Stamp semaphore as early emoticons

From an 1890 edition of the Szarvas és vidéke, a weekly Hungarian newspaper, an explanation of the "stamp code" used to signal one's intention when sending mash notes and such through the Emperor's post.

The secrets of the language of stamps. For all those who are in the situation of Hero and Leander, and similarly to them can only exchange secret signs about the feelings of their hearts, here we publish the secrets of the language of stamps. If the stamp stands upright in the upper right corner of the card or envelope, it means: I wish your friendship. Top right, across: Do you love me? Top right, upside down: Don’t write me any more. Top right, thwart: Write me immediately. Top right, upright [once more again???]: Your love makes me happy. Top left, across: My heart belongs to someone else. Top left, upright: I love you. Bottom left, across: Leave me alone in my grief. In line with the name: Accept my love. Same place, across: I wish to see you. Same place, upside down: I love someone else. – We hope that besides the inventor of the “new language” there would be other persons too who would eventually use it.

Poemas del río Wang: The language of stamps (via Neatorama)


  1. It seems that there is no way to put a stamp on a letter without somehow professing your undying love for the recipient. My student loan applications just got a whole lot more awkward, apparently.

    1. I sent all mine ‘Do not write to me anymore’, but it didn’t work.

      Seriously needs a neutral stamp placement.

  2. This doesn’t match the conventions I learned as a kid (eg, upside down was supposed to mean “love”). Which reinforces the point that codes don’t work unless both sides have the same codebook.

    1. Yeah, that’s what I’d always heard, that an upside down meant love or ‘I love you.’ 

    2. Since the flag stamp is the most common in the US, placing it upside down has generally meant Revolution Now or Fuck You America or something like that.

      1. Interestingly enough raising the flag Upside Down tends to translate to Distress/Help/Send Aid.

        At least that’s what I remember from boy scouts.

  3. Way back in the 20th century, my best friend and I would buy one of those spiral notebooks, fill the entire thing up with a letter, and send the whole thing off in the mails. I wonder if any kids still do such things?

    1. Me and a friend did that with floppies and a dead drop.

      Though I suppose that’s more like Sneakernet. Not that we were swapping cracked games or the like. We were just being silly.

  4. Which one says “I’m not very good at lining up the edges of the stamp with the edges of the envelope?”

  5. I remember a short story from maybe first half of 20th century which revolved entirely about a letter with a proposal which arrived without stamp, which meant “everything inside is null”. The man arrived at his bride’s family only to meet boiling hostility.

  6. In Britain it is illegal to put a stamp on a letter upside down, as it is defacing the image of the Queen, which is technically treason.

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