On Mailing Tapes etc.
Mary Creasey (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: Advice on mailing tapes etc.
Date: Wed, 22 Nov 95 16:09:46 -0500
Organization: Delphi (email@example.com email, 800-695-4005 voice)
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.
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.
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
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