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Advice On Mailing Tapes etc.

by Mary Creasey (

Reprinted with permission.

Subject: Advice on mailing tapes etc.
Date: Wed, 22 Nov 95 16:09:46 -0500
Organization: Delphi ( email, 800-695-4005 voice)
Lines: 119

Greetings, all...

Judging by some of my recent mail (you know who you are!) I guess it's time for my annual post on safely mailing our good stuff...

As fen, we mail tapes and books to each other, and this time of year, holiday cards and presents flow freely. I hope to help you avoid the worst pitfalls of our heavily-automated postal system.

Credentials: 23 years in the U.S. Postal Service; 10 in mail sorting, 13 in maintenance of postal machinery. I have seen almost every possible way that mail can fall afoul of our machines. I am also a filk music dealer [Random Factors]; I have six years of experience in storing, mailing and packaging fragile tapes, CDs and DarwinFish.

Disclaimer: This is not an official statement of the US Postal Service, although parts of it have been derived FROM such official statements. The advice contained herein is strictly my own.

First: do not EVER mail hard objects (such as tapes or coins) in plain paper envelopes! This is an invitation to have the object rip through the paper and fall out. Tapes are fragile objects and need a little basic protection. Use padded mailers, or small boxes; and use the tape box as well. I've long since lost count of the keys, coins, jewelry, pens and other objects I've had to pull out of the machines --often with no guide as to which envelope they went with. (The all- time winner, BTW, was the time I found a gold tooth...) Most of our
machines for letter mail are designed around pinch rollers and belts against wheels; non-flexible items catch and jam.

Subset of First: Please don't put candies in paper envelopes. They not only tear the envelopes and fall out, they are sticky and jam in the machine--making a mess. (Chocolate has a tendency to melt in strange places...) Use non-crushable boxes.

Second: When you mail your holiday cards (or other fancy letter mail)--please don't use sealing wax. It looks great, but when it goes through the machines, it cracks between the rollers (the wax is very brittle) and falls off. If you DO want to send a fancy-sealed note, wrap it well in paper, and put it into an envelope large enough so that it is more than 1/4" thick; it will then get kicked out by the machine and handled as a small parcel (canceled by hand). (Cancellation is putting the postmark on the stamp.) You decide if it's worth the extra postage.

Third: Wrap your parcels well. Use enough padding for what's inside, and enough good-quality packaging tape (not ordinary cellophane tape) to hold it together. Use sturdy corrugated cardboard boxes or plastic cases, not shoeboxes. Never tie the package with string; that isn't accepted in US Mail because it catches on conveyors and in machines. (I don't know other countries' mailing requirements, but most large countries' postal systems are mechanized.)

And in re padded envelopes: tape AND staple the ends; folded over is best. If they are of the self-stick type, use tape as well. Put the tape over the staples; the postal clerks will be glad for a package that doesn't give staple gouges.

Fourth: In re floppy disks--use disk mailers if you can; they are good protection (foil-lined against magnetic fields, stiff cardboard sides). They are more likely to get culled out of the mailstream as non-machineable and to be sorted by hand.

Fifth: Put your name (and the addressee's) both inside the package and on the outside; attached to the object is best. In case the machinery DOES get hungry for a munchie and gets your mail, you will be more likely to get it back. We have a whole set of special clerks (called nixie clerks) whose job it is to reunite mail fragments with their owners (and if possible, with each other...can you say "jigsaw puzzles"?).

Subset thereof: PLEASE write neatly; I have seen many instances of missent mail simply because a clerk could not read the handwriting. Use the correct ZIP code (or Post Code) as well. If you don't know, call your Post Office; don't guess. Mail is mostly sorted BY ZIP Code these days, and a machine programmed to read only the ZIP Code (or a bar code derived therefrom) often cannot tell if it matches the mailpiece or not. A no-code mailpiece will be examined more closely (and the code looked up) than a plausible wrong code.

Sixth: Use the correct amount of postage; if there is not enough (especially in international mail) it will be returned for more postage. Every post office has a rate schedule available; keep one on hand, especially if you mail to foreign countries (and I include Canada; it and Mexico are a separate rate schedule). A small postage scale is nice to have, too; Pelouze, for one, makes several types with the domestic rates on the face, and the face can be changed if the rates do. (I have a one-pound scale on which I've changed the face about five times.) Make sure your stamps are stuck on well; on boxes and padded bags, I try to leave a bare space on the cardboard on which to stick the stamps, rather than on the packing tape; they stick better that way, and are less likely to come off. On letters, put the stamps on the correct corner; I see more mail delayed for needless hand-stamping because the stamp was in the middle of the envelope or on the left upper corner instead of the right one. Also on foreign packages: put on the correct Customs sticker.

Also in re stick-ons: for the return address, use a name stamper, rather than a label; many of the charity labels are poorly supplied with glue. If you use address labels, use decent ones that will stay on. If you have bar-coding capability, use it; many mailing-label programs these days will put the bar code on the label for you. If you do this (or if you use typed labels, or type your envelopes), mail your letters in the section for typed mail (if available); that can minimize the number of machines they must pass through. On packages, I like to use clear tape over the label.

Seventh: If you mail three-fold flyers, be SURE to tape or staple the open side (preferably in two or three places). Open mail catches in the machines far more easily than closed mail. And unsealed greeting cards haven't had a postal discount since I was a rather young girl; seal the envelopes well.

Last: DON'T mail your only copies of rare or homemade tapes; make a backup! In spite of all we do, things DO happen.

Mary Creasey [of Random Factors]
US Postal Service Electronic Technician, PS-9

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