Mass Mailings Valentines, Junk Mail, and Dead Letters

in The Postal Age

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780226327204
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226327228 | DOI:
Mass Mailings Valentines, Junk Mail, and Dead Letters

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This chapter focuses on Valentine's Day, one of the celebrated features of the new postal culture that studies of letter-writing often overlook. People mailed valentines anonymously, typically to many recipients, and the greetings deviated in several ways from the model of epistolary intimacy described in earlier chapters. During the rest of the year, a broad range of print circulars, solicitations, and junk mail also filled the letter bags by mid-century, reminding new users that the post was not simply an instrument for conducting personal relations at a distance but was crucially (and paradoxically) anonymous. While the spread of the post transformed the individual name into a legitimate site—an operational address—in the new communications network, the nature of postal communication lent itself to various forms of concealment, confusion, and miscommunication in the use of personal names. Nowhere was this clearer than in the institution of the Dead Letter Office, which became an object of widespread fascination by mid-century.

Keywords: Valentine's Day; postal culture; letter-writing; junk mail; Dead Letter Office

Chapter.  9910 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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