Updated: Nov 5
If there’s a real monster in your mailbox, then you have bigger problems, and you should probably call 911. Also, send pictures.
I’m just here to help the brides, creatives, calligraphers, artists, and correspondence enthusiasts learn the United States mailing process. The goal is to unravel this mystery that is wrapped in an enigma. I also include tips and tricks to make sure your beautiful artwork arrives to its destination and doesn’t become hamster bedding.
First, check out this quick clip of the largest USPS facility sort mail.
Great. Now that you've seen the plethora of mail run through the system, check out the last letter I received:
Example of potential hamster bedding
This is a great example of a recent delivery from a friend that not only arrived two weeks late, but it was so badly eaten by the sorting machine monster that the contents fell out. I only received half of what was supposed to be in the envelope. (Super sad!) Don't let this happen to you.
Tip #1: Get Help
If you are working on your invitations, always take one completed sample to the USPS and have it weighed. You want to make sure that you can get an accurate estimate of how much postage is required per envelope. This will help you determine what kind of stamps you’ll be using. Do not take this step for granted. Also ask the USPS about potentially hand-canceling your invitations. You likely spent a lot of money on beautiful stationery and envelopes. Having the envelopes hand-canceled retains your aesthetic integrity. It is not uncommon for stamp collectors to do this as well to retain the beauty of vintage stamps.
Learn the Postal Operations Manual - aka - POM
All you need to do is search for the term "hand-stamped postmark." This knowledge will help you if you're interested in talking to your local USPS about hand-stamping your mail. Here's a link to the POM. Go to the office prepared!
As of January 2020, the current postage rate is $0.55 for a First-Class Mail® Letter in the United States. A classic Forever Stamp is sufficient for standard mail that is capable of getting through a sorting machine. If your letter is non-machinable, you have to add a “bad envelope penalty” of $0.15. A letter is non-machinable if the writing is illegible, there is a wax seal, or if you’ve included twine, ribbon, or anything bulky on the inside. If you are mailing a thicker envelope such as wedding invitations, you may qualify for the “two ounce” stamp, which is $0.70. Additional ounces require an extra $0.15 per ounce. If you’re mailing a square envelope, use the $0.70 stamp.
Price for one First-Class Mail® Letter with a wax seal (non-machinable): $0.55 + $0.15 = $0.70
Price for one First-Class Mail® Letter that is two ounces plus a wax seal (non-machinable): $0.70
Note: I always add an extra $0.15 to all of my envelopes that use a wax seal. I do this to pay the USPS for their time and care with my mail. Fortunately, I have never had a calligraphed envelope get lost or eaten by the sorting machine or hungry gnomes.
Tip #2: Spacing
Whether you are calligraphing your own invitations or hiring a professional calligrapher, two very important things should be considered. First, you must determine ahead of time what stamps you are going to use. If you are using vintage stamps, this will take up a considerable amount of room than just one two-ounce stamp, for example. This will affect the spacing and placement of the calligraphy. Once you make that decision, notify your calligraphy artist if that’s applicable to you.
Example of proper spacing for vintage stamps and barcode
Next, you need to accommodate room for the sorting machine to print the barcode at the bottom of the envelope. If you (or your calligraphy artist) don’t consider this fine detail, you will likely have the lines going through your calligraphy or artwork. By the way, the barcode is not a bad thing! It’s designed to get your mail to its destination faster and efficiently! Your calligraphy artist should know to accommodate for this, and now you do, too! Even if you have your envelopes hand-canceled it does not guarantee you will not have a barcode at the bottom. If the mail you are sending is meant to be a keepsake, this barcode dilemma is easy to resolve. Simply buy a roll of Scotch ‘removable’ tape like painter’s tape or use washi tape. Apply a thin strip to the bottom of the envelope you send. The barcode will be printed onto the tape and upon receipt, the tape can easily be removed without damage to the envelope.
Example of delivered mail with barcode
Tip #3: Batch Mailing
If all of your mail is stamped and ready, the best way to ensure your mail gets delivered properly is to mail your invitations in batches!
Mail envelopes in batches of 20.
Consider mailing the furthest destinations first. Wait a few days. Mail the closest destinations next. This will allow all envelopes to arrive roughly at the same time.
Consider mailing the batches from a couple of different USPS locations. If you need to send 40 in one day, you can split these up between USPS offices. This is especially helpful if your USPS is hand-canceling your envelopes.
Again, I have never had any of my calligraphed mail ever get lost. I once had an envelope take eight days to arrive to one rural destination, but it arrived in great condition.
Here's the modern version and explanation of how the machines read handwriting and create barcodes.
You officially have a full understanding of how the USPS processes mail! If it wasn't clear before, it should be noted that snail mail is alive and well! There is a tremendous sub-culture of artists promoting a snail mail revolution with pen-pals all over the world. IAMPETH even produces an annual envelope exchange, promoting community through calligraphy. The mighty envelope is the perfect canvas.
I hope this post has helped unravel the mystery of the United States Postal Service! If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please leave them below. We'd love to hear from you!