Hidden Treasures in the Hills:
The Lure of Letterboxing

By Lisa A. Melone

No matter where you live in northern
New England, there’s probably a hidden treasure nearby.

A popular British pastime known as letterboxing, has firmly taken root in the
northeast. Similar to geo-caching, letterboxing is a form of treasure hunting that
incorporates puzzle solving, orienteering, and stamping artistry.

Participants armed with maps, clues, compasses, and personal stamps use their
wits and navigational skills to locate hidden letterboxes containing a logbook
and stamp.

Once found, “boxers” stamp their log with the letterbox’s stamp, and imprint
the letterbox’s register with their personal stamp. Letterboxers of all ages, lured
by the mystery, and creativity of this fast-growing pastime, are heading for the
hills in ever-increasing numbers.

History of Letterboxing

Letterboxing dates back to 1854 when James Perrott left his calling card in a
bottle near Cranmere Pool while walking the Dartmoor heath in Devon
England. He invited others to do the same, setting into motion the inception of

The first actual box, similar to those used today, was placed in 1894 on Belstone
Tor, a craggy hilltop much like New England’s rugged granite summits.
Throughout the last century, avid letterboxers have traipsed across Dartmoor
Park in pursuit of these hidden boxes, whose number is rumored to be in the

An article published in Smithsonian (April 1998) brought the letterboxing craze
to our shores. With its growing popularity, fellow “boxers” hooked up via the
Internet, and Letterboxing North America (LbNA) was formed.

Unlike the Dartmoor clues, which are published in a catalog, LbNA posts
submitted clues on the web. A surprisingly high number of letterboxes reside
in New England, with nearly one thousand in Maine, New Hampshire and
Vermont alone. Although most letterboxes are located in parks, and atop
mountains, some are secreted away in public buildings.

Letterboxing requires only a small expenditure to get started. Unlike geo-
caching, where a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit can cost upwards of
$100, all you need is a base plate compass, inkpad, personal stamp (homemade
or purchased), pen, and journal.

You will also need computer access to print out the letterbox clues from
LbNA’s website.

How to Start

To build your letterboxing kit, you will need to decide whether to purchase a
pre-made stamp, or carve your own. Along with a personal stamp, you need a
“boxing name,”an alias similar the “trail names” of Appalachian Trail through-
hikers. When you “stamp-in” you’re essentially signing the letterbox’s register.

Blank journals make the best logbooks. Buy one with pages large enough to
accommodate the stamps and any notes you may wish to add. Select one with
good quality paper, such as a sketchbook, for the best stamping results.

You may want inkpads in various shades for a more colorful journal. Acid-free
inkpads are recommended to prevent degradation over time. Keep your
supplies in a waterproof bag, or for more durability, a plastic container that fits
easily into a knapsack.

Read the clues before you set out, since some require pre-hunting research. If
you’re bringing children along, pick a letterbox within the distance and
difficulty range of your youngest “boxer.”

And of course, don’t forget water, snacks, and bug repellent. Letterboxing
etiquette includes the “Leave No Trace” ethic. Be sure to leave the site as you
found it. Do not disrupt plant life and try to avoid disturbing other creatures
that may reside in the letterbox’s hideout. Spiders and snakes may share the
space! If other hikers or “boxers” are in the area, be discreet when removing
and replacing the letterbox. Most importantly — bring along a sense of

How to Create Your Own Letterbox

So, you want to create you own letterbox? First, it must be located in a public
access area, either outdoors, or in a building. Consider sites with historical
interest, or natural beauty.

Create the clues — these can be as easy or complex as you want. Some clues are
in riddles, others use rhymes or rebuses. Be careful not to use landmarks that
might change, for example, leaning dead trees.

Rather than just listing clues, make it fun by incorporating tidbits of
information about what may be seen along the route. Enclose the stamp, an
inkpad, and logbook in a watertight case. Name you letterbox and submit your
clues on LbNA’s website. Check on your box periodically to be sure it’s intact
and in its proper location.

Letterboxing can be addictive. It’s an inexpensive, fun outing for families, and
more adventuresome participants will relish the challenge of locating
letterboxes hidden in some of New England’s more remote terrain. Check out
LbNA’s website for a hidden treasure near you!

Letterboxing glossary

Hitchhiker: A letterbox inside a stationary host box that moves with each
finding. They have no clues, only a stamp and logbook.

Mystery Box: A letterbox with an unknown starting point. It requires solving a
puzzle first.

Add-Ons: Adding you own box onto someone else’s and using it as the starting
point. Also called “poaching.”

Cuckoo Clues: Clues for another box found inside a host box. These clues
travel from one box to another and are unpublished.

WOM letterbox: Word-of-mouth letterbox whose clues are unpublished and
only given word-of-mouth.

Bonus box: A box’s clues hidden inside another host letterbox with
unpublished clues. Bonus box is usually near host box. Bonus box clues don’t
travel like Cuckoo Clues.

Other Helpful Resources:

Letterboxing North America at www.letterboxing.org

The Letterboxer’s Companion by Randy Hall (Falcon Press, 2003)

About the writer: Lisa Melone has lived in the Seacoast region for nearly twenty years,
and is a relatively new aficionado to letterboxing. She has written articles and essays for
Discover Maine Magazine, Snowy Egret, and Currents V (Seacoast Writers Association
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