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An open book of a vintage stamps with the Cheshire cat in a tree and Alice holding baby pig

The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case, Lewis Carroll’s Singular Invention


Lewis Carroll created a case, lavishly illustrated with scenes from Alice in Wonderland, for the mere preservation of postage stamps.

Lewis Carroll was overall an inveterate inventor of strange worlds, but his imagination extended to objects for practical use, too. His artifacts, quite like his books, were efforts to make life easier for people –– And this, of course, was resumed in reading and writing; specifically, in the reading of his stories and in letter writing. Hence the Wonderland Postage Stamp Case, a case for the saving of postage stamps, and which would invite enthusiasm for his Alice in Wonderland and for letter writing too. Recall that Carroll was a prolific letter writer.

Vintage Alice in Wonderland cards with postage stamp envelopes

The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case, which accompanied his humorous and beautiful essay “Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing,” was presented with this paragraph:

This Case is not intended to carry about in your pocket. [… ] No, this is meant to haunt your envelope-case, or wherever you keep your writing-materials. What made me invent it was the constantly wanting Stamps of other values, for foreign Letters, Parcel Post, &c., and finding it very bothersome to get at the kind I wanted in a hurry. Since I have possessed a “Wonderland Stamp Case”, Life has been bright and peaceful, and I have used no other. I believe the Queen’s laundress uses no other.

Praise for the stamp case is not so exaggerated if we look at it closely. Inside are 12 separate pockets for stamps, stamps of each denomination of the time, from the ‘½d’ to a 1 shilling stamp, there was an extra pocket for the most usual price of one penny. Each pocket could easily store up to six stamps. But beyond its functional purpose, the case contained what Carroll referred to as “pictorial surprises.”

A vintage stamp holder with six slots on each side

In an act of carefully planned surprise, the case bore the image of Alice carrying the baby of the Duchess. But when you draw back the cover, inside the baby of the Duchess has become a pig, as is related in the story. On the back cover, the familiar face of the Cheshire Cat looks out from a tree, while on the back of the case we see it now fading. All of these details make for a charming curiosity, in tune with novel at its source.

The Wonderland Postage Stamp Case was first published in 1889, and shows the extent of the entire nation’s epistolary culture. First editions have been auctioned for up to $8,000 and continue to changes hands between Lewis Carroll enthusiasts and collectors all over the world.


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