The Secret Society of the Historical Pokemon Go

The Alleged History of Pokemon Go – Yes There is One and It Reaches Back at Least a Century

As human’s, it appears we’ve always been lured by the chase, the promise of reward, collecting those rewards, and being part of something bigger than your neighbourhood. Did your ancestors do this? Is it in your genes?

Our Creative Director, clearly made the right choice with Charmander.

Our Creative Director, clearly made the right choice with Charmander.

Our office started using Pokemon Go last week as something we needed to do for our digital marketing clients – to find opportunities and pitch ideas. Now, we’re all pretty much riding the Pokemon wave, Direct Access Digital’s Creative Director, Trevor Dupp, spent the whole weekend (10+ hours) hunting for Pokemon with his wife and friends. Learning things about the local and distant terrain, the people around them and sharing exciting moments and frustrations.

In fact, three-quarters of our team are playing. It’s perfect for digital marketers, in fact its premise is what drives us. Pokemon Go shows us the data of what our efforts achieve. It’s a promise of reward, collecting the awards and being part of something bigger.

Did you know the makings of Pokemon Go started at least in the UK in the 1800s? It was simple-ish. If you found enough you could become part of a secret society. It was a lot of exploring landscapes to find incentives making you instinctively want to find more. Thrill of the chase. Obviously, it wasn’t specifically Pokemon, but other collectible items that brought people together.

Take for example books. Books are pretty much always about some sort of journey. The bestselling author, Paolo Coelho’s, 1998 allegorical novel, The Alchemist sold more than 65 million copies and was translated into 56 different languages. It was about a shepherd dreaming about finding secret treasure, his travels to get there, and what he learns on his travels. 65 Million Copies! It appears we love a good story and even more we love being part of a story.

Pokemon Go Timeline

The only difference between then and now was the society was so secret – like the Illuminati or The Knights Templar – and that, as with all secret societies, there was no marketing. It was word of mouth that had people become members.

Overall, you’d deck yourself out in comfortable clothes, map in hand, a bag full of things (not Pokemon Incense or Incubators) and head off for the weekend, the day, the afternoon, or simply an opportunistic moment…and find stuff, that had been left and likely found before. Like the rare Pokemon’s of today, it was a thrill to find something that someone hadn’t found for years.


The first letterbox from Cranmere Pool, Devon, Uk. Image Courtesy of AtlasQuest.

  • In the 1854, a UK Victorian guide, James Perrot, hid a bottle with his calling card in it for other people to find. The bottle collected other people’s calling cards. It was hidden in a rugged, remote area of Devon. Hikers (known as ramblers) left their calling cards as testimony for actually braving the terrain. A proud journey moment – a quasi-Mount Everest win.
  • In 1888, people put self-addressed postcards in tin boxes and hikers would find them and mail them back. The hobby then acquired its name Letterboxing.
  • In 1907, a practice still used today, a logbook and a rubber stamp appeared in the boxes.

When I moved to the UK from Canada in 2000 (for my start in an SEO career), the only reason I had heard of Letterboxing was because I happened to rent a room above a pub and I went down for dinner and there was a secret letterboxing society meeting.

With my pleading eye, one of the members winked and whispered the truth to me. It was surprising. They didn’t like Grockles like me in Devon. Next thing you know, I’ve spent three hours looking around this massive Tor/rock. Sadly, to no avail. Feeling hoodwinked, I forgot about it but chose to seek revenge (just kidding).

Today, like Pokemon Go, you use a map. Traditionally, you take an Ordnance Survey map (a map that shows geographical features), and you create your own stamp (often out of an eraser), a stamp pad, a pen and a notebook and you hike. While hiking, you look for interesting features on the map (such as where two streams meet), where there is a lone tree, and you rummage around the area until you find the box.

After you find the box, you take out the notebook and see who was there before you and what they had written. Often weather, but sometimes some profound pearls of wisdom, the odd joke, etc. It was interesting to find out where in the world these searchers were from. You’d use your stamp to place in the book, and use their stamp to place in your book and to record the date and the location.

If you found 100 letterboxes you could become part of a secret society called (boringly) The 100 Club and receive a most coveted clue book! Was this the beginning of Pokemon Go? History repeating itself but in the same dimension?

After giving-up on my first fruitless foray Letterboxing, I met people on a hiking trail who had just found a Letterbox and they explained about the ordnance survey map piece. I bought one immediately and my first find was a Letterbox that wasn’t found for 14 years. Since it was a prestige Letterbox I was beyond excited (same feeling as finding my first Psyduck Pokemon). So I took my stamp and placed it in the book, wrote some profound words (likely weather related), put their stamp in my book and just like that I was hooked. About two years later, I moved back to Canada and still haven’t found my 100 yet, but I will, likely after I find Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres.

I'm determined to find Moltres first even though its not technically in the game yet.

I’m determined to find Moltres first even though its not technically in the game yet.

Like everyone, I’m lured by the chase, the promise of reward, collecting rewards, and being part of something bigger. Now back in North America, I am doing both…Letterboxing and Pokemon-ing at the same time. I tell onlookers that I’m doing it for work because I work in digital marketing. It is true, and we will be doing Pokemon marketing with some of our clients. The truth is I think I may be just be addicted to catching Pokemon.

Of course Geocaching is the technological advancement of Letterboxing and Pokemon-ing is the augmented reality version complete with creatures. I’ll stick to the traditional and the modern bypassing the middle Geocaching bit, for now. It suits my personality…I am a marketing tech geek and I love to Blacksmith…

Well, off to walk my 5k to hatch a Pokemon…it better not be another Rattata.





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Senior Digital Strategist, Ceri Nelmes. With 16+ years’ experience in digital, Ceri began as an SEO at a UK agency after working as a Canadian journalist for seven years. She’s worked on almost every vertical in almost every digital role end-to-end from wireframes, content, UX, testing, site architecture, content, social media, ecommerce, affiliate, monetization, lead generation, media sales/buying, to advanced SEO and marketing for big brands, start-ups and not-for-profits like Chapters Indigo, Danby, to Bank of Scotland, BBC, and University of Toronto. She can be found scribbling on wipeboards and playing with her Hurricane Katrina Plott Hound, Taffy.

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