Puzzles for Postmen

James Addison is a graphic designer currently living and working in Poole, England. In this guest post, he shares his hobby of sending peculiar addresses through the post.

Sending peculiar post has been a hobby of mine for many years. The thrill of receiving a handwritten letter or postcard really cannot be emulated by a stark and cold email. From the feel of the paper to the indentations caused when putting pen to paper; there is a sort of chemistry when you receive a physical message that feels incredibly personal. However, it’s even better when you realise and appreciate the effort it has taken to deliver that message.

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I grew up in a very leafy village in Buckinghamshire and we had a postman there called Frank who was, in my opinion, incredibly efficient. Letters would be delivered exactly at the same time every day; he knew the area inside out and he was rarely late. It was at this point that I thought I could set him a challenge, an opportunity to test both his and the sorting office’s detective skills. I started first with an envelope sent to my home address with a hand-drawn map and a drop pin as to where it should be delivered. To my disbelief the letter was delivered back the very next day (with only a second-class stamp) and so started a project spanning over 5–6 years where I would occasionally send the odd puzzle to see if it would make its way home.

Knowing of my little hobby, my parent’s bought me a book titled ‘Envelopes’ by illustrator Harriet Russell. She had a very similar project back in 1999 where she sent 130 cryptic envelopes to her home in Glasgow. This book has been of great inspiration to me over the years and has fueled my passion for all things postal.

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Unlike Russell’s prolific efforts, I have only sent twenty to thirty different envelopes of this sort. From poems and Morse code to drawing a building’s façade, only two have failed to reach their intended destination. These were an envelope with just my name and a print-out of a google map but the drop pin was slightly in the wrong place. – I’m not surprised those two didn’t make it.

I have always had a huge amount of admiration for the postal service from a very young age but after delivering my letters so successfully I have nothing but huge respect for their workforce. People do think of it as a huge well-oiled machine (which it is) but what I have discovered is that it has a very human spirit. A company with a personality is far more interesting than the faceless corporates we so often see. This is embodied in the way that the envelopes come back to me so often with smiley faces or penned scribbles from the sorting office. – A great personal touch.

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By far the best response was an envelope that read: ‘Dear Royal Mail, Please choose one of the following people who most deserves this envelope.’ Then underneath were three different friend’s addresses with a small biography about each one. Remarkably, when one of my friends finally received the letter it had a whole conversation scrawled across the front as it traversed the country. ‘No, this one…’ ‘No, no this guy’ it read. The chosen friend had a giant heart drawn around his head in pink crayon. Brilliant.

Puzzles for Postmen from James Addison.

I have since decided to give my local sorting office a break and have stopped sending cryptic mail for now in favour of clearly marked addresses. However, this small project has definitely proven that we have one of the best postal services in the world. No other mail company would embrace poorly labelled envelopes with such eccentricity and commitment to deliver everything that comes their way.

For more information about my project please visit: http://www.jamesaddison.co.uk/#/puzzles-for-postmen/

One response to “Puzzles for Postmen

  1. hmm — sounds like a modern day Robert Ripley ! Back in the 1930’s at the height of his popularity , Ripley received a million letters in one week ! He too had ” puzzle” addresses sent to him , some written in dead languages such as Runic , other symbols etc. The USPS had to finally issue a decree that sorting room staff were” spending too much time trying to decipher freak letters intended for Ripley ” You ain’t got nuttin’ on Robert Ripley , Believe it or not !!

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