Today, most people hardly think about the series of numbers they put at the bottom of the address on an envelope. However, the inclusion of the Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) Code number on an address was not always second nature.
The Post Office Department (POD) introduced the ZIP Code to America on July 1, 1963, as a way to speed mail delivery to its ever-growing customer base. A cheerful cartoon character, Mr. ZIP™, was created by an advertising agency and used by the POD to help Americans remember to add the ZIP Code to their envelopes.
Mr. ZIP made his public debut in January, 1964 when he was printed on the margin of the five-cent Charles M. Russell commemorative stamp. Mr. ZIP quickly captured the hearts of Americans, and was a prolific icon for the nation's postal system for twenty-two years. Mr. ZIP's image has appeared on numerous retail items, from coffee mugs to t-shirts. Although the U.S. Postal Service retired Mr. ZIP in 1986, his iconic status has endured.
During his official career post offices across America displayed large mounted figures of Mr. ZIP. These figures, such as one belonging to the National Postal Museum, were made of textured printing paper adhered to a plywood form. This Mr. ZIP was donated to the National Postal Museum in 2004 by a retired Virginia Postmaster. Some Mr. ZIPs have been back on unofficial display in several post offices since his retirement. After an additional two decades of public display, this Mr. ZIP was ready for some rest and much needed treatment.
At 4-½ ft. tall, Mr. ZIP's plywood structure was in stable condition. However, the overlaid colored, textured printing paper was creasing, peeling and showing loss on the left side of his body, including the letter he was holding. There was noticeable staining and discoloration overall. Mr. ZIP surely came to the right place for a makeover! Before his treatment began, digital photographs were taken to document his current condition. A paper conservator then examined Mr. ZIP and discovered there were actually two pieces of identical printing paper mounted on top of the form. The top layer of paper had several creases that looked like fold lines. The paper had probably been folded into quarters prior to its application, weakening the paper and causing it to lift up, deteriorate and lose color along the crease lines.
To bring Mr. ZIP back to speed, his treatment began with an overall light surface cleaning using a soft-bristled brush. A thick composite of water soluble paste made of wheat starch was used to tack down the lifted or tenting areas of paper. Next, a sandwich of spun polyester, blotter paper and weights kept these dampened areas flat while drying. Finally, Berol Prismacolor pencils were used to offset the whitened areas of color loss.
Upholding the ZIP Code's commitment to speed and efficiency, Mr. ZIP was quickly back on his feet and ready for his post-treatment photo shoot. Currently, Mr. ZIP is residing in the Postal Museum’s collections storage awaiting his next public debut.