Letters about mail

March 1, 2009

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

In the 1863 United States, postal rates were standardized, meaning a letter could be mailed anywhere in the country for the same price. Twenty years later, and again in 1885, rates were reduced — as in rate decreases. The price of a stamp went down three times in a quarter-century.

It only made sense, the postmaster general explained, as ever increasing volumes of mail could only result in efficiencies from economies of scale.

At my printing company, we send customized marketing packets to prospects after we make initial contact. We include some combination of a personal letter, various Copresco publications, samples, case histories and technical materials.

Depending upon size and weight, we used to dispatch these packets by either First Class mail or United Parcel Service.

Some years ago, I stumbled upon USPS Flat Rate Priority Mail envelopes. These large chipboard mailers look like overnight packages, and at current rates they cost $4.95 each to mail, no matter how much or how little they contain.

This is more than First Class mail or UPS ground, but the package looks important and makes the same impact as an overnight package for much less money.

A while back, a package was returned to me one year after I mailed it out. Though properly addressed, it was marked undeliverable. The address was in the midwestern United States, but the markings on the envelope clearly showed that it had spent considerable time visiting a military base in Asia.

Print fan

Thanks to Paul Peterson of Moran Printing (Baton Rouge, LA) for this letter:

“I just read Johnson's World in American Printer magazine. I must agree with you that ink on paper is the best way to emphasize the importance of a letter. Nothing says it better than a high quality letter on fine stationery, personally signed by the author.

“In a former life as a certified public accountant, I have written many a letter to my senator or representative about a tax matter of importance to my clients. Most of the time the response from the legislators' office was made by a clerk or assistant, but sometimes we got that personal touch from the elected official.

“A personal letter still has power of communication on a formal level. Emails are just too loose in structure, and for permanent storage in a file folder, you still have to print the darn things out.

“I remember when we would get mail delivered twice a day in downtown Baton Rouge. That could mean local mail delivered the same day and a response early the next day. That was 35 years ago. Boy have we made progress.”

Government inaction

Yes, in a generation we have moved from twice daily mail delivery to Postmaster General John Potter petitioning Congress to allow suspension of Saturday (or perhaps Wednesday) mail delivery.

The suspension would be “temporary” but “could last years,” which sounds permanent to me. The Postmaster General later said that five-day-per-week delivery was a “worst case scenario.” Past experience indicates that the worst case only gets worse.

I find it ironic that Benjamin Franklin, the patron saint of printers, also lays claim to being our nation's first Postmaster General, appointed by the 2nd Continental Congress in 1775.

In 1911 the United States Post Office began the Postal Savings System, with guaranteed savings and a fixed interest rate of 2% on deposits of up to $2,500. This program really took in the 1930s, when many people lost faith in private banks during the Great Depression. Another advantage: post offices were open 10 hours per day, six days per week, while banks kept their infamous “banker's hours.”

The programs declined in popularity when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was created to allow banks to offer the same savings guarantee as the Postal System. Postal Savings was discontinued in 1966.

I dedicate the following story to everyone who is counting on our government to solve their problems.

The headline from the Associated Press was “Postal Service fixes long waits by removing clocks.”

“It's always long here,” the story quoted a patron waiting in line at a Fort Worth Texas Post Office as saying.

Apparently 37,000 post offices have had clocks removed from retail areas as part of a “retail standardization program” designed to give the public service areas a more uniform appearance, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“We want people to focus on postal service and not the clock,” said a spokesman for the USPS in Dallas.

An independent blog on postal issues

“Mr. Deadtree” promises “insights, analysis, practical advice, and smartaleck comments” on publication production and distribution. The anonymous blogger has written an unofficial guide to Flat Sequence Sortation (FSS) and also offers his take on proposed USPS service cutbacks and mail piece standards. See www.deadtreeedition.blogspot.com.