Friday, July 29, 2011

a postmaster's apology

Recently I sent a letter to a friend in Amsterdam, only for her to receive it with mysteriously charred edges. A previous letter had arrived with some of its contents missing. There is definitely something odd going on with this line of postal communication!

It seems almost impossible sometimes to work out where postal damage has occured, with so many stages of the journey from when a letter dives into the postbox to when it slides through a mailbox slot.

In the days of pneumatic tube mail transportation, mishaps also occured, and love letters would go missing, postcards sent to the wrong address and blockages and leakages cause postal disorder. Traces of these accidents are evident in some pieces of mail, including this postcard:

However, hopefully the recipient was consoled by this wonderful, polite apology from a Boston postmaster:

Postcards from stampboards

Friday, July 15, 2011

love underground

Jennifer Ouellette has just added a new book to my reading list in her blogpost on pneumatic tubes for Scientific American. It's called The Downsiders by Neal Shusterman. Who can resist a tale of underground romance?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

pneumatic tubes in portland(ia)

Only in Portland(ia), at the Discovery Space, could toddlers "feed tennis balls into a pneumatic tube, play with Legos and get personal with live reptiles".

Friday, July 8, 2011

travelling post

A British travel company recently found that only 15% of travellers who completed their survey, sent postcards when on holidays. Eight years ago The Telegraph reported the death of the postcard when only 30% of surveyed travellers said that they didn't send postcards anymore! So for the pleasure of those who, when in faraway lands, love finding the perfect postcard, crafting a message, queuing with locals in postoffices, pouring over stamp possibilities and hunting down postboxes, here are some pneumatic-post-themed postcards, from times when travellers were never too far from their fountain pen:

Images from Postoffice Postcards, Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City and Active Social Plastic.

Friday, July 1, 2011

catching a blue

Today I received a knock on my door and a colleague, Joeri, kindly handed me some papers. It wasn't pneumatic post, but close to it: Molly Wright Steenson's article on the Poste Pneumatique in the latest issue of Cabinet Magazine.

Molly Wright Steenson, otherwise known as girlwonder, is a Architecture PhD candidate at Princeton University, and previously known for her Ignite video on pneumatic tubes. Her article, Interfacing with the Subterranean, provides a meandering journey through the historical sewers of pneumatic engineering in Paris and other cities in Europe (such as Marseilles, see above).

In the article she discusses various workers associated with delivering the
petit bleus, such as the petit facteur télégraphiste (telegraph delivery boy) and the tubiste (postal worker), as well as the sounds and obstructions in the system which I will explore further in future posts.

Towards the end of the article, Steenson puts forward her argument: the pneumatic tube system in Paris was both circulation and respiration for the city, and that as such was regarded as part of healthy progress. She writes (p86):
"The pneumatic tube network is a system that breathes, eats, circulates, fires synapses, and excretes; its structures are lungs that store air, pumps that move their charges, circuits that fire electrical impulses, devices that read them, mouths that swallow, and cloacae that expel"
I like this cyborgic corporeal-mechanical image, which resonates with my own way of thinking about pneumatic tube systems. I can't help but think of the wonderful images of Fritz Kahn, aesthetic master of the machine-body metaphor. I wish every knock on the door came with such inspiring post!

Image from Wikipedia.