Envelopes: A Puzzling Journey through the Royal Mail – Harriet Russell (2005)

Ever contemplated just how a badly-addressed envelope actually makes it to the end of its journey in the right place? Well, author and artist Harriet Russell has, and thus was born an art project involving envelopes addressed in puzzles (or anagrams or…) and it was up to the Royal Post (and US Post) employees to work out just where was its end destination.

An interesting and well designed book of an art project completed by Russell (who was in art school at the time). She had noticed how efficient the Royal Post was (and, as it turns out, also the US Postal system) and decided to do a project sending envelopes to herself but with the mailing address formatted into a puzzle – one that the mail employees would have to solve.

So – Russell designed and mailed 150 envelopes  (75 of which were successfully delivered), and this book was born, consisting of photographs of each of the envelopes (both front and back where relevant).  I thought that the sheer number of individual ideas that the author had was really impressive, and she really stretched the perimeter of the project to challenge postal workers. She employed everything from tricky anagrams to dot-to-dot pictures to a table of chemical elements, and so kudos must go to the good-natured postal employees for joining in the fun. It would have been very easy for them to just dump the various envelopes in the “undeliverable” box, but perhaps they found entertainment and challenge by solving her various puzzles.

What added spice was that Russell didn’t always use the same address – she varied it, and even sent some from NYC so it wasn’t just a case of “weird envelopes always go to this address and that art person”.  I thought this was pretty impressive for both the US and the Royal Post employees.

I had fun browsing through this heavily illustrated book. Every page was a picture (front and back) of an envelope that had been successfully delivered and each clearly showed whatever puzzle the postal workers had to solve. I can imagine that some of the post workers really enjoyed this project as they took the time to carefully work out where each envelope was going.

Overall, a fun project to read about, and probably a fun project to implement. I am not sure that my Texas postman (lovely as he is) would be up for a similar challenge – he sometimes can’t get the address correct in the traditional format, let alone in a puzzle. (Although he could surprise me, as people do.)

The book also had a good introduction by Grammar Guru Lynn Truss. (Always a nice extra touch.) Enjoyed this one and found it to be creatively inspiring.

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