Madley in Love with Mailers

A few years ago, my wife Judith, found a new love. Not a conventional love… it was some thing passionately special. And it happened without any warning at the annual Syracuse Antiques Show (at least that’s what we call it. They label it much more exuberantly as the Great American Antiquefest).

The First Love

There was this tiny birch bark canoe. About eight inches long, really cute. And it was attached by a slender string to a tag. The tag carried a Canadian postage stamp, and had been mailed in the 1940s from Bath, Ontario with a brief greeting, to an address in New York State. This wasn’t exactly a postcard. But how could one categorize it? We settled on the rubric of a mailer. And for eight dollars (US) the mailer became hers.

She knew that she wouldn’t find any more. After all, this was the first such discovery in a few decades of ‘antiquing’. Wrong. You know how it is when you buy a new car? All of a sudden you begin to notice other cars of the same make and model that you never thought about before. That’s what has happened to Judith.

More Affairs

The next mailer turned up at an antiques mall in Clarence, New York. Tucked away toward the back of a display case, overshadowed by china, glassware and the inevitable Big Little Books, was the cutest pair of tiny beaded moccasins. And flowing out from them was a string that ended behind one of the plates. Could it be? Judith called the clerk to open the case…yes, it was! Another investment – this time five dollars – and now there were two mailers. Not a major collection, but a good start.

Then came a third addition. The annual Madison-Bouckville Show in August, three thousand dealers were there. At the Madison-Bouckville show Judith found her third romantic adventure. A dealer facing on State Highway 20, in the stretch east of the Augusta Presbyterian Women’s Pie Tent, had a fascinating tiny lantern. And attached to it was a mailing label, posted from Boston in the 1930s. Described as Paul Revere’s Lantern, when you opened the lamp, inside it was a coil of photographic views of Boston, sweet.

Judith fell in love with it, and I guess that her enthusiasm betrayed her. With this latest acquisition, Judith had increased the size of her collection by a further 50%!

It was beginning to look as though the ‘mailer’ phenomenon was confined to the Northeastern part of the continent. Until the next discovery, that is.

It’s not easy to see some of these gems in a cluttered display, particularly if they’re jammed into a glass-topped flat display case with a batch of other items (dealers take note). In this instance, it was a tiny sombrero woven in straw that had a string attached to it that might not have been a price tag, that elicited Judith’s request, “Could I have a look at that little hat… yes, that one.” Sure enough, it was another mailer. This time, it was stamped and postmarked from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in the 1930s.

Mailers had also invaded the West Coast. The outline of a shoe, carrying the message “Upon my sole, this is the greatest place I know”, was imprinted as a souvenir of Los Angeles, Calif. Un- mailed, it was designated on the tag as “Greetings from Peggy Williams to Ian Bell”, and (most usefully) dated Aug. 26, 1946, Another trophy.

The rest is history…well, history still in the making. The current score is two more canoes (of different styles), an orange crate (the type of thing that people sent from sunny Florida with orange bubble gum balls inside), a minute plastic stereoscopic viewer from Grosse Ile, Michigan, a tiny toilet with the caption “I’m sitting on top of the world” and a Balsam Pillow, with a painted figure and the designation “From the Woods.”

Why Judith Loves Them

As well as the obvious charm of these miniatures, they represent an era when post offices saw themselves as a service rather than a business. They also reflect a time when much of the postal sorting and canceling work was done manually. Can you imagine the canoe, the orange crate, or the stereoscopic viewer flowing through today’s automated postal equipment? The principal question would be whether the equipment or the novelty would break first.

Judith anticipates that the love affair will continue. Periodically she sees miniature novelties that don’t have strings and mailing tags attached but certainly might have had them at one time. They don’t qualify for her collection. And from time to time the string attached to a tiny treasure turns out to be attached only to a price tag, rather than to a mailing tag, highly disappointing.

The Unanswered Questions

How many more are out there, and what iterations are there? Was this a North American phenomenon, or were similar wonders produced and mailed in England and Europe? Was there a principal manufacturer, and if so, what was the name of the company? If not, what other companies were there? Only two of the mailers have any attribution. And given that mailers seem to be first (or maybe second) cousins to novelty postcards, why don’t they show up at postcard shows? Further, they’re a postal item, but probably never appear at stamp shows.

To Judith’s knowledge, this is the first article ever written about what she refers to as ‘mailers’. Does anyone else collect these? And can anyone add to her store of knowledge?

Judith Sayers is a member of the Toronto Postcard Club and can be reached at The author can be reached at the same address.