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November 12, 2008 2:29 AM   Subscribe

What happens if you post a letter using coins instead of stamps?
posted by divabat (49 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
If that was international they would charge you more for the extra weight... omg infinity postage loop!
posted by gomichild at 2:36 AM on November 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Back in the good old days when I actually sent real letters I did this from time to time, just didn't have stamps and wanted to put the letter in the mail. They always arrived. I never thought to add money for a tip, though.
posted by Forktine at 2:42 AM on November 12, 2008


For those too cheap to shell out a few coins, you can always switch the destination address with the return address and drop it into any public mailbox without a stamp - the letter is then "returned" for insufficient postage. My friends and I in middle school used to think this was pretty damn thrilling to cheat the federal government in this way, although I secretly worried about being caught, and sent to prison.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:51 AM on November 12, 2008 [8 favorites]


Thanks to this experiment your letter probably jammed the automatic sorter meaning the post office had to handle the letter manually, resulting in a financial loss just because you thought it would be "neat" to see if this would work.

And I noticed the merry prankster had time to collect the change, find the tape to attach it to the envelope, take a photo of his buddy Theodore (Theodore!?) at the post office, and create a web page, yet he wrote on the envelope that he "didn't have time to buy a stamp."

Yes, I get cranky when I see such great effort expended by people wasting other people's time.

And get off of my lawn!
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:11 AM on November 12, 2008 [11 favorites]


I am compelled to share this scientific experiment published in the Annals of Improbable Research, Volume 6, Issue 4:

Postal Experiments
by Jeff Van Bueren San Francisco, California
Having long been genuine admirers of the United States Postal Service (USPS), which gives amazingly reliable service especially compared with many other countries, our team of investigators decided to test the delivery limits of this immense system. We knew that an item, say, a saucepan, normally would be in a package because of USPS concerns of entanglement in their automated machinery. But what if the item were not wrapped? How patient are postal employees? How honest? How sentimental? In short, how eccentric a behavior on the part of the sender would still result in successful mail delivery?
http://improbable.com/airchives/paperair/volume6/v6i4/postal-6-4.html

A personal favorite: "Molar tooth. Mailed in clear plastic box. Made a nice rattling sound. Repackaged in padded mailer by unknown individual; the postage and address had been transferred to the outside of the new packaging. A handwritten note in a woman's writing inside read, 'Please be advised that human remains may not be transported through the mail, but we assumed this to be of sentimental value, and made an exception in your case.' Days to delivery, 14."
posted by sdodd at 3:11 AM on November 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


The postal service in the US is the most extraordinary service hidden in plain sight, with an efficiency and willingness to accommodate that is not shared by any of the more expensive shipping companies. Yeah, the part-time mailpersons sometimes stick other people's mail through my mail slot, but dammit it's on time.
posted by Peach at 3:26 AM on November 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


I did this when I was little, and a stamp was only a quarter, so I thought it would be reasonable to tape the quarter to the corner of the envelope. I put it in the mailbox for the postman to collect, but it just sat there.

My favorite gaming of the postal system was a letter to MAD magazine, sent from New Zealand, with nothing but a picture of Alfred E. Neuman pasted on the front. It got there.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:46 AM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


For those too cheap to shell out a few coins, you can always switch the destination address with the return address and drop it into any public mailbox without a stamp - the letter is then "returned" for insufficient postage. My friends and I in middle school used to think this was pretty damn thrilling to cheat the federal government in this way, although I secretly worried about being caught, and sent to prison.

My friend, who is working for AmeriCorp and is pretty poor, tried this trick. It completely backfired, as the letter was from and to local Portland, OR addresses, so they just went ahead and sent it, ignoring the fact that there was no stamp, back to my friend.
posted by Mach5 at 3:56 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Answer: The postman gets 43ยข richer.
posted by gman at 3:58 AM on November 12, 2008


It completely backfired, as the letter was from and to local Portland, OR addresses, so they just went ahead and sent it, ignoring the fact that there was no stamp, back to my friend.

Ah, that's a shame. The farthest I've been able to make this reach is between Maryland and Massachusetts. Once tried it to Californai, but the letter vanished.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:00 AM on November 12, 2008


Best of Wired's Return to Sender contest.

The rules called for readers to send us any mailable object; if it came in an envelope or a box, it was disqualified

Who knew you could write an address on a pink flamingo and throw it in the mail?
posted by clearly at 4:20 AM on November 12, 2008


I think I fudged the link above... damnit.

Return to Sender
posted by clearly at 4:22 AM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


This stunt reminds me of the time Johnny Carson inscribed a check on the body of a girl in a bikini, and took her to a bank for deposit and processing. It turns out that you can write a check on any object or surface, as long as the necessary information is written there. The bank went on to process the girl as if she were a printed check -- returning her cancelled to the very amused talk show host and his staff.
posted by Faze at 4:24 AM on November 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


An old Jay Leno joke: "people are always complaining about the postal service; I tell you what, I'l give you 39 cents and *you* carry this letter to Florida for me, okay?"

Seemed apropos. (I think the original joke had a lower amount, since this was years ago.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:34 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have a huge respect for the USPS, in part because my dad worked for them in various capacties, including carrier, for years. I've also loved for years the Improbable Research link that sdodd linked above.

All that said, it's pretty hilarious that someone in the Postal Service ripped off the section of the envelope that mentioned the tip to make it "damaged" enough to stick in the damaged-letter mailer, likely pocketing a cool nickel as intended.
posted by The Michael The at 4:44 AM on November 12, 2008


I read a true account of someone else who legitimately tried doing this because they legitimately were desperate and didn't have a stamp, and the post office was closed -- they taped the change to the envelope and wrote next to it, "Please?"

Their friend received the mail, and saved it to show to them -- the change was gone and a stamp affixed, and another note was written on the envelope -- "Okay, but just this once."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:46 AM on November 12, 2008 [13 favorites]


Go postal!

That's it... that does it... damn coins on an envelope again. Aaaaargh!
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:53 AM on November 12, 2008


ha. i used to send cans of stroh's affixed with postage and labels. never had a problem.
posted by lester at 5:37 AM on November 12, 2008


The LL Bean flagship store in Maine used to have a large display of memorabilia in its foyer. It may still. I haven't been in a long time.

Among the old ads and outdoorsmen testimonials, they included a piece of correspondence that illustrated (much like the MAD Magazine stunt that Countess Elena mentions above) the far-reaching popularity of the mail-order company.

The object in question was an order from the 1920s or 30s (judging from the handwriting) which had been addressed "L.L. Bean, Somewhere in Maine." The letter was indeed delivered, with a helpful postal worker's note scrawled on the side: "Try Freeport."

The note may have been intended as a hint for the mail sorters but after delivery it comes off as a wry bit of Yankee snark, identifiably so by its brevity.
posted by Spatch at 6:05 AM on November 12, 2008


Did you hear the one about the unstamped letter?

You wouldn't get it.
posted by netbros at 6:18 AM on November 12, 2008 [8 favorites]


This is an interesting experiment, but I can't imagine any postal employee is going to be motivated to pull all those coins out from the tape, especially when the envelope is likely to tear. I can hear it now, "They don't pay me to do this," and I have to agree. If I ever had to do this I'd staple a little pouch or dime bag (with coins, ahem) to the envelope.
posted by crapmatic at 6:28 AM on November 12, 2008


I used regularly do this, as I grew up on what was then called a Rural Route in the sticks of Tennessee. My address was actually: Mr. One Fish, RR 42, Podunk, TN 34567, the RR designating the carrier number of the rural route, although according to the wiki link above some routes had box numbers. You'd leave the letters in your mailbox at the end of your long dirt driveway and a pile of change, and the rural carrier would stamp the letters for you, apparently to save you the trouble of hitching up your mule and heading into town.

I was quite disappointed when I tried this at my grandmother's house in a decent sized town and the mail carrier left a note implying that the post office was just down the street, and I could go myself much more quickly.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:42 AM on November 12, 2008


Arg, this reminds me of a book, whose title I can't remember. It consisted entirely of pictures of envelopes that someone had mailed through the British postal system to one address. In EVERY case, instead of writing out the address, they found some crazy way of describing where the house was. There was a map, or a drawing of the house, or a rebus, or a crossword puzzle meant to be filled in with the address. I'm sure at a certain point whenever the postal workers saw an artistic or just weird looking envelope come through, they just sighed and tossed it into the pile for that house.

Even though the person that did that experiment was borderline sadistic to the postal worker who had to figure out the address, they still paid the damn postage with a stamp.
posted by piratebowling at 6:48 AM on November 12, 2008


This the thing piratebowling?
posted by mandal at 7:09 AM on November 12, 2008


@piratebowling: MeFi post on that experiment.
posted by beagle at 7:15 AM on November 12, 2008


When we moved to the island here in 2001, we lived at 73 Upper A St. from September to January. Four months, total. That was two addresses and seven years ago, and the postal service still delivers mail to me (correctly, I mean, at my current house) that is addressed to me at 73 Upper A St.

So I'd like to join in the praise of the USPS. They seem to have grown themselves a very strong organizational culture of "just get the job done," and it's appreciated.
posted by rusty at 7:16 AM on November 12, 2008


So the mail carrier took their tip (must be pretty hard up for nickels), but left the money that was supposed to actually pay for the postage? Strange...

Anyway, this is cute. Thanks for sharing.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:20 AM on November 12, 2008


I dropped a rent check off in the landlord's mailbox in an envelope that only said "Rent" on the front. I wasn't sending it anywhere, so no stamp of course.

I was surprised when they called to say they never got the check. Confused, I canceled the check, assuming someone stole it. About a week later my mom called and said an envelope with a check arrived.

I hadn't sealed the envelope, and the check inside had my old address, my parent's house. The mail carrier must have not known what to do with it and sent it to the place with the check's address, another state over.

We joked that if you ever want to mail something for free just write something random on the front with no postage and the address on a check on the inside.
posted by starman at 7:39 AM on November 12, 2008


I grew up in a rural area where everybody knew our postal carrier. I did this all the time when I didn't have stamps, but I'd use just a bit of scotch tape so that the coins could be removed. Never lost a letter.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:42 AM on November 12, 2008


This made failblog.com. Guess it wasn't a fail.

During the "Floods of '93" (Iowa), I got a lot of mail in those envelopes. Usually wet, dirty, and stinking. A lot went right to the trash in the same envelope.

This is pretty dumb. But then I like doing dumb things with mail.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:42 AM on November 12, 2008


So the mail carrier took their tip (must be pretty hard up for nickels), but left the money that was supposed to actually pay for the postage? Strange...

No, the stupid heavy corner, weighted by the nickel, flopped around and got caught in an assembly-line sorting machine, jamming it for 10 minutes while workers cursed. Then a human being intervened, repackaged the stupid letter, and mailed it as intended. They either didn't notice there was no real postage attached (they maybe assumed someone was mailing money), or after the hassle with the machine jamming, they didn't really care and just forwarded it anyway with the form letter apology thing.

The money was irrelevant. They could have used washers to achieve this result.

This is a definite fail, but not on the post office's part.
posted by rokusan at 7:52 AM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Related: Mother gets mail three decades late
posted by rusty at 7:53 AM on November 12, 2008


The postal service is a pretty amazing value if you think about it. Many of the letter carriers (especially in their first 18 months or so, before they become "regular") work incredibly hard, often 9 to 11 hours a day, six days a week, it's incredibly physically demanding work, can be dangerous depending on the neighborhood and while it pays well for what it is essentially a service/labor job it really takes it out of a person. Be nice to your letter carrier.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:06 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


That is really unimaginative and douchey. It's like a high school kid putting a cherry bomb in a toilet as a "janitor experiment." If you're going to purposely waste people's time, at least be a little more creative.
posted by zekinskia at 8:10 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


For some reason, this reminded of the instructions for sending a brick to junk-mailers via their postage-paid envelopes.
posted by sidartha at 8:24 AM on November 12, 2008


mandal and beagle, yes! I guess the book is called envelopes by Harriet Russell. Done in 2005, but that article wasn't written until this past year. Curious.
posted by piratebowling at 9:17 AM on November 12, 2008


Good post.
posted by gman at 9:21 AM on November 12, 2008


The Michael The writes "All that said, it's pretty hilarious that someone in the Postal Service ripped off the section of the envelope that mentioned the tip to make it 'damaged' enough to stick in the damaged-letter mailer, likely pocketing a cool nickel as intended."

More likely, considering the other coins were left, is the damaged mail envelope wasn't used ironically and instead the nickel got caught in a sorting machine somewhere and because the tape used to hold it reinforced the corner of the envelope the entire corner got ripped off. Notice that the ripped corner extends to where the tape in the other corner starts.
posted by Mitheral at 9:33 AM on November 12, 2008


Not to be a wet blanket, but

1) I'm pretty sure Federal law requires all postal carriers to have stamps on them to sell to folks who may need them, like shut-ins.

2) I think if you try the "return address" gaff, the letter will come to that address with postage due.

3) And yeah, the bottom corner of that letter was just torn loose in the sorting machine.

Meh.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 11:06 AM on November 12, 2008


I think if you try the "return address" gaff, the letter will come to that address with postage due.

In my experience, it's "returned" to the "sender". Maybe it depends on who's picked it up, but I've sent 5 letters from Baltimore to Boston in this fashion. I still don't know what happened to the one with the California return address. 20 years later, and it's still bugging me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:12 AM on November 12, 2008


I would just like to say that US Priority Mail is one of the absolute best tools a small business can have. It's inexpensive, they bring you the boxes, they have database integration that lets you hook your ecommerce cart up so that your cart will calculate postage based on weight. I love my USPS.

That said; I hate going to the actual post office, because it is a strange and surreal place filled with character studies from Fellini movies and cheap westerns. But then, I live in a very strange place.
posted by dejah420 at 11:39 AM on November 12, 2008


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing - I think your experience is how they did it in the past, but now they just bring it to the "return address" with postage due. I'm pretty sure that's what the PO does nowadays, but maybe I'll try it and see what happens.

Also, I'm almost certain this was in STEAL THIS BOOK by Abbie Hoffman, and the PO got tired of all the snickering hippies getting free mail, but I could very well be wrong.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 1:59 PM on November 12, 2008


I think your experience is how they did it in the past, but now they just bring it to the "return address" with postage due. I'm pretty sure that's what the PO does nowadays, but maybe I'll try it and see what happens.

Also, I'm almost certain this was in STEAL THIS BOOK by Abbie Hoffman, and the PO got tired of all the snickering hippies getting free mail, but I could very well be wrong.


Well no, you can't abuse it. The five times I did it between Baltimore and Boston were spaced out over a couple years. If you try sending mail like this, from the same person and to the same person, on a weekly or maybe even monthly basis, someone's going to catch on.

On the other hand, this was indeed years ago. The party might very well be over. Please do try it out, though, and let me know what happened.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:34 PM on November 12, 2008


And you wonder why postal workers shoot people.

I wouldn't want someone to fuck with my job and waste my time. I don't understand why this is cool.
posted by desjardins at 2:43 PM on November 12, 2008


I also used Marisa's Precious Prank method when I was a kid (Midwest), and thought it was the coolest thing ever, and yes it certainly worked.

But when I tried it again just a few years ago (East Coast) to see if it still worked, it was "delivered" back to me with postage-due, and I had to pay to get it back. Irony, justice and a fine all at the same time: quite effective really.
posted by rokusan at 3:49 PM on November 12, 2008


Did you hear the one about the unstamped letter?

You wouldn't get it.


This joke is all about the delivery.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 5:30 PM on November 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


I did this a few times and it worked, but that was back when a stamp cost a quarter.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 6:59 PM on November 12, 2008


I wish my postal carrier (in Bushwick, Brooklyn) was the sort to do rebuses and stuff, and that my post office was intrepid. But they refuse to pay attention to who lives in the building, and have stopped sorting the mail at all. They just dump it on the step to get rained on. Boo. And they refuse to pick up the "Return to Sender" mail we put out. My neighbor once chased the previous carrier down the street with it, and she still refused.

Also--where's my walking stick? (mailed from LA). No amusing anecdotes from me, nosir. Nor rain nor sleet nor snow, my ass.

/grump
posted by flotson at 7:04 PM on November 12, 2008


I wish my postal carrier (in Bushwick, Brooklyn) was the sort to do rebuses and stuff, and that my post office was intrepid. But they refuse to pay attention to who lives in the building, and have stopped sorting the mail at all. They just dump it on the step to get rained on. Boo. And they refuse to pick up the "Return to Sender" mail we put out. My neighbor once chased the previous carrier down the street with it, and she still refused.

Jesus, what is it about Brooklyn post offices? Postal carriers from our post office in Clinton Hill has done the following:

* returned a CORRECTLY-addressed envelope to sender because there was "no such address" (the missing mail was my old roommate's jury summons, and she was actually fined)

* lost three international packages from my old roommate's fiance in Brisbane

* left a package slip for the building next door in my building instead

* REPLACED the mis-delivered, "return to sender" mail we've left for her back INTO our boxes, and wrote notes on the envelopes scolding us for being litterbugs

* when I called her on the above, claiming that she was defacing mail, arguing that she had the right to do that because "the mail is my property until you pick it up, so I can do what I want with it"

* delivering a package for me to a completely different part of the city, at a completely different zip code, a completely different street, and a completely different street number

What is it about Brooklyn?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:58 PM on November 12, 2008


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