Flea Market Love Letters
A Brief History of Letter Boxes.
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
Recently, I was exploring the Portobello area of Dublin on a "Postbox Saturday" and discovered a treasure trove of these rectangular beauties. Recently I took a look at the etymology in this blog post of "Mail" and "Post" and here I stumbled upon yet another 'apples and oranges' oh philately out in the wild! Read on for a bit about the history of these domestic necessities and even a little throwback that might surprise you!
"By Any Other Name":
In North America this is called a "mail slot" elsewhere like in Ireland and the U.K. and it is a "letter box". Private letter boxes like this one were first popular in Paris, France in the 1800s and across Europe in the 1900s.
They're so normalized in fact, they appear to be the standard in Europe or at least Ireland? I'd love to know from international readers if they are the norm where you're from. Though there are fewer and fewer featuring the lovely "Letter" monicker which seems to have been lost to the brutalist trends of the last few decades but to find so many and on such colorful doors was a feast for the senses. I was a bit a like a kid in a candy shop, if I'm being honest -- thankfully it was well before most people are up and moving in Dublin so hopefully no homeowner was wary of the postal fanatic photographing their doorstep!
"I'll Just Wait Here, Will I?":
However, in the U.S. it wasn't until 1923 that "mail slots" or household mail boxes were made mandatory and Mail Carriers didn't have to stand and wait for someone to answer the door to receive mail! Here's a throwback to July 2019 when I visited 1428 Northhampton with one of the Frankenfield Sister's original letters (blog post on the visit, here). It's entirely possible -- nay probable -- that this mail box isn't original to when the house was built in the 1900s but it is a great example of the history of mail delivery! And this mailman would have been lucky at least to have a covered porch to wait on.
One statistic says that before mail slots were made mandatory -- some day we'll talk about post boxes at the end of North American driveways! -- on the walls of houses a mail carrier could spend an average of 1.5 hours waiting for the resident of the home to collect their mail. Interested in more about the history of early mail delivery in the U.S.? Check out my blog here from my visit to the Smithsonian Postal Museum!
So what do you call this?
I'd love to know what you call this -- and why! Or maybe you have a letter story you'd like to share? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org today.