The Postal Service delivers for all of us

[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.

Postal intelligence from Michael Carabetta

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.

At my friendly Post Office, the front of the yellow Mail Pickup Notice (PS Form 3907, December 1993!) usually goes unnoticed—and un-filled out.

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, director of Words & Letters at Monotype, has handsome new cards. 

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 a prized new correspondent and eclectic encloser.

Ana Reinert is the creative brain behind 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.

Enclosures from Ana Reinert, who writes, “Of course I didn’t spend every waking moment [of the last two months] on the hunt for goodies for you though I probably should have.” Hah.

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.

Warren Wilkins does indeed have perfect postal manners. 

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.

A postcard from Gina Visione in Viet Nam

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.

Saturday, March 9: Here I am, visiting the historic Santa Monica Post Office, scheduled for closure later this year. Photo: Julie Salestrom

This Post Office was completed in 1937. Photos: Julie Salestrom.

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

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Comments (9)

  1. Posted by notely on 03.12.13 at 9:37 am

    Boy, do you get GOOD mail. Nice post, Alyson. And thanks for the link to the Bohemian story … I read it AFTER I read your post. Cheers!

  2. Posted by Diane Tompkins on 03.12.13 at 11:30 am

    Alyson – I appreciate your clarification on the USPS’ funding dilemma. How did that law pass?? I’m so grateful to the USPS for delivering my personal and business mail with so few glitches. Many thanks for your post (and the peek at Ana’s letter and A-swag).

  3. Posted by Tom Biederbeck on 03.12.13 at 11:48 am

    Alyson, thanks for giving us this delightful glimpse into the contents of your Post Office box. And thanks for highlighting the real reason for the woes of the USPS—Congress’ outrageous demands, which simply defy logic.

  4. Posted by A Kuhntributor on 03.12.13 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement, Commenters! I am going to send the actual article to Senator Barbara Boxer in Washington, DC – with appropriate theme postage! Then, I will send a fan letter to Jim Hightower, ditto.

  5. Posted by Ana on 03.12.13 at 2:16 pm

    I forgot to tell you the “campaign for real mail” stamps came from Alan Brignull, a letterpress printer and philatelist in England. He can be found on Flickr.

    That swanky orange handbag is holding up quite nicely, my friend!

  6. Posted by Chris Purcell on 03.12.13 at 5:59 pm

    Our own beleaguered postal service is still a great bargain. Our current domestic rate for a 1 oz letter is 46¢.
    The helpful Swiss dude at reminds us that the cost to mail a domestic letter in Germany is 75¢. Now look at a globe — Germany is not that big! They have very good trains, but Germany is smaller than Missouri plus Kansas. Much prettier, yes, but smaller.
    Switzerland has mountains, but it’s half the size of South Carolina. It costs over $1 to mail a first-class letter inside Switzerland.
    Japan, 83¢ per letter. It’s a long archipelago, but from top to bottom it’s about the distance from California to east Texas.
    Mailing a letter from Boston to Honolulu is still 46¢. That’s as far as from Paris to Cape Town, South Africa.
    So there!

  7. Posted by Chris Purcell on 03.12.13 at 6:53 pm

    [note: the Swiss site
    shows postal rates in each country’s own currency, so you need to use your Google converter…]

  8. Posted by Warren Wilkins on 03.13.13 at 10:14 am


    Nice words. Thanks for pushing the Hightower article. Isn’t it hard to believe that the USPS “crisis” is so highly manufactured? You sure wouldn’t think that from following the common discourse.

    BTW: I promise to spell your name correctly on all future valentine envelopes!

  9. Posted by Donovan on 03.13.13 at 10:31 am

    Hi Alyson! I see that Ana already mentioned that the \Campaign for Real Mail\ artistamps are from Alan Brignull. While they aren’t sticky like stickers, they are coated on the back with water-activated adhesive, just like old stamps. Thanks for the post and write more letters!

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