Remembering Mail Art, Part I: The Coffee Club

In my ongoing adventure of clearing out and weeding out, I’ve been unearthing stuff that I’d long forgotten. In one bin, I found the last remaining cache of mail art. Anybody else remember that? Remember the days when you could send cool stuff through the mail and not have it torn apart and inspected for weirdness? Back in the 90s, when I first started writing for Rubberstampmadness and was totally psyched by all things rubber stamped, I got mail art every day. On the rare day when nothing cool came to my house, the postman would comment about it, saying that he’d double-checked to make sure he wasn’t missing something.

It may seem amazing now, when everything is fast and most stuff is done while multi-tasking, but we spent weeks working on things that we’d send away and never see again. Check out these books, all of which are filled with illustrated correspondence, some of them stamped out letter by letter. I’m not showing the insides of these because they were intended as private correspondence:

Freeman-Zachery mail art 1

Freeman-Zachery mail art 2

After a couple years, I formed a Coffee Club, a group of correspondents who took part in several round-robin, coffee-themed mail art projects. The members varied according to who had time to participate; Teesha and Tracy Moore played, Lynne Perrella took part. In those early days before everything was online, we made books and played with stamps and paper and experimented with faux postage. I started everything off in a box, and we’d add to it and take out what we wanted as it went around. There was a cassette tape (yes, a tape) with coffee house music, and there was a bag of gourmet coffee. There were chocolates and postcards and rubber dies and all kinds of things people would add to the box as they created their pages. Man, it was fun! And there was nothing like the excitement of having that box delivered to your doorstep, knowing there were hours and hours worth of things to look at and be inspired by. So this week I’m sharing three of our larger projects: The Coffee Club Book, Nightmares, and The Coffee Club Diary. 


The Coffee Club Book went around in 1994. I think it was Rick Banning who put each book in a plastic bag and labeled it with the title and the year, for which I am eternally grateful. Some people dated their contributions, but most of us didn’t even think of doing that.

Freeman-Zachery mail art 13

I started it off by creating a very simple book structure and the first spared. I stamped the title on the cover, and other people added to it as it went around. I don’t remember whether or not there were any rules, but I think that, basically, we left each others’ spreads completely alone but were free to add to the book cover and any of the other pages.

Freeman-Zachery mail art 12

Freeman-Zachery mail art 11


Freeman-Zachery mail art 5 Freeman-Zachery mail art 6 Freeman-Zachery mail art 7 Freeman-Zachery mail art 8 Freeman-Zachery mail art 9 Freeman-Zachery mail art 10 Freeman-Zachery mail art 4

Photos, collage, custom-made rubber stamps—it was a combination of pretty much anything people were doing at the time, and it was just fabulous. Come back on Wednesday for Nightmares.

U2865 MixedMediaArt_cover.inddFor more mail art ideas, check out Mixed Media Techniques for Art Journaling, which features a chapter about collaborative mail art journals.






Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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