US Stamps

By John M. Hotchner

United States mail pack routing labels might have a companion

February 07, 2014 08:00 AM

  • Figure 1. An example of the self-adhesive routing and handling labels that have been used by the United States Postal Service over the years.

  • Figure 2. These black-on-white numbered labels also might have been used on mail — but possibly as an experiment or in local use only.

  • Figure 3. Warren Mullisen of Culver City, Calif is the winner of the philatelic segment of the January cartoon caption contest, which uses the 2013 $2 Jenny Invert stamp. The next cartoon caption contest will be announced in Linn’s March 10 issue.

Routing labels, such as those pictured in Figure 1, were the subject of my column in Linn’s June 21, 2010, issue.

These self-adhesive labels have been put on the top envelope of packs of mail to help the post office move the mail efficiently.

For example, the letter “C” on a label meant that the packet on which it appeared was going to a city with more than one ZIP code or delivery area.

As I reported in the previous column, the shapes of these labels varied through the years.

A response I received from Linn’s reader Larry Dodson of Phoenix, Ariz., opens a new avenue of inquiry.

He has the four white numbered dots shown here in Figure 2, from among a total of 19 different in his collection, ranging from 6 (or 9) to 88.

“[They] are slightly smaller in diameter than the ones you designated as ‘small dots,’” Dodson says.

“The printing is black, and each of the four displays a different one- or two-digit number. They appeared on mail just like the labels in your article. They appeared somewhere in the middle of the time between the starting year of 1974 and now; perhaps somewhere around 1985-90, but that is just a guess.”

I have never before seen these labels and have to wonder if they were an experiment that failed, or a purely local phenomenon?

I am hoping that someone out there will be able to shed some light on them, and maybe even come up with an example properly used on cover so we can get a better idea of when and for what purpose they were used.

If you can help, please contact me by e-mail at; or by mail at Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041.

Cartoon winner

The January cartoon caption contest featured the 2013 $2 Jenny Invert stamp in Figure 3.

This stamp drew twice as many entries as most of the U.S. Stamp Notes contests have received in the past.

This is evidence that the iconic image of the original upside-down airplane stamp is part of the lore of philately, and that anyone who might have forgotten it was reminded by the massive United States Postal Service publicity surrounding the new stamp.

Part of that publicity was about the artificial variety created by the Postal Service: 100 of the six-stamp panes were produced and randomly distributed with the airplane flying upright.

This was the focus of most of the entries in the January contest.

Robert Anderson of York, Pa., captured the situation well with this entry: “First I was worth more upside down. Now I’m worth more right side up. No wonder I’m confused!”

Another popular class of entries was centered on the predictable effect on plane and pilot of flying upside down.

Two widely divergent ideas predominated.

The first, from Steve Kotler of San Francisco, Calif., speaks to the Postal Service’s motivation for denominating the stamp at $2: “The Postal Service has finally figured out a way to empty our pockets more quickly!”

Another approach, concentrating on mail delivery, is represented by “Did the postmaster general seriously think letting mail fall out of the plane could eliminate door-to-door delivery?” sent in by Edwin Lugowski Jr. of Lansing, Ill.

A third theme drew multiple entries that engaged in a bit of whimsy by wondering what role a popular recipe might play in the scene.

Representing this group is Joel Meyerson of Annandale, Va., whose line is, “Mama...break out your upside-down cake recipe: I’m dusting the pineapple patch tonight.”

The winners for this contest reflect in few words on the causes of the plane being inverted.

One word — “Gesundheit!” — is all it took for Robert Wolf of Montgomery, Ill., who wins the nonphilatelic portion of the contest.

The philatelic line winner, shown in Figure 3, comes from Warren Mullison of Culver City, Calif.

Both winners will receive Linn’s Stamp Identifier published by Amos Hobby Publishing, or a 13-week subscription to Linn’s (a new subscription or an extension). The book has a retail value of $12.99.

Here are a few of the runners-up:

“Attempting the hiccup cure got me into a philatelic pickle!” by Rosemary Harnly of Red Wing, Minn.

“Oh my gosh! An upside-down seagull just passed me,” from Reid Hinson of Kill Devil Hills, N.C.

“Curse you, Red Baron — I’m hit!” sent by Bill Berry of Hornell, N.Y.

“Where’d Fritzi, my wing walker, go?” by Jo-An Watson of Kalamazoo, Mich.

“Surprise, you did not win $25,000!” from Bob Bialo of Cary, Ill.

“Before I do another roll-over, I’m hiring a money manager!” sent by Gilbert Schaye of New York, N.Y.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to all who entered.

The next cartoon caption contest will be announced in the March 10 Linn’s.