Loose, but not lost, in the mail

[Alyson Kuhn] What is this? Why isn’t my name on the envelope? I didn’t even know Postage Due still existed! The clerk behind the counter at my new post office — where I have been eager to make a good impression as a sender and receiver of stylish mail and interesting parcels — tells me I do not have to pay the $4.95. I can simply refuse the envelope. Not a chance!

The mysterious sender has added insult to injury by putting a superwide strip of tape across the top, covering the handy release tab. Distraught, I rip the envelope open.

When I received a notice in my P.O. box with the notation Postage Due, I assumed it was a matter of cents. Perhaps a square envelope, which requires extra postage. Or a big envelope that the sender had stamped as an envelope, but due to rigidity or thickness the postal service considers a package, which automatically costs a bit more. I was totally unprepared for the idea that someone had sent me a Priority Mail envelope with no postage. How was this possible?

So, on Sept. 12, at 3:29:02 (yes, the receipt includes the time down to seconds) I paid my $4.95 … and my distemper turned to delight … as I was reunited with something I had thought was pathetically, irretrievably, eternally lost in the mail. But no, it wasn’t lost in the mail, it was only loose in the mail. And, given the formal status of the Loose in the Mail Section — and related forms — it is apparent that loose mail is not an occasional occurrence. Here is the tale of my mailing mishap, and the resourceful efficiency that led to the return of my item.

The January 1892 issue (Vol. VIII, No. 85) of The Philatelic Journal of America, acquired in July 2011 at Carmel Stamp & Coin Shop.

I bought this treat for my friend Sheryn because it contained a superb travelogue, by editor and publisher Chas. Haviland Mekeel himself, about a trip that he and a dozen other gentlemen had made via private train car from St. Louis to several cities in Mexico. Sheryn had recently written a lengthy paper, which I had fairly devoured, about union stations, and I thought this a perfect token of my appreciation. I prepared a mailing envelope with a multitude of thematic postage stamps. I selected a glassine thumb-cut sleeve. I wrote a cover note and affixed it to the glassine with a marbled self-ahesive dot. But, an unfunny thing happened on the way to the post office, at 5:50:ish in the summery evening of July 19: I stopped to make a photocopy of page 40.

The last sentence in the first paragraph excerpted from the Postmaster-General’s report of Nov. 30, 1891, reads, ‘The whole object of the postal system is to transmit intelligence.”

My mailing envelope flap had a release strip, with sticky stuff … which didn’t feel quite sticky enough. But, as I was down to the proverbial wire and unable to locate a glue stick in my pocket, purse, tote or motor vehicle — and not thinking to ask the postal clerk for a piece of tape, what with my focus on getting the stamps hand-cancelled — I just sealed the envelope and let it go.

Bonus enclosure from the journal’s previous owner: Nice printing — though I’m not sure who was betting on what with whom. And the paper has a great linen texture, very fashionable in my childhood.

Alas, on July 24, at 9:33:39 a.m., I received an e-mail from Sheryn: “Dearest Alyson, I received an envelope from you that contained only a cardboard insert. The envelope flap was unglued and the back of it looked like it had been run over by a tire or stepped on or something. I’m imagining that it came unglued in the machine processing and its real contents are somewhere on the floor of one of the postal sorting facilities. If the contents were to convey your new address and phone number, then I don’t have them so that’s why you’ve received no mail from me at your new address. I do hope that what is missing will not stress you as I’m sure the move is stressful enough.”

And that, I thought, was that. No use crying over lost mail. But wait! Weeks later, a diligent soul in the Loose in the Mail Section got to my item, deciphered the notation in the margin of my note (above), and decided to try sending the whole shebang to my P.O. box, without knowing who I am … which is why the Priority Mail envelope didn’t have my name on it. I admit I wish it had been addressed to Aly Kuhniversity! But I am not kuhnplaining!

Page 39 of the journal summarizes the highlights of the 1891 report from Superintendent Leibhart of the Dead Letter Office.

If you read “Relating to Dead Letters” (above), how can you not be moved to marvel at the Postal Service’s extraordinary commitment to try and deliver every piece of mail, despite its being incompletely or inaccurately addressed? I love that Sheryn and I are among the most recent beneficiaries of this tradition!

Photos: © 2011 StudioAlex


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Comments (4)

  1. Posted by Diane Tompkins on 10.13.11 at 8:53 am

    Alyson – what a fine tale of mysterious mail and a happy ending. I think the USPS needs an ad campaign with tales such as yours to illuminate their diligence and dedication to delivering the goods. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Posted by Bobbi on 10.13.11 at 11:09 am

    I so enjoyed this story! It makes me want to go mail something:)

  3. Posted by Paperlover on 10.14.11 at 1:37 am

    As well you should. Happy sending!

  4. Posted by Julie Salestrom on 10.18.11 at 3:12 am

    I agree with Diane’s comment. I listened to a tale of the USPS’ financial woes this morning on the radio, and think a little re-branding effort is in order. Images of divine mail art, some stories of their heroic efforts – from sleet and snow – to returning this wonderful 1892 volume. So glad we are able to see it here!

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