Tag Archives: envelope

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/

Return to Sender

Each month we present an item from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Bettina Trabant, the curator who worked on Bruce Castle’s postal history collection, chooses one of her favourite items…

As a qualified Curator I have worked in a variety of national, independent and specialist museums before coming to Bruce Castle. Prior to starting as Postal Heritage Officer, I wasn’t very aware of postal history at all. I had collected stamps as a child, but that hobby didn’t last very long as I only knew one other stamp collector, a boy from my school whom I didn’t like at all.

Since working at Bruce Castle I have developed a fascination for postal history and discovered the wide variety of topics that fall under its banner. Roads and travelling, art and design, labour history, military history, telephones, letter writing and Christmas are only some of the many themes.

Over the years the postal service has served as inspiration to artist, poets and musicians. Most notably Elvis Presley’s: ‘Return to Sender’ which became an instant hit.

A misaddressed airmail letter from 1941

A misaddressed airmail letter from 1941

Here at Bruce Castle we hold a large number of wrongly or strangely addressed envelopes and many bearing the ‘Return to Sender’ stamp. We have several envelopes that show a picture rather than a written address, including one of a large bull. Letters addressed solely to a town without a street are also very common.

The Post Office had a special section called ‘Dead Letter Office’ where it dealt with post that could not be delivered. Postal workers had to be very resourceful at times which caused the Post Office to produce a poster campaign advertising clear and correct addressing.