Clues to a Letter's Journey

The Clues

How did this mail travel? What route did it take to reach its final destination? How long did it take? What obstacles did the mail encounter along the way?

Find answers to these and other questions—and uncover some fascinating pieces of postal history—by exploring different kinds of markings on mail.

Hope Diamond wrapper, 1958

Postage rates

show what services were requested.

Image: Hope Diamond wrapper, 1958

U.S. First official airmail by airplane, 1911

Postmarks

record where and when mail entered and traveled through the system.

Image: U.S. First official airmail by airplane, 1911

WWII suspension of service, 1942

Auxiliary markings

give routing directions or indicate special services.

Image: WWII suspension of service, 1942

Subito Subito letter, 1582

Addresses and handwriting

provide information about both sender and recipient.

Image: “Subito Subito” letter, 1582

Paris balloon mail, 1870

The envelope’s condition

delivers clues to handling.

Image: Paris balloon mail, 1870

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