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Opinion

Coin postage travels through the post office

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March 3, 2011

What I am about to tell you is completely legal. However, some background information is in order. Back in October of 2009, I was going through a phase of doing social experiments (a public stunt to see how people react, if they react at all) when I found an idea shenanigan on the internet using the Stumbleupon application. In this shenanigan, the prankster sent a letter with seven coins (quarter, dime, nickel and four pennies) equaling 44¢ taped where the stamp should have been on the top right corner of the envelope. He claimed that it worked, posting a picture of the envelope with the coins still attached as evidence.
The skeptic in me deduced that the prankster used Photoshop to manipulate the picture, but the optimist in me wanted to prove him right. What seemingly looks like an illegal use of the postal system is actually an acceptable way of sending mail, according to a local post office woman. When the post office worker sorted the mail, they would replace the coins with a postage stamp. However, she said it wasn’t a good idea because if the coins fell off the letter would be “returned to sender.” It was a little depressing to find out that the coins wouldn’t reach her like how the prankster’s coins reached his friend.

That day I called my friend Ingrid in southern Minn.,, with whom I have a snail mail history, telling her my plans to send her this abnormal letter. We confided with each other in giggles of hysteria. There is no rush in comparison than getting away with it, even though we weren’t actually getting away with anything. I told her I would send it to her on the morrow, but it would most likely take two or three days because I thought it would be hand sorted instead of sorted by machine. I sent the “coin postage” letter October 26, 2009, accompanied with a “control” letter with correct postage on it. The letter I sent had a time-capsule feel to it.

Dear Ingrid,
If you have received this letter, it means that you have just received the most awesomest piece of mail ever! If you are someone else, well, congratulations because this is still cool.
-Christopher

Less then 24 hours after departure, I received the following post from Ingrid on my Facebook wall: “THE LETTER WORKED! COINS ARE STILL TAPED.” A couple of minutes later, she posted two pictures of the envelope with the coins still taped on the outside of it! There was even a cancellation mark (a mark over a stamp preventing the stamp from being used again) on top of the quarter, dime, nickel, and four pennies. That means I sent a letter for free. That also means that letter went through the machine. According to the post office woman, the letter with the coins should have mangled the machines in a bad way.  It gets better, a single stamp of 44¢ covers a Standard First-Class letter of one ounce (28 grams), yet the coins, envelope, and piece of paper weighed 34 grams, which is more than an ounce. That means the letter should have cost 61¢. Does that make the letter more free?

The best part of the whole thing was that the “control” letter arrived a day after the “coin postage” letter.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.