affix stamp here

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.

walking stick

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.


Published in: on November 15, 2010 at 7:50 am  Comments (39)  
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39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hmmm…looks like the apron from the Thursday Cheesecake shot.:-)

    • Very observant. I’ve had that apron for several years.

  2. Those postmen are tougher than Marines and twice and mean.

    Is that you in the apron with the feather duster? I’m guessing, yes!

  3. The Australian Post office is much stricter, I think. Especially with food and animal bits.

  4. So it is unlikely I could have mailed any of my children to Antarctica?

  5. I plan to post myself home for Channukah! That is how inspiring I found this ‘post’. Truly fascinating. It’s like the mystery mailer instead of a mystery shopper. I think my favourites were the rose and the helium balloon.

    • You’d need a lot of stamps to cover those stupendous breasts Mitzi

  6. Presumably the exploding rugby ball is intended for Martin Johnson at the English RFU?

  7. I agree with Mitzi G Burger re the rose and the helium balloon. The bottle of water was very disappointing, and the patient repetition of the admonition to wrap things was rather adorable, plus the fact so many of the items actually got delivered.

    • I was impressed that the money arrived too

  8. I’m planning to post all my Christmas cards in America, as they seem to make a better job of it than Postman Pat here in Blighty. I may even put stamps on this year too.

  9. the postman always rings twice. and makes sure his package is wrapped…

  10. No coconuts? I don’t understand the world anymore…

  11. I read the Post Office has no problem with you mailing a banana so those other things should be a cinch.

  12. Brilliant. It shos that the postal service will deliver…

  13. Then there was that guy in Alaska who found it was cheaper to mail each brick for his house from the Lower 48 states to Alaska, than to have the load of bricks shipped in to Alaska. After that, the USPS changed the rules again to stop that.

  14. This post makes me wonder about the postal service. i mean, if mail is always supposed to be wrapped, why did they deliver unwrapped?

    Also, they are always losing money. But they never think of charging all those bulk mailers of paper garbage the same amount in postage fees as they do for a letter.

    And what ever happened to the actual letter, hand written and full of news and love? That concept seems to have died during my lifetime. Sad, now, that the only things that arrive in my mail box are bills and junk mail. Well, I still get some magazines too.

    • ah but you have to write letters to receive some back…..

  15. Those stories are amazing. I’m a little concerned about the twisted mind that thought of doing this experiment. Concerned he won’t be available for Thanksgiving dinner, that is!

    • the writer lives in San Francisco. He might require plane fare….

  16. I wonder if they’ll deliver a speech?

    • Or a baby?

      The King

      • Or a eulogy?

  17. Absolutely my favourite post. I love the story of the bottle of water.

    • Like something out of Candid Camera

  18. Love the teeth art!

  19. Shit, what the hell kind of fish is that? Looks like some sort of primordial beast that roamed the seas before man stopped walking on all fours.

  20. HMMMM ideas you have given me woman!

  21. Corset friday may be gone, but as I see there are compensations!

    The King

    • Occasionally they’ll crop up 😉

  22. Damn… This post has inspired me to try posting something strange to myself.

    Thanks for the laughs… 🙂

  23. Interesting indeed. Now the only remains being shipped may be those of the US Postal Service itself. I hear it’s in deep trouble these days, due to the fact that letters are becoming more and more obscure. Sad, I’ve always loved letters. Electronic communication is taking over the world–er, has taken over the world.

  24. A day later…this blog link is a neat segue

  25. And I just heard this song today for the first time in years…

  26. There’s a Swedish artist called Eric Ericson who does this:

    He admits to being ‘obsessed by the post office’…

  27. I do love your dedication to the cause,the of your lovely legs dressed in suspenders could be an original.

  28. I was super impressed by the Postal Service when they delivered a Christmas present, wrapped in gaudy sparkly paper, with an almost completely illegible address written on said gaudy sparkly paper.

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