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The Downton Abbey Effect

I’m not sure what it is about Downton Abbey that has triggered such meme lust(1), but it sure has.

We are very late to this particular party, but I downloaded the first season last week, and was downloading season 2 by Friday night. Yes, my wife and I are addicted.

While there’s a lot to like about the show, it seems like every scene has someone opening, reading, writing, or discussing the contents of, a letter. They’re all written on impossibly small sheets – way smaller than would hold the contents they seem to contain. The envelopes are small as well – maybe 3 by 4 inches. Barely enough room for an address and a stamp. (photo credit to JBB on Fountain Pen Network)

So after a brief struggle with rationalization (futile when meme lust is involved) I have gave in and began looking for the implements to replace my usual stationery with new Downton-ized versions. I’m not alone – someone else had the same meme lust a while back.

Of course, it’s 2013 not 1913, and there have been changes. The post office won’t deliver anything smaller than 3.5″ x 5″. While that is indeed a small envelope, it lacks the proper squareness to satisfy the meme lust, so I kept looking. Not much point in writing a letter that can’t be mailed.

After looking a bit, it seems the next size upwards of the 3.5 x 5 inch “4-bar” is the 5.5 bar which fits a letter sized sheet folded into quarters, or a half sheet folded in half. This seemed like a flexible and sensible choice.

Off to ThePaperMillStore.com and soon a box of envelopes and some reams of paper (which I needed anyway) were on order. I ordered Strathmore Writing paper in 20lb weight, and their A2 envelopes.

I might get the 4-bar size and custom cut some paper to fit at some point. When I say “might”, that probably means “will”, and “at some point” may well occur before the first order arrives.

[UPDATE: Ordered. Although, I believe the first order was on my doorstep before the second order was actually placed.]

1) Meme Lust is an irrational obsession with duplicating a meme purely due to irrational fascination, triggered by a movie, TV show, or even someone seen in public. For example, seeing a movie where the star carries a particular kind of briefcase and then needing to have the exact same kind of briefcase. Perhaps the most famous is the obsession with getting a bull whip after seeing an Indiana Jones movie, even though a bull whip is possibly the most useless thing a person could own. But still very cool. Entire message boards have been devoted to specific meme lusts.

8 comments… add one
  • Richard (Indy) January 17, 2013, 12:31 pm

    Meme lust. Terrible thing. It turns out, however, that Indiana Jones’ adventuring outfit is remarkably practical and comfortable; and, being sufficiently weird anyway, I don’t mind at all when people address me as “Indy” or, in the case of a certain Luftwaffe general, “Doctor Jones.” (Herr General Mihlon is a police captain when he’s not doing WWII re-enactments.) But the bullwhip was vetoed by the Managing Partner, aka SWMBO.

    • Steve January 20, 2013, 4:07 pm

      Hi Richard,

      I’ve actually spent a few hours on the indy-fan sites, but I prefer my Tilley hat to a fedora. The shoes and whip have tempted me more than a few times though. I’d thought about getting a whip and hanging it behind my desk at work, with a little sign under it that said “Don’t make me use this.”

  • Randall Harris January 19, 2013, 9:53 am

    Great post. I too have been fascinated by the prevalence and importance of letters on this show. But Downton Abbey in general is just absolutely amazing.

    • Steve January 20, 2013, 4:11 pm

      Well, I got the smallest legally mailable envelopes, and have cut some paper to fit. You can send me a letter (address is in the contact me page) to get a sample :-).

      I got my dad hooked last night – we watched the first three episodes together. We agreed that British television has a depth & character development that American TV just doesn’t have.

  • Amit Agrawal January 25, 2013, 1:57 am

    I like this post! I am quite a big fan of those lovely small letters in the show.I am completely obsessed with Downton Abbey.I have already completed watching season 3 and I am desperately waiting for season 4. I am addicted to the show as well and I don’t mind being addicted to it.

    • Steve January 25, 2013, 5:53 pm

      Thanks for the comment!

      I’m one episode away from finishing season 3, and waiting for season 4 is going to suck – unless it’s already underway in the UK.

      Alas, I’ve got the smaller envelopes, and I’ve sent a few letters, but there’s just not many folks communicating by mail these days!

  • Gary in NYC February 6, 2013, 3:41 pm

    That’s very cool if Downton Abbey ends up inspiring a lot of new fountain pen writers, and rekindling the spirit of older ones. While there has been a vintage resurgence in a number of different things (stereo equipment, cars, collectibles), I wonder if there has been much of one with writing instruments. The electronic age is a huge distraction, as it’s so much easier to communicate with the electron than the ink droplet. But I can testify that I’ve seen my handwriting ability decline as I gradually wrote less and less. Fountain pens have helped bring back my penmanship. The trouble is, most people I write to call me in return! 😉

    • Steve February 6, 2013, 6:55 pm

      Reading online, it seems like pens and paper are seeing an increase in popularity, but I haven’t checked any data – would be a good post.

      I’m interested to see how the decision about Saturday delivery will change peoples perceptions

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