It all started innocently enough. I was reading through my emails and the latest posts to the various Yahoo Diplomacy groups, when I came across a message about a fellow with two boxes of old Diplomacy newsletters (zines in the vernacular; or xyns, or szines, take your pick). As he described them, these zines were from the infancy of the postal Diplomacy hobby, starting in 1963 and going forward from there. They had been stored in a basement for years, transferred from the original owner to this gentleman, and now needed to find a new home. The statement was rather matter-of-fact: if somebody didn't pick them up, or pay to have them shipped, they'd be thrown away.
Iím willing to admit, I am a bit of a packrat. Nothing compared to how I used to be, and an amateur compared to my mother, but I tend to collect, to save, and to hoard. I'd had six or seven boxes of zines from the 1990's in my storage unit that I'd saved from my time in the postal hobby. Some of them were my own publications, but most were those I had subscribed to or traded with. Unfortunately for me, a flood which only affected one small portion of the storage unit dumped a bunch of water on those zines, and the few that weren't damaged I threw away when the wet mess was tossed in the dumpster. In a way, it was somewhat liberating; I'd saved those boxes for over a decade, but had almost never looked at them. I didn't need them, I didn't use them, and I had no reason to keep them. Now they were gone.
Yet here I was, a few years later, and I found myself seriously considering having those boxes shipped to me. I couldn't quite explain my desire, except that I'd never seen actual issues from that far in the past. These would be the very first zines ever published: titles I'd heard about but never held in my hands, such as Graustark, Claw & Fang, Wild 'N Wooly, Fredonia, Stab… could I really let these relics be thrown away? How many copies of these zines were still around? There couldn't be many.
But to justify the expense of having these shipped to Texas — from Canada no less (as I discovered after trading an email or two) — I had to have a reason to get them. Sure, I'd look at them, read them, and enjoy them on a personal level. But what good were they going to do me? At first, my email exchange revealed an initial purpose: I could use some of the information in those ancient zines to develop one or more articles for Diplomacy World. The first of those articles appeared in Diplomacy World #103, entitled Tales from the Archives: 1964C — The Hobby's First Scandal (which you can read for yourself at http://www.diplomacyworld.net/pdf/dw103.pdf). I'm pretty happy with the way it came out — in large part due to the sidebars contributed by Jim Burgess and Chris Babcock — and it was a lot of fun to use the material to uncover the sordid details. I'm hoping I can do the same with some of these other zines. I don't know if most of the current Diplomacy hobby holds an appreciation for the content of these old zines, but I do.
Still, that wasn't really enough to make the expense worthwhile, at least not for me. Fortunately, I had another plan up my sleeve, one which I've been working on tirelessly since then. The result, which is far, far from finished, is my Postal Diplomacy Zine Archive (which can be located on my personal Diplomacy webpage at http://www.whiningkentpigs.com/DW/ if you'd like to take a look). The basis of this project is the idea that boxes of old zines sitting around in a basement or a storage unit gathering dust does absolutely nothing for anyone. If the purpose of an archive is to allow the hobby at large to access it, use it, learn from it, and enjoy it, clearly the optimum situation is one where anyone can access the archive whenever they want to, from wherever they happen to be. Even as recently as a few years ago, this was not a viable goal, but now storage costs on the internet have dropped drastically. A typical paid web site ($10 a month for hosting or less) offers perhaps 100 gigabytes of storage space. So… I resolved to scan these old zines and post pdf files to my web site.
My project took on added volume when Tim Haffey announced that he could no longer store his "west coast" archives. After a good deal searching around by a group of concerned hobby members, we were unable to find a local replacement for Tim. Shipping the entire archives would require a great deal of expense, and nobody was willing or able to invest such a large sum of money into that endeavor, so Edi Birsan took the initiative to do the next best thing: he would move the archives out of Tim's house a box or two at a time, pare down the contents into Priority Mail flat-rate boxes, and send those boxes to me. I'd then scan what I could for the archive, and afterward I will store most of the originals in my storage unit. A few interested parties, including myself, Jim Burgess, and Walt Buchanan, sent funds to Edi to help cover the expense (each box costs nearly $10 to ship). While this method does NOT allow us to save everything, it does save a good deal of irreplaceable material, while at the same time making it available to anybody who wants to see it.
We're now perhaps halfway done with the shipping portion, and with the acquisition of a better scanner on eBay (rather than the terrible slow and cumbersome 3-in-1 HP scanner/fax/copier we use at work) I have been able to make some headway. As of this writing there are over 1,000 zines scanned and posted, with thousands more to follow. In fact, my enthusiasm for this project even helped inspire Stephen Agar to resume his similar project for postal Diplomacy zines produced in the United Kingdom (which can be seen at http://www.diplomacyzines.org.uk/). So treat yourself, find some free time, and browse both collections. Discover variants you've never seen, see what classic literate Diplomacy press used to be like, and experience the cohesion that the Diplomacy family once enjoyed. And yes, you'll find some feuds and wars in there as well, but even those are worth reading about… after all, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it!
Incidentally, I've created a Yahoo group for those who would like to be kept up-to-date on what zines I've scanned and posted. You can join at: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/postalzine/
I'd like to thank Edi Birsan, Jim Burgess, Walt Buchanan, Charles Reinsel, Paul Bolduc, and countless others for their support and assistance in making this project a success so far. Hopefully we've only seen the tip of the iceberg!
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