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Delivering Letters

Not all V-Mail was microfilmed. Damaged forms could not pass through the microfilming machinery. Forms with illegible penmanship or writing that extended into the margins were weeded out as unsuitable for filming. See the below image for an example of a damaged form.

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Marked unsuitable for filming: "THE [?] COULD NOT BE PHOTOGRAPHED / [?] WET WHEN RECEIVED."

In some cases, processing stations were not available and in other cases, simply forwarding full-sized sheets was the fastest option. See the two below images for examples of expedited letters.

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“INTER-ISLAND” mail noted on the “envelope” side of the V-Mail letter directed this item to skip extra V-Mail processing.

For the letters that underwent microfilm processing, clerks reproduced each frame of the film onto photographic paper. The quality of penmanship and inks on the original letter greatly affected the readability of the final print. See the below image for a publicity sample demonstrating the importance of legibility.

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Facsimile sample with corresponding microfilm frame give pointers on writing legible V-Mail. Courtesy Rare Book & Texana Collections, University of North Texas Libraries.

The rolls of photographic prints were cut into individual messages. The final photographic prints measured about one quarter of the original letter sheets’ size and were commonly called facsimiles. The facsimiles’ dimensions were 4 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches.

The prints were folded just under the upper address portion. The fold’s position was specific so that the address would be visible once the letter was inserted into an envelope with a cut-out window. See the below image for an example of a V-Mail envelope.

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Shape of the envelope window varied but the placement always had to line up with the letter inside.

The small size was an essential quality for shipping V-Mail but posed a challenge to some readers. Postal clerks frequently found the shrunken addresses difficult to decipher, which caused some slowness on the final delivery steps. Clerks and recipients could turn to a magnifying glass for assistance, indeed some marketing and products particularly targeted V-Mail readers. See the below image for a writer’s expression of concern over his letter’s readability.

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The author wrote, “I hope you can read this after microfilming -- I am writing by a candle, and my pen doesn’t feed very well.”
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Delivering Letters | National Postal Museum


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