About a decade ago, social scientists conducted an experiment to test the limits of the US Postal Service.
“We sent a variety of unpackaged items to U.S. destinations, appropriately stamped for weight and size, as well as a few items packaged as noted. We sent items that loosely fit into the following general categories: valuable, sentimental, unwieldy, pointless, potentially suspicious, and disgusting. We discovered that although some items were never delivered, most of the objects of even highly unusual form did get delivered, as long as the items had a definitely ample value of stamps attached. The Postal Service appears to be amazingly tolerant of the foibles of its public.
$1 bill. Sealed in clear plastic, with label attached with address and postage. Days to delivery, 6.
$20 bill. Days to delivery, 4.
Football. Days to delivery, 6. Male postal carrier was talkative and asked recipient about the scores of various current games. Carrier noted that mail must be wrapped.
Rose. Postage and address were attached to a card that was tied to the stem. Delivery at doorstep, 3 days, beat up but the rose bud was still attached.
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.
Sound-emitting toy. A monkey-in-box toy that, upon shaking, shouted, “Let me out of here! Help! Let me out of here!” Addressed in big letters to LITTLE JOHNNIE. Sound toy was equipped with a new battery. Delivery at doorstep, 6 days.
Hammer. Card was strapped to hammer handle; extra-large amount of postage was attached. Never received.
Feather duster. The card with postage and address was attached by wire to the handle. Days to notice of delivery, 6. Clerk at station commented that mail must be wrapped.
Ski. A large amount of postage was affixed to a card that was attached to the ski. The ski was slipped into a bin of postage that was being loaded into a truck behind a station (a collaborating staff member created a verbal disturbance up the street to momentarily distract postal worker’s attention). Notice of postage due received, 11 days. Upon pickup at the station, the clerk and supervisor consulted a book of postage regulations together for 2 minutes and 40 seconds before deciding on additional postage fee to assess. Clerk asked if mailing specialist knew how this had been mailed; our recipient said she did not know. Clerk also noted that mail must be wrapped.
Never-opened small bottle of spring water. We observed the street corner box surreptitiously the following day upon mail collection. After puzzling briefly over this item, the postal carrier removed the mailing label and drank the contents of the bottle over the course of a few blocks as he worked his route.
Helium balloon. The balloon was attached to a weight. The address was written on the balloon with magic marker; no postage was affixed. Our operative argued strongly that he should be charged a negative postage and refunded the postal fees, because the transport airplane would actually be lighter as a result of our postal item. This line of reasoning merely received a laugh from the clerk. The balloon was refused; reasons given: transportation of helium, not wrapped.
Street sign. Conceivably a stolen item, or illegal possession. Notice of attempted delivery received, 9 days. Handed over at station with comment that mail must be wrapped.
Box of sand. Packaged in transparent plastic box to be visible to postal employees. Sent to give an impression of potentially hiding something. The plastic box had obviously been opened before delivery and then securely taped shut again. Delivery without comment at doorstep, 7 days.
Deer tibia. Our mailing specialist received many strange looks from both postal clerks and members of the public in line when he picked it up at the station, 9 days. The clerk put on rubber gloves before handling the bone, inquired if our researcher were a “cultist,” and commented that mail must be wrapped.
Large wheel of cheese. The cheese was already extremely ripe (rancid) at the time of mailing. Mailed in cardboard box. The cheese had oiled its way through the bottom of the cardboard box by the time of pickup, 8 days. The box had been placed in a plastic bag.
Dead fish, old seaweed, etc. Mailed in cardboard box. Notice to pick up at station, 7 days. The postal supervisor warned our mailing specialist that he could be fined for mail service abuse, even as a recipient, should this happen again.