Postal Experiment Follow-Up

Some great comments and emailed feedback from my recent Postmark Experiment. Here are some of my favorites:

Before his retirement after 40+ years at the USPS, my father was a postmaster for several post offices in Puerto Rico (where they currently have only 1 APC on the whole island! – a travesty to be sure), so I was taught at a young age all of the official state abbreviations, got to climb into the very first long-life vehicle (the now-common mail trucks that replaced the Jeeps), and was required to use the APC to send just about anything to my dad. So, that fact that someone else not only uses and enjoys the machine, but also experiments with the machine makes me feel like I am not the only post office nerd in the world. (From Sara)

Maybe things have changed since I was a youngster, but in the good old days, I’ve sent letters with S&H Green Stamps, stamps from book clubs and so on. ( There may have been the odd stamp from the Columbia Record Club in the mix). IIRC, they all arrived just fine. (From Mister Zip)

And in the same vein:

There are some guys here in Chicago that make “art stamps” that are most interesting when sent through the postal service and canceled. Some with guns, drugs, boobs, odd things to run through the post office. And they’ve had some nasty nasty nasty dealings with “the man”. (From smonkey)

Finally, a LiveJournal reader reminded me about my all-time favorite postal experiment, and one of my favorite things on the internet period:

Having long been genuine admirers of the United States Postal Service (USPS), which gives amazingly reliable service especially compared with many other countries, our team of investigators decided to test the delivery limits of this immense system. We knew that an item, say, a saucepan, normally would be in a package because of USPS concerns of entanglement in their automated machinery. But what if the item were not wrapped? How patient are postal employees? How honest? How sentimental? In short, how eccentric a behavior on the part of the sender would still result in successful mail delivery?

Well worth a read.

7 thoughts on “Postal Experiment Follow-Up”

  1. Hey, Malki:

    Not sure if you were ever aware of this or not, but GAMES magazine used to have contests where they’d encourage their readers to send them odd things in the mail, and then they would publish photos of the strangest things to get through. I seem to remember at one time an unwrapped coconut, with the mailing address written on the shell, made it through with hand-cancelled stamps and everything.

    USPS is awesome! What can we do to save it?

  2. a similarly cool set of experiments is — he gave a talk at HOPE a couple of years ago and it was rad.

    i love the APCs too. it’s always so weird for me when there’s a long-ass line of people waiting to buy stamps and NO line for the shiny APC. maybe people enjoy waiting in lines? it is a mystery!

  3. I mailed a friend an 8-track of the “Shaft” soundtrack once without an envelope. The postal clerk offered to wrap it up for me but when I told him I really wanted to send it without the envelope, he thought it was hilarious and helped me tape down the stamps and holes so it’d be secure.

    I’ve found that if you’re asking for something unusual, it helps to be incredibly polite and cheerful, and to invite people to collaborate with you to solve your problem. Most people are spoiling for harmless fun — especially people in boring jobs.

  4. I can personally attest to the coconut. On a lark, I once sent one — unwrapped, with the address label stuck directly to the husk along with a postage label BOUGHT AT THE CUSTOMER SERVICE DESK — to Doctress Neutopia. Its arrival was confirmed a few days later by Usenet post, because Doctress Neutopia always posted on Usenet about EVERYTHING that happened to her.

  5. Hey Malki!

    Just another follow-up. My dad and I trade postal covers as a hobby. When I was living in Japan, I bought a small box of photos of temples, about 1 in.” x 2 in.” They were printed on sturdy cardstock, so I thought I’d send one to my father.

    I squeezed a stamp and his address on the back and took it to the post office in Kyoto. Naturally, they rejected it; undaunted, I dropped it in a mailbox and hoped for the best.

    About a week later, my father received a hand-written letter from a postal worker in San Francisco. The worker included the card, with an explanation that normally the card would have been rejected, but that he grew up in my father’s hometown and so he took it upon himself to send it on!

    My dad and I were both blown away!

  6. I’m not sure about the coconut rules; I once received a coconut from Hawai’i (I’m in Washington, so it has to have crossed “state lines”), not wrapped, with the address and stamp directly on the coconut (the address was written in black Sharpie, along with some cartoons).

  7. I would send generic pop-tarts in the mail. Not the real Pop-tart-brand pop tarts, those come in foil packages, but the off-brand ones that come in paper packaging. I would simply write the address on the package, mark it “Very Fragile”, stick a stamp on it and set it loose. Usually arrived with only breakage around the edges.

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