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The International Reply Coupon
October 23, 2008 12:06 AM   Subscribe

"When one writes to a stranger and requests a reply, it is considered polite to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. This works well when both persons live in the same country; however, if they are from different countries, the enclosed postage stamp will not be valid." The solution, introduced in 1906, was the international reply coupon. Like nearly everything else stamps-related, they are collectible. Brought to you by the Universal Postal Union.

In the US, for the low price of $2.10 [as of posting date] you can get your hands on one of these beauties, which on the back reads "This coupon is exchangeable in any country of the Universal Postal Union for for the minimum postage for an unregistered priority item or an unregistered letter sent by air to a foreign country." in a variety of languages including Arabic and Chinese (the obverse is entirely in French).

Their use, at least in the United States, is relatively rare and this occasionally causes problems when they are needed.

Interesting historic side note: they were the inspiration for the first Ponzi scheme.
posted by Deathalicious (17 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
You have written your post and I, a complete stranger, have read it. However you have not enclosed a reply coupon. Therefore I cannot comment on your post.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:52 AM on October 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Hate these things.

I'm sure they're fabulously useful for sending SASEs to individuals, but for sending them to companies? DO NOT WANT.

To redeem them, you have to go to the post office. This is no good if your intended recipient has their mail collected direct from the office. if you send an IRC, then you're making them run an errand in order to reply to unsolicited mail.

Those writers in the sixth link submitting to poetry journals using IRCs should do something else. You can buy foreign stamps online for plenty of countries and if you often submit your work to foreign markets it's worth having a sheet or two on hand. At a pinch, I would prefer the writers to give their email address and explain why they were unable to provide a SASE. Quicker and easier all around.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:34 AM on October 23, 2008


Email should make almost all of these stamps obsolete, which, from the point of view of the collector, is a depressing thought.

When I was a child I had a stamp collection which I enjoyed very much. Lately I've tried to recapture the joy of addressed and stamped envelopes by collecting email headers. Here is one from my collection:

Received: by twoleftfeet (mbox twoleftfeet) (with Darzig Thor's darthor (v1.31 1998/05/13) Wed Aug 20 19:41:38 2003)
X-From_: admin@example.com Wed Aug 20 19:40:22 2003
Return-Path: admin@example.com
Received: from psmtp.com (exprod5mx37.postini.com [12.158.34.194]) by leftfeet.git.net (8.12.3/8.12.3/Debian-6.3) with SMTP id for ; Wed, 20 Aug 2003 19:40:05 -0700
Message-Id: <2>
Received: from source ([69.9.251.177]) by ziggystar.tinkywinky.com ([12.158.34.245]) with SMTP; Wed, 20 Aug 2003 21:40:05 CDT
From: admin@example.com


But it's really not the same.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:03 AM on October 23, 2008 [9 favorites]


You have written your post and I, a complete stranger, have read it. However you have not enclosed a reply coupon. Therefore I cannot comment on your post.

But...you just did! How did the coupon get through the interwebs?
posted by wei at 2:21 AM on October 23, 2008


I'm sure they're fabulously useful for sending SASEs to individuals, but for sending them to companies? DO NOT WANT.

They're not SASEs. They *fix* SASEs, in the case of you mailing across borders. Theoretically, you could find out what the airmail rate is and get the correct foreign postage, but

As to the foreign corporate case? There's no good answer.

1) SASE: Useless to the corporation, the stamps aren't valid.

2) Cash, theirs: Accounting nightmare, PITA petty cash issue, security risk.

3) Cash, yours: 2+ exchange time and costs.

4) No prepaid-return: Cost to corporation to reply.

IRUs are a pretty functional answer in most cases. "Email" would seem to be the right answer, but there are cases where actual paper needs/is desired to be exchange. Amateur Radio QSL* cards leap to mind.


*Contact confirmation. In the Q code, used in radio message traffic years ago, "QSL?" means "Can you acknowledge receipt?" and the answer "QSL" meant "I am confirming receipt." Now, Hams, after a contact, will exchange QSL cards as proof of the contact. They use these to prove eligibility for various awards.
posted by eriko at 2:36 AM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


did the coupon get through the interwebs?

I was on my way to the post office to redeem the coupon for the appropriate brightly colored postal stamp for my home country when suddenly there appeared packet switched networking solutions leading to a protocol for inter-networking, where multiple different networks could be joined together into a super-framework of networks and ultimately an Internet protocol suite.

In all the excitement I forgot about how much it would cost me to reply to the message.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:42 AM on October 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Obviously what's needed is an actual universal stamp, accepted by all postal authorities and denominated not in money but in terms of service (ie good for one international letter/package of x weight).

I really don't know why the UN doesn't sort this out instead of pissing about trying to end genocide, wars and famine and stuff.
posted by Phanx at 3:21 AM on October 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Back in the zine days, IRC meant international reply coupon and everyone knew it. And getting / sending an IRC was a delight, part of the secret society. Now I just spend my days telling those kids to get off my damn e-lawn.
posted by eccnineten at 6:50 AM on October 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


"They're not SASEs. They *fix* SASEs."

Sorry, that should have read SAEs, not SASEs.

Maybe this is only a problem in my field. Googling for "Do not accept International Reply Coupons" and similar phrases comes up with businesses which are all likely to be constantly receiving large quantities of unsolicited creative writing submissions

Using IRCs also made one agent's list of "Five things you can do to fuck up your query letter, right now!" (It clocked in at number two, making it a greater sin than getting the agent's name wrong.)

I'll respond to all writers, regardless of how they cover postage on their SAEs, but the level of goodwill you can inspire by buying foreign stamps versus the level of resentment you can cause with IRCs can make a real difference in a ridiculously competitive industry.
posted by the latin mouse at 7:16 AM on October 23, 2008


I collect mail headers.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:24 AM on October 23, 2008


You can buy foreign stamps online for plenty of countries

You can't order stamps online from the USPS and have them shipped outside the United States.
You can't order stamps online from Canada Post and have them shipped outside Canada.
posted by oaf at 7:37 AM on October 23, 2008


I love mail. Not just getting mail, but the Idea of Mail: armies of men and women in wool pants circling the globe, handing out pottery catalogs, door to door. I had no idea there was such an entity as the Universal Postal Union (though if I had bothered to think about it, it would have been obvious). Check out the UPU monument in Berne. A shadowy, underworld cabal if ever there was one. Someone remind me next October to FPP the UPU and World Post Day.
posted by steef at 7:42 AM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I encountered that coupon for the very first time this year. I work for a theater company and run a playwriting contest every year. We send all entrants notification of winners/finalists/etc. via email, but also say that we can send a hard copy if you send a SASE. Most international entrants go with email, but one guy in Australia sent us a SAE and that coupon.

I tried to redeem it, but the clerk at my local post office had to call over two supervisors, and after all three studied it for five minutes, they finally handed it back and told me they couldn't accept it because they didn't know how.

I didn't quite know who to be frustrated at in that situation; but I just chalked it up to "I made my best effort" and had to chuck the envelope. So, sorry to whoever this was in Australia.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 AM on October 23, 2008


I just love saying "SASE". Send it to ZOOM!
posted by not_on_display at 8:37 AM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


"You can't order stamps online from the USPS and have them shipped outside the United States."

Of course you ca...

Hmm, make that you used to be able to.

If anybody needs me, I'll be over at USPS.com disgruntling some postal workers.
posted by the latin mouse at 12:42 PM on October 23, 2008


...the Idea of Mail: armies of men and women in wool pants circling the globe, handing out pottery catalogs, door to door.

Did you mean 'Pottery Barn?' Anyway, I like mail, too. It's even better when they deliver it by bike.
posted by fixedgear at 2:19 PM on October 23, 2008


I suddenly want a unicode symbol of a muted horn.
posted by exogenous at 9:48 AM on October 24, 2008


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