[Alyson Kuhn] When I returned home recently after a few days away, my post office box contained three package notices and several pieces of good mail, all of which I’m going to show you. Mail doesn’t have to be arty for me to consider it good; it doesn’t even have to be particularly personal. A check is good; a prescription is good; the newest New Yorker magazine is good. A great card is good; if it comes with an interesting note, it’s really good. A letter does not have to be long to be good, but it does have to be legible. Amusing or informative enclosures are always a plus. It is, in fact, a thought-provoking enclosure that has inspired me to write this piece.
This no-nonsense envelope from Michael Carabetta at Chronicle Books—who manages to keep up with more mags, blogs and books than anyone I know—contained an article (original, not a photocopy) by Jim Hightower, from the previous week’s issue of the Bohemian, titled “A First-Class Institution.” You can read as much of it as you’d like here—though I hope you’ll finish this first.
Michael Carabetta and I are both big fans of mail, and I am grateful that he sent along Hightower’s passionate and persuasive explanation of the Postal Service’s current circumstances, followed by smart recommendations for its future. It’s so well written that I can actually summarize it: (1) The Postal Service is not funded by anyone’s tax dollars (and hasn’t been for the last 42 years). (2) The Postal Service provides an invaluable service for the public good, going to almost unimaginable lengths—and heights—to deliver the mail to every address in the land. (3) The Postal Service continues to make a handsome operating profit, but is impossibly handicapped by an obligation to pre-fund the healthcare benefits “not only of current employees, but also of all employees who’ll retire during the next 75 years. Yes, that includes employees who are not yet born!”
Allan Haley sent me a handwritten note on Monotype’s new letterhead. The identity uses a typeface called Kootenay, designed by Steve Matteson of Monotype. The back of the stationery is a flood of gray, with a huge reversed sans serif M; the envelope flap is likewise gray, with a lowercase reversed serif m (Egyptian Slab by Rod McDonald). Interior of the envelope is gray. As for the business cards: Everyone gets four different backs. A witty example of initial surprise! (Dennis Demos, creative director; Clif Stoltze, art director; Katherine Hughes, designer)
Ana Reinert is the creative brain behind WellAppointedDesk.com. She loves pens and other writing implements and mentions in her note that she is writing with her “favorite vintage Esterbrook fountain pen with the stub nib that I found new-in-the-box. And using J. Herbin 1670 Rouge Hematite ink. Awesome bottle with wax seal and cap.” Her note paper is letterpress printed by her husband, Bob Atkins, captain of Skylab Letterpress.
Ana’s enclosures had a holiday palette, including a 2001 Hell banknote (China), a fab 4 Bar card (Hammerpress) and a charming floral checkerboard scrap just big enough to wrap a petite soap. The gemmiest item is a pair of tiny stickers (non-adhesive) proclaiming “Campaign for Real Mail.” I like to think that this “campaign” is a verb, and I’m guessing the stickers are swag from the Letter Writers Alliance.
My big valentine postcard from Warren Wilkins was sent to my old post office box in Napa. The Postal Service forwards first class mail for six months after you file a new address; thereafter, it makes a valiant attempt to “return to sender”—at no charge. This card found its way back to Warren, who popped it in an envelope, correctly addressed, and sent it on its way again. Pitcher perfect.
I don’t know whether Gina Visione (she of the incredible washi tape caddy) sent each member of the SF Correspondence Co-op a postcard from Saigon on February 16—perfectly cancelled, we note—or whether she is following a plan to mail a different one of us a card from every city or village. The picture side of my mine shows a stretch of river with both shores lined with long, flat boats. Somehow this scene relates to the Perfume Pagoda Festival. A click or two tells me whether the boats transport pilgrims (hundreds of thousands, according to Wikipedia) to the festival site, or whether they transport flowers to be made into perfume. Or I could just wait for Gina’s report when she returns. What I really want to know is where in the U.S this post card would have touched down.
As I was toodling around Santa Monica with my friend and environmental graphics tour guide Julie Salestrom, she mentioned that people in Alaska can have bales of hay air-dropped (meaning, dropped from low-flying planes) into their pastures by the Postal Service. I had a hard time understanding how you could put an address and postage on a bale, but it turns out the bale goes inside a super-sturdy plastic bag. Thanks to Julie, I can share this link with you to amazing photos by Jeff Schultz of the 2013 Iditarod. The pertinent caption reads: “Volunteers bag, palletize, and add postage to 1500 bales of straw at Airland Transport in Anchorage to be sent out to the 22 checkpoints along the Iditarod trail Thursday, February 7, 2013.” I am consumed with curiosity to know what it costs to air-drop a bale of straw!
Photos, except as noted, © 2013 StudioAlex