Episode 123: Mangled Mail — A Look at Postcard Mishandling and Damage

Getting a postcard in my mailbox
that’s not mangled is remarkable.

If there’s an example of multiple damage inflicted on a card, this is it.

Postcards get damaged in the mail. A lot. In fact, it’s a surprise when I get a card that’s unmarred. I’ve noticed the same reaction with others in the postcard community, who write with delight about receiving the rare undamaged card with words like, “This looks like it was hand delivered.” Sadly, undamaged postcards are few and far between. Which led me to The Great Postcard Quality Project and this look at mangled mail.

For this initial pass, I used a set of postcards I received that spanned the date range from October 1, 2021, to December 31, 2021. I examined the cards for signs of damage. And wow, did I ever find damage. My mail is a mess.

First, I selected 100 random cards from the 448 total cards I received in that timeframe. Then I documented the damage. My mail was mangled and mishandled. Here’s what I found. Out of 100 random cards:

MECHANICAL DAMAGE

  • Bent corners (91)
  • Creased (29)
  • Ripped (9)
  • Scuffed on image (44)
  • Scratched on image (15)
  • Peeled on message side (31)
  • Wet (2)
  • Filthy (29)

CANCELLATION AND STAMP DAMAGE

  • Multiple overspray (10)
  • Cancelled on image (9)
  • Pen cancelled (2)
  • Bar code sprayed on image (42)

No card was untouched. That’s right, every single card had at least one element of damage, and many had multiple flaws from handling through the postal service. (That’s why the totals add up to more than 100.) Most cards were mangled.

How is it possible that the USPS handles a product that gets damaged with that frequency? I know it’s a mechanical process. And they deliver 429.9 million of pieces of mail per day. But I didn’t even get into the poorly calibrated and downright messy overspray cancellations. And I can’t figure out why in the world so many cards get scuffed. In my sample, I had large format, small format, thin, thick, coated, uncoated, and odd-shaped postcards. Ninety-one out of a hundred had damage to the edges. Most of the damage would render the card nearly uncollectible in future markets.

This is just the start of The Great Postcard Quality Project. I’m going to collect data for every single card I receive in 2022. And I’ll gather feedback about the cards I send. Plus, I have plans to crowdsource and assemble data from our postcard community. Yes, postcards connect people, but they shouldn’t connect people over the shock of every once in a blue moon getting a card that’s undamaged. Mangled postcards shouldn’t be the norm. That’s wrong. And it’s bad business. Let’s take action.

Here are photos of some of the mangling inflicted on this set of postcards.

This large format card from India was actually bent in half.
This card had a chunk ripped out of the image side by the sorting machine.
This is a typical ink burn on LP cards.
This is typical of the message side being ripped and peeled back.
Why are the cancellation oversprays so poorly applied?
This card from New Zealand was keel hauled on the way here.
I hate mangled cards

Other links in this show include:

Grading collectible postcards

DNA from 100-year-old postcards

Pokemon Go Postcard Book

Postcards from places I’d like to go

2 comments on Episode 123: Mangled Mail — A Look at Postcard Mishandling and Damage

  1. Ana says:

    What a great episode. I love new projects. And new words, I got a few new ones from here.

    1. Frank says:

      I’m determined to collect data this entire year. Thank you so much for listening to the show.

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