious manner in which historical writers approach the background material of our books.   As a reader as well as a writer of historical fiction, it is this wealth of information that adds spice to the characters and settings and keeps me coming back for more.

My forthcoming book, currently titled "Heart of Gold", is about gold mining in 1870's Arizona Territory, and the research for this subject was fascinating.  However, as the title of this blog implies, it is food, not gold, I believe, that centers the heroine, Deidre.  In fact, food seems to be an integral part of all my heroines, whether Regency ladies, modern day Repo Girls, or Medieval damsels.  Not surprisingly, food and cooking are at the center of my real life romance as well.  I love to cook, love to eat, and enjoy nothing more than sharing my expertise with my family and friends.

So, what did gold miners in the Old West eat?  Meat and potatoes, bread and cereals, eggs and bacon, ham, corned beef and other smoked or preserved meats, fish and shellfish, some vegetables (mostly corn and carrots, onions and the occasional greens), fresh and canned fruit, dried peas and beans.  Of course, these items were part of the everyday diet all over America, varying by geographic area, local availability and  financial status.  Deidre and Matt ate mostly bacon which was easily stored and could be used as cooked slices or as seasoning for beans.  Although fresh meat was available in stores at times, Deidre and Matt relied on Dee's prowess as a hunter of small game.  Many a bunny met his demise at her hands and was served fried or roasted. 

True to her upbringing in the mountains of West Virginia, Dee's culinary skills centered on those bunnies, stewed cuts of chicken or beef, beans slow cooked with molasses, bacon and onions, and fish fried or roasted over the fire.  Flour, lard and salt were the basics for quickbreads like biscuits and dumplings.  Eggs and milk added to make flapjacks or even the occasional cake or doughnuts.  A taste for sweets was satisfied by poorly refined sugar, which was purchased in a large paper-wrapped cone, and honey which was purchased or found in the wild.  Coffee was the primary beverage in the working West, but in cities, or areas with farms, Americans were noted to be prodigous milk drinkers by visiting Europeans. 

The railroads and the advent of food canning in both Mason jars and tin cans made it possibe for even those living in non-farming areas to purchase a wider variety of foods.   These items were costly, however, and if people were poor or frugal (like Matt and Dee), their diet was unvaried and unhealthy.  Only root vegetables would ship and sell with relative ease: potatoes, carrots, onions, turnips.  Many of the items Dee would have cooked at home, such as collard and mustard greens seasoned with bacon or a ham hock and ramps, a wild onion with a strong garlic flavor were not available in arid Arizona, however.  The family milk cow would have expanded the diet with milk, cheese, butter and cream, making possible the favored cake for weddings and celebrations, fruit cake. They did have "canned cow" however, which was the cowboy name for canned milk.

Another major difference in cooking for Deidre in Arizona, as for many western cooks (including the all-important Chuck Wagon cook) was the lack of a stove and oven.  Frontier cooks relied on a variety of pans and pots to cook over an open fire.  Fortunate cooks were able to buy cast iron bars that would swing out over the fire and could be pulled from over the flames to regulate cooking speed and ti stir the food.  A large kettle with a metal handle would rest on the bar and was used to cook soups, stews and  any food requiring long, slow cooking.  Another frequently used pot was the Dutch Oven, a three legged deep pot that sat in the coals and had a lid.  Hot coals were piled on the lid to provide heat from sll sides.  At times the lid was used to cook biscuits to go with the soup or stew being cooked inside.  A third pan, called a spider, was a shallow skillet on three legs  used for biscuits, pancakes and frying bacon, eggs and meats. 

All in all, producing a mouth-watering meal in a cabin was an art.  If you're not sure about this, light a campfire in the backyard and try one of the following recipes for yourself.  If you are short of bunnies, try chicken.  Bon Appetit!


2 young rabbits or squirrels (dressed)
1 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. marjoram
1/2 stick butter (melted)
1/3 c. vegetable oil (to be authentic substitute lard for oil and butter)

Cut dressed rabbit or squirrel into serving pieces. Cut ribs from back or remove loin. Mix all dry ingredients. Mix butter and oil, coat pieces with oil. Dredge in seasoned flour and place on rack in foil lined 9x13x2 inch pan. Bake, uncovered, in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until tender.


1 lb pinto beans or Navy beans
Seasoning meat-(bacon, salt pork, ham bone, ham hock, etc.)
1 large onion, chopped up and divided in half
salt, pepper, bay leaf-(optional)
Cajun seasoning (chopped celery, green pepper)
In a pot, add the seasoning meat with enough water to cover, cook down, break up the pieces of meat.
Pick over beans, removing imperfect beans, stones, etc. Rinse well and drain.
Transfer beans to pot. Cover beans with water, then add 1 to 2 cups more! Add half of the onion, and some of the seasonings.
Cook on medium until boiling, lower the temperature and cook for several hours until the liquid has thickened, but with enough to be soupy. Adjust seasonings and add other half of the onion.
Cornmeal Dumplings-(traditionally they are dropped into the hot pot just like regular dumplings but my daughter doesn't like dumplings that way so I came up with baking them instead and it works!)

Cornmeal Dumplings:
Self-Rising Cornmeal and All Purpose Flour-equal parts, mix with milk. Form into ball, add more flour if needed, to prevent sticking, cut ball in half, lay on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake until browned. Remove from pan and let cool. To serve, add the baked cornmeal dumplings into the bowl, ladle soup beans on top, let it soak into the dumplings.(It will be crispy like a cracker but with the taste of cornbread.)Enjoy!
Submitted by: Patrice Farmer

Fruit Cake
6 eggs
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter (use lard for authenticity)
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup fruit juice (orange juice or wild grape juice)
3 cups seedless raisins
3 cups dates, chopped
2 cups walnuts or pecans
2 cups cherries, cut up (dried)
2 cups pineapple, cut up (dried)
Combine chopped dates, nuts, candied fruit, honey and fruit juice. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time and add to fruit mixture. Sift flour together with salt and baking soda. Mix into liquid mixture. Put into loaf pans or tube pan. (put in Dutch oven, put lid on and pile coals on top)
Bake in slow oven, 275°F, for 1-1/2 hours or until wooden pick comes out clean. Don't over bake.

Of course, if you don't want to chance setting your yard on fire, you can do the recipes indoors as originally written.   Good luck and happy eating.    Laurel Natale

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Haddon Hall- The House That Turned a Man Into a Hero

I confess. I stole Haddon Hall. When I wrote my upcoming TWRP release, LADY WICKED, I needed a very special setting, one that was almost a character in itself. So I whisked it away, stone by stone and beam by rafter, and moved it to a setting of my own, nestled in the crook of a river that looks suspiciously like the River Wye. Yes, I hoped to hide my crime by moving a few walls, staircases and kitchen, and adding things that were never there. I even gave it a new name, Steynes Hall, and a new owner, Thomas Steynes, Viscount Savoury, whose ancestors I also invented. But my crime could not go long undiscovered because, you see, Haddon Hall is too special, a unique place that simply cannot be disguised.

No ordinary place would have done for this story. It had to be a ramshackle, ruin of a place left over from the Middle Ages, and the only property my scapegrace hero has left to his name. A family place, yet one where he has never been. It has to be a place to try his body and soul as he attempts to reclaim it and finds not only his heritage and the love of his life, but reclaims his own badly misplaced honor. So from the moment a friend suggested Haddon Hall and I began researching it, I became fascinated with it. All right, obsessed, but we don't need to deal with that here. I'll find a therapist. Promise.

Haddon Hall is nothing if not quirky. That's probably the best word for it, in fact. That's what happens when a place is built of hand-chiseled stone blocks, and over a period of several hundred years re-built, re-modeled. Walls go up, walls go down. Knock in windows when glass becomes fashionable. Put in wood paneling and groove it to look like linen because cloth is expensive and wood is not. Change after change as the centuries wore on, with new fashions, new ideas, and increased wealth, have turned it into the quixotic, puzzling place it is today. And it was just the place to make my hero think sometimes his house was out to get him.

Eventually I had to go to to Derbyshire and see the place for myself. I took my son, a very patient person who drives well on the left side of the road, and my friend Margo, who is both patient and adaptable. She needed to be, but that's another story. Son Andy went to see his mom's obsession with England, and Margo went to see if, in the manuscript she'd read, I'd got it right. All of us were surprised. Strange puzzles lurked everywhere.

To start with, look at Margo, above, who only tops five feet tall because her hair is so wild, standing in a doorway near the entrance, her head almost brushing the top of the frame. Ah, you say, Medieval people were short. But this is the only low door in the entire manor. Why?

Well, look back along that wall, and then look the other direction, toward the entrance.
You can probably tell, the paved courtyard isn't level, and in fact, the steps leading to the entrance aren't level, square, or anything that we might consider normal. And there's that odd low doorway, looking out of proportion to everything else.

Once upon a time, that wall was a few feet taller, and so was the doorway. Taller at the bottom. But in the 15th century, the owners wanted to move the entrance right around the corner to the north wall. And they were tired of muddy feet so they wanted a paved courtyard. But Haddon Hall is built on a fairly steep slope. How do you pave a steep slope? Not in any way that makes it walkable. So they filled in the area and compromised with a quirky sorta-slope instead. That left them to put up with a doorway they could still enter by stooping. f they had tried to make the courtyard level, they would have been covering up the windows in this low wall, and left only a crawl space for the door.

Now go look again at that entrance you can barely see. Here's the re-model job they had to do to make the new entrance and not-so-old wall all join together. Can you tell how the left wall jags back at an odd angle? And look at all those strange windows and the golden blocks of stone at strange angles. Looks haphazard, but it's the only way it could all fit together. And those strange arches? The high ones on the left were part of the original entrance, but were probably removed and used to help build the new wall above. The lower ones on the right were from it too, but moved to the new position of the entrance. After all, cutting stone was hard, time-consuming work. Nobody wasted a piece as fancy as these if it could be re-used. You can see people in the entrance, which continues to slope downward. All in all, a very practical solution, and cheaper than building a new hall. On the outside, you can see why they moved the entrance. The question might be why anyone placed it on such a steep slope to begin with.

But my son wanted to know where the portcullis was. A portcullis played a pivotal, transcendent role in my hero's story, the moment when he finds the man he was meant to be. No portcullis, no story. And Haddon Hall doesn't have one. So I had to put one there anyway.

And Margo said, frowning, "But where's the privy?"

Sorry, Margo. I stole that from a monastery.

Next month, I think I'll prove to you the people of the Middle Ages weren't necessarily all short.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Senator's Daughter - the Woman Who Loved John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth – the name brings to mind one of the most infamous murders in American history – the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The circumstances of Lincoln’s assassination and Booth’s death days later are common knowledge. What is not so well known is the identity of the woman whose picture Booth carried in his pocket when he was captured and killed. That woman was his fiancé, Lucy Hale, the twenty-two year old daughter of influential New Hampshire senator John Parker Hale.

The circumstances of John Wilkes Booth’s courtship of Lucy Hale paint a picture of star-crossed lovers. Lucy Hale was a pretty woman, but she was nothing like the beautiful young actresses who surrounded John Wilkes Booth, onstage and off. Living in Washington with her parents and sister, Lucy devoted time to her work with the Sanitation Committee, the Red Cross of the era, and even rode in a horse-drawn ambulance to the front line in Virginia during a lull in the fighting. Her father, a passionate abolitionist, appears to have hoped to unite his daughter in marriage with Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son rather than an actor with a flair for romantic gestures and outspoken southern sympathies. John Wilkes Booth, an actor whose performances drew acclaim for his talent and notice for his formidable appeal to women, had been called “the handsomest man in America” and “the most promising young actor on the American stage”, and provoked outrage for what some citizens considered “treasonable statements”.

Despite the obstacles, their romance began in the early months of 1865. By March, the couple were secretly engaged. Senator Hale, eager to separate his daughter from the outspoken southern sympathizer, visited Lincoln on the morning of the assassination to seek an appointment as ambassador to Spain. The ambassadorship would provide the means to move his family, including Lucy, out of the country and away from John Wilkes Booth. When Lincoln offered the position, Senator Hale accepted on the spot.

Could John Wilkes Booth have fallen for the subtle charms of the senator’s daughter, or had his motivations for their romance been much more sinister?

Historians are divided on this question, although several aspects of their courtship point to motivations other than true love on Booth’s part. A relationship with Lucy Hale benefited Booth’s plans because Lucy enjoyed some degree of political influence and provided access to many powerful figures in the government. Booth even attended Lincoln’s Second Inaugural on March 4, 1865 as Lucy Hale’s invited guest. Several men who went on to participate in the horrifying events of April 14, 1865, including the brutal attempted murder of Secretary of State Seward, were also in the crowd that day. Was this a coincidence? Possibly. Booth’s later comments to a friend when he remarked about his excellent chance to kill the President that day add a chilling aspect to this event and cast into doubt the idea that the Lincoln conspirators had all just happened to gather to watch the man they despised take his second oath of office.

The nature of Booth’s pursuit of Lucy Hale also casts his motives into doubt. Lucy received a romantic note on Valentine’s Day, 1862, signed “A Stranger”. The writer of the note was none other than John Wilkes Booth. Despite this dramatic beginning, he did not continue his pursuit until nearly three years later, at which point he seemed determined to marry her. Within a few short months, they were engaged. During the time of their courtship, Booth was a key plotter in a scheme to kidnap Lincoln, a plan that went awry and led to the assassination conspiracy. Why had Booth become so ardent in his pursuit of Lucy Hale at the same time his schemes against Lincoln were about to be put into play?

His devotion to Lucy Hale is also unclear. While Lucy’s picture was found with Booth at his death, four other portraits of comely young actresses were also found in his pocket diary. Does a man in love carry photographs of several other women into a situation where he had to anticipate danger and possible death?

Historians widely believe Lucy Hale had no knowledge of her secret fiancé’s plans. One can only imagine her shock and horror at the revelation that her lover was to go down in history as a notorious assassin. Did she ever wonder if she unknowingly aided Booth in his scheme? Could her connections in Washington and her father’s political status have furthered Booth’s plans?

The story of Lucy Hale and John Wilkes Booth and their ill-fated, and possibly ill-motivated, romance was one inspiration for my action-packed historical romance due to be released in May by The Wild Rose Press. Set against the backdrop of the tempestuous years of
the Civil War, Destiny is the story of Emma Davenport, the daughter of an influential senator, and the man whose love is her destiny. When Emma is swept away by Christopher Staton, a charming traitor who plans to use her as a pawn in his quest for vengeance, one man risks his neck to save her from a ruthless plot that could destroy them both. Jack Travis embarks upon a bold scheme to protect Emma from Staton and loses his heart in the process.

John Wilkes Booth authored an American tragedy that rivaled any tragedy he performed on the stage. Undoubtedly, Lucy Hale found herself caught up in the horror of his actions. Did she ever wonder if she might have done something to prevent Booth’s infamous actions on that long-ago April night? Had his charming manners and handsome face blinded her to the truth? Sadly, we can only hazard a guess....

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Know When To Lick Them

A Brief Overview of Postal History

By Linda Carroll-Bradd

Which of the following scenarios seems believable?

1) A heroine in 1814 sits at her writing desk, licks a postage stamp and affixes it to the letter she has written to the hero.

2) A Revolutionary War captain slips his latest note to his fiancée into an envelope?

3) A heroine accepts a letter marked with the date August 1, 1801, paying the postage only to learn that the sender has jilted her.

For contemporary writers, the above information may be read with only a passing interest. For historical writers, including tidbits like #1 and #2 can cause devoted readers to lose faith in your work. Why? Because both situations are historically inaccurate. Although the detail may be small, we all strive to present our stories with the best information possible.


An inland postal service among the American colonies was established December 10, 1672, and the first letter was sent January 22, 1673. From the service’s inception, postage could be paid by either the sender or the receiver. A letter could be refused by the receiver, in which case no postage would be collected. Nearly two hundred years later on January 1, 1856, pre-payment of postage became compulsory.

Until 1847 when the postage stamp (gummed sticker as we know it) was put into use, postage was paid at a post office and the postmaster stamped “paid” or “free” on the letter so the receiving postmaster would not try to collect payment from the addressee. Only 1.3 percent of all letters posted between 1847 and 1852 used stamps; that percentage increased to 64 percent by 1856.


Because postal rates were originally based on the number of sheets of paper, most letters were folded and held closed with a wax seal. The last sheet of the letter served as the cover where the address was written. A typical cover sent contained three postal markings;

1) the town of origin marking either in manuscript (handwriting) or handstamp form, usually included the month and day date (may or may not include the year too)

2) the rate marking, in either manuscript or handstamp

3) the word ‘paid’ indicating prepayment of postage by the sender or (in rare situations) the word “free” on mail that met particular regulations and travelled without postage.


Starting July 1, 1845, envelope use did not incur additional postage rates and this practice soon became widespread. Envelopes with embossed stamps were first manufactured in 1852.

Postal markings

These include a variety of marking placed on the cover or envelope by a postal employee. The earliest markings were done in manuscript and were not standardized. Franklin marks (American version of British bishop’s marks) denoted the day of the month (a numeral) above the month (Roman numeral) encased in a small circle. This mark signified when the letter left the originating post office.


Postal regulations in 1857 provided the following: "Post offices, the gross receipts of which are over $1,000 per annum, will be furnished with circular marking and rating stamps of steel; less than $1,000 and over $500, with stamps of iron; less than $500 and over $100, with stamps of wood." Post offices generating less than $100 either bought pre-made sets with rate markers, paid and free stamps. Custom-designed town handstamps could also be purchased or crafted by postmaster. The town handstamps were most often used in place of the return address.


These hand-held stamps originated after the introduction of the postage stamp (1847) and were used to cancel the stamps, showing the postal fee had been used. They were usually carved from wood or cork and displayed a variety of designs—bees, bears, chickens, eagles, flags, and stars. In smaller or remote post offices, cancellations were done by hand through the 1880s with the postmaster often using a unique marking.


Postal rates were initially determined by the distance the letter had to travel and how many sheets of paper the letter contained. (My example is from the Oregon Territory in 1848-59. A single-sheet letter traveling less than 20 miles was 15 cents; 30-50 miles, 25 cents; 200 miles, 50 cents.) For the service provided, these rates were quite high relative to the value of the dollar at that time. In 1863, three classes of mail were established (first, second and parcel) and uniform rates were adopted.

Rate Markers

Markings indicating how much postage had been collected were ink-stamped in the upper left corner of the cover or envelope. Standard markers (either metal or carved wood) could be as simple as the number 3, 5, 6, or 10 in Arabic or romance numerals or as elaborate as including sunrays extending outward, the number encased in a stylized shape, or surrounded by a double circle with decorative filigree. As many stamps in whatever needed combination would be used to demonstrate the total rate (twenty cents might be four 5-cent ink stamps or two 10-cent ink-stamps.)


Penny postcards were introduced in 1873 and immediately gained in popularity.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pop Goes the Weasel?

I love to find out the origin of some of our idiomatic expressions. While writing The Last Promise, I found the origin of the word deadline. The hero, Josh is a prisoner in the Andersonville prison camp during the Civil War, who escapes with his friend and crosses the deadline-

No mercy was spared on any man who crossed the poorly constructed barrier called the “deadline”, so named because guards made certain that all life stopped if you passed it. Yet both of them scaled its wooden rails and ran into the forest.

Another term is
turnpike, which appears in Loretta Roger's upcoming release, Bannon's Brides--a wonderful story about a wagon train of mail order brides. It was amazing to learn the origins of turnpikes... From the 1850s to the 1880s, Nevada had an extensive system of toll roads, also referred to as "turnpikes" because customers paid the fare, and the long lumber plank, or pike, blocking the entrance was then turned at the toll house to allow the customer access to the private road.

When I was watching a recent History Channel Special on Bootleggers, I heard one origin of the phrase "the real McCoy." I thought it had something to do with the Hatfields and the McCoys....but they said during prohibition, a gentleman named McCoy sold fine liquor in international waters. When you purchased from him it was always high quality. So, high quality bootleg, became known as "the real McCoy." However, this one has a bit of controversy according to the site here are some other possible origins.

There are several people and things that the phrase has been applied to - which came first is uncertain.

  • The real McCoy -  Whyte & MackayMcCoy is derived from Mackay, referring to Messrs. Mackay, Edinburgh, who made a brand of fine whisky from 1856 onwards and which that they promoted as 'the real MacKay' from 1870.
    This could have been derived from the branch of the MacKay family from Reay, Scotland, i.e. 'the Reay Mackay'.

    The real McCoy -  Kid McCoyAfter Kid McCoy (Norman Selby,1873-1940), American welterweight boxing champion.

    The story goes, and there are various versions of it, that a drunk challenged Selby to prove that he was McCoy and not one of the many lesser boxers trading under the same name. After being knocked to the floor the drunk rose to admit that 'Yes, that's the real McCoy'.

    The Real McCoy -  Elijah McCoyElijah McCoy, the Canadian inventor educated in Scotland, made a successful machine for lubricating engines which spawned many copies, all inferior to the original. He patented the design in 1872.

But "Pop goes the Weasel?"
I've heard this during tours of several historical sites. After yarn was made by a spinning wheel, it was wound for later use. The winder was called a weasel. Since it was hard to keep count of how many yards were on the winder, when a certain length of yarn was on the winder, a gear moved a thin piece of wood made a pop-- pop goes the weasel.

Lastly, back in the day when people came to visit, they would often stay for weeks or months, but how did you politely let your guests know it was time to leave? By making a joint roast and serving it cold. In other words, when the guests got the cold shoulder, it was time to go.

On that note I'll sign off, before I wear out my welcome,
Happy Reading and Writing!