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Atlas Quest

Help: Postals

  1. What is a postal?
  2. How can I make a postal?
  3. What do I do with my postal once I finish making it?
  4. Should I be cautious giving my postal address to people over the Internet?
  5. How can I sign up for a postal?
  6. How do I find postals that are open for signups?!
  7. How can I prevent postals from going missing?
  8. What is a random/surprise postal and how do you receive one?
  9. How should I package PLBs for mailing?
  10. What should NOT go into a postal?
  11. What may I do with PLBs that have returned home?
  12. Are there any general postal guidelines for anyone new to postals?
  13. How do I list a postal bonus box?
  14. What do the icons on a postal represent?
  15. When my postal returns from a ring, how do I list it as a single?
  16. What do I do with a postal found in a traditional box
  17. What are Best Practices for MicroPlbing?
  18. How does mail get sorted?

What is a postal?

There are three (3) different types of Postal Letterbox (PLB). They are Heavyweight, Standard, and Micro. All Postal Letterboxes contain a stamp and logbook sent from person to person in the mail. The stamp is usually hand carved and the logbook, often handmade, can be simple or very ornate. Sometimes, the creators of a postal include extra items.

A Heavyweight PLB (Anything over 13 oz.) can include items such as CDs, DVDs, books, and even jigsaw puzzles. They can be mailed in any type of suitable packaging. Some creators use Padded Flat Rate envelopes free from USPS.

A Standard PLB (Under 13oz., varies a lot) usually contains a traditional size stamp and a handmade logbook and perhaps a few optional lightweight items such as stickers, or quisps. They are usually mailed in a 6x9 padded envelope. Envelopes are reinforced packaging PLBs for mailing by the creator to be reusable from destination to destination. Keep in mind, the more weight you add to the box, the more expensive it becomes to ship. Many Standard postal participants strive to keep the weight reasonable so that shipping is affordable to all recipients. At current rates (2022) a Standard 6x9 padded envelope can be $5.00+ to mail (it depends on weight and distance to recipient). Generally, if a box is heavier and more expensive to mail, it's a good idea to let potential recipients know that information before they sign up and to mark the heavy attribute when listing the postal.

A Micro PLB (1oz.* = 1 Forever stamp= $0.60) is mailed in a #10 regular business envelope (9-1/2" x 4-3/8") contains a small stamp that has been shaved down to a thickness of less than 1/4". The accompanying logbook can be as simple as a folded sheet of paper or a rather ornate decorated folder with pockets. The object is for it to be lightweight, less than an ounce, fit into a regular business size envelope and meet certain other PO requirements such as being flexible, and not having lumpy items inside that can shift during processing. A fresh envelope is used at each stop. Nothing is added that could increase the weight, but sometimes the outer envelopes are decorated.

*If a Micro PLB weighs more than 1 oz., the creator is required to supply sufficient postage to cover the extra weight. Also if the PLB is lumpy or rigid there is a non-machinable surcharge. The recipient is only required to furnish one Forever stamp. As of July 10, 2022: Each additional 1 oz. is $0.24; Non-machinable items, envelopes that are lumpy or rigid, or have clasps, string, or buttons will cost an additional $0.39 more to send.

How can I make a postal?

First decide on how your Postal will be used: Singleton, or part of a Ring. A Singleton can be whatever you want to make it. If it will be part of a ring it is important to follow the guidelines set forth by the host of the ring concerning size and theme. Pick an image and carve (or purchase) a stamp and prepare your logbook. This box will need to withstand the rigors of multiple recipients and the machinery of the Postal Service. To create a successful Postal it is important to make it easy for the Post Office and the recipient to process. You can get samples mailed to you by sending an AQmail to paper trail or Jabber .

What do I do with my postal once I finish making it?

First list your box on Atlas Quest as a postal, just like you would a traditional letterbox. For a Singleton create a new Tracker. Follow the steps for listing the Tracker, like deciding how many people you want to mail your box to, and any applicable attributes. You can use the section for description to leave instructions for recipients to e-mail you their postal address and trail name. Attach your listed box to your Tracker. Once you have listed your postal, you can go to the Postals message board and post a message about your box’s availability. Your post can include any information about the postal that you want to list.

Be aware that the more people you mail your postal to, the longer it will take for the box to come back home to you. A Standard Postal or Micro Postal will average about one week per stop. A Heavy Postal can have a set schedule such as forwarding once per month. The use of the Tracker allows efficient tracking of each box’s movements with confirmation at each stop of the next recipients address. Because accidents can happen, the creator of a Heavy or Standard Postal may ask the recipients to use USPS delivery confirmation. This is not available for Micro PLBs.

If the box you have created is to be part of a Ring, go to that ring’s Tracker and add the box. All the tracking and mailing instructions above are applicable to Singletons as well as Rings. Log your finds and keep an eye on the Tracker for possible problems.

Logging finds on AQ’s Tracker is important so the creator of the postal knows the last location of the box and where it is headed next. One look at the Tracker can indicate when a box is moving smoothly or perhaps that several are held up in one place.

For more information on Postal Trackers visit the Postals Trackers Help page.

Should I be cautious giving my postal address to people over the Internet?

Yes! Always! All of the usual precautions about providing personal information to people whom you have met online should apply to Postal Letterboxing. If the thought of your address being circulated to dozens of people that you do not know leaves you feeling worried or uneasy, consider opening up a Post Office Box or not participating in Postal Letterboxing. Parents and guardians should monitor their child's participation! By allowing your child to participate, you essentially let everyone know you have children and what their address is. That said, many Postal Letterboxing participants are active and well-known participants in the Letterboxing community and they seek only to expand the hobby in fun and interesting ways. When signing up for a letterbox, be sure to send your address only to the person organizing the box and the person who mails to you. Do not post your postal address on any message boards. If you decide to participate in Postal Letterboxing, you do so at your own risk.

How can I sign up for a postal?

Usually, the owner of a postal will create a postal tracker for it indicating if it is part of a ring or a singleton and any rules or restrictions associated with the postal. Sometimes they may post a message on the Postals message board for participants. When you see one of these messages, read it thoroughly to make sure you want to participate, then follow the creator's instructions to sign up for the box. The creator will then typically send you a confirmation AQmail with additional instructions for the postal and what to do next.

In addition, you can also request to be added to the Newbie Pool (Micros only) for new Postals by sending an AQmail to paper trail. The Newbie Pool is a pool of Micro PLBs used for the express purpose of introducing people to Micro PLBs. Signing up for the pool requires only that you provide your trail name, real name, mailing address, and an email to contact you. You will NOT be required to make a PLB for the pool--it is not a 'ring' in that sense. Three or Four other 'newbies' will be in the pool with you, as well as an experienced mentor, and you will each receive a few postals that you will pass amongst yourselves to 'experience' what postals are all about. After you 'graduate' from the Newbie Pool, you should be more than ready to fully participate in postals!

How do I find postals that are open for signups?!

Besides watching the Postals message board closely for new announcements, the Advanced Search page for trackers will get you everywhere. A postal trackers is Atlas Quest's way of keeping track of postals (among other options) sent among a group of people. Narrow down your search so only open and limited postal trackers that are still available show up. Currently available postal trackers. The above mentioned search results page will display the status of trackers. Those marked as open are available for anyone to sign themselves up, and those listed as limited means that spots are open, but you must contact the owner of the tracker to be included. Closed trackers are still active but are no longer accepting new participants, and retired trackers are already over.

There is a Widgetyou can add on your home page for Newest Non-Traditional Trackers and one for Newest Non-Traditional Letterboxes. Many watch these Widgets closely as Postals, especially Micros, tend to fill up very quickly. If you are new, be sure to contact paper trail for the availability of a Newbie Micro.

How can I prevent postals from going missing?

Sad but true, some postals go missing. But since the advent of AQ Postal Trackers, the problems are not as great as they once were. It is standard operating procedure for Singletons to always check the recipient’s status and address before mailing off a box to them. A postal with many signups can take up to a year or more to reach all of those signed up for it. In that time, people move, leave the hobby altogether, become overwhelmed, or suffer a change in their personal circumstances that inhibits continued participation. An address that accumulates many Postals that do not get sent on becomes known as a "black hole." Just like with placing a box in the wild, loss is one of the risks of the hobby. It is important for both Tracker hosts and Tracker participants in Singletons and Rings to keep an eye on their Trackers to make sure things are being sent on in a timely manner.

In a postal ring, the ring organizer should keep track of the postals as they progress around the ring and be alert for pile ups. Ring participants should pay attention to the status of the person they send to. Both can monitor the progress via postal trackers with the receipt grid. If boxes accumulate at one address, and are not moving on, you should politely bypass that address until it is resolved. You can always catch up later. However, make sure that you communicate with the ring leader about how you're handling a situation.

If postals do get held up, and the recipient is not responding, sometimes the best approach is to be very polite and encouraging, assume that something has happened beyond their control, and politely ask if you can help. Life happens to all of us. Some postals have been recovered after sending prepaid, easily returned envelopes or boxes to the problem address.

Unfortunately, postals also do sometimes become lost in the mail. It is a very good idea to write your address on the logbook with the words Return Postage Guaranteed. Some ring leaders and box owners will require delivery confirmation so that boxes can be traced if they are lost. For Heavy and Standard Postals that are taken to the local Post Office for weighing and postage, tracking is automatic. For Micro Postals using Forever stamps tracking is not available.

When a Postal isn't sealed correctly the flap can come open and the insides fall out. This is another good reason to write your address on the logbook. If a MicroPLB is not packaged correctly, i.e. contents loose, stamp too thick, the PO automated equipment can squeeze everything down on one end tearing the edge, and the stamp and logbook will come out. It is a good practice to add a bit of clear packaging tape on each end to prevent this.

What is a random/surprise postal and how do you receive one?

NOTE: The organized surprise postal program has been suspended until further notice as all of the postals have gone missing.

A surprise (or "random") postal is a postal letterbox that does not have an official sign-up list. The creator sends it to a fellow postal letterboxer who is not expecting it. That person then stamps in just like a normal postal, and sends the box onto someone else who is not expecting it. The surprise postals are NOT a part of any postal ring (although they may have started their lives as part of a ring). As noted above with the surprise Postal program, these boxes often/usually go missing over time.

How should I package PLBs for mailing?

Once you have created your PLB, you will want to package it in a way that will help ensure that its components stay together and that it eventually returns safely to you. Expectations and requirements will vary, but here are some general guidelines:

Always refer to the Tracker host’s specifications for their requirements when preparing a Postal for mailing.

You can also refer to the Post Office for current guidelines for mailing packages or letters.

Important Note:If your envelope has postage stamps and weighs more than 10 oz or is thicker than 1/2", you can't put it in a collection box; you have to give it to an employee at a Post Office location.

Internal Packaging (applies to Standard and Heavy PLBs): The stamp should be contained within something that will absorb residue ink. This is often a piece of felt or cloth simply wrapped around the stamp or tied with a ribbon or string. Be aware that a string or band around a stamp can cause a divot in the carving. Others make or purchase decorative pouches for their stamps, while some incorporate the stamp holder into the logbook itself. The logbook and stamp (with its container) may then be put into a baggie. Write the name of the Letterbox, your name and address, and the AQ number on the bag on each baggie. This will help keep the contents together and identifies them if they get separated.

If you include additional items (explanation pages, CDs, DVDs, etc., in separate bags), all of these items should be placed within a larger overall bag. In these cases, it is a good idea to make a list of the contents and tape it to the plastic bag.

Internal Packaging (applies to Micro PLBs): Packaging of Micro PLBs is very important for meeting Post Office requirements. The entire finished piece needs to easily slide through a space/slot that is 1/4" wide. Items inside need to be spaced out and anchored in some way to avoid shifting. Example: if a logbook and stamp are free to move about they may end up on top of each other can cause the whole postal to get eaten by a hungry automated postal machine. The stamp needs to be thin enough to be flexible and not cause the entire Postal to be over 1/4" in thickness.
The logbook can be the same thickness and flexibility as the stamp, or it can be a folder that holds everything else in place for the recipients to stamp their sig stamps.

External Packaging (applies to Standard and Heavy PLBs): Boxes and Envelopes are intended to be reusable from stop to stop. The usual envelope size for Standard PLBs is 6x9, but this will vary according to the size of the PLB, Heavy PLBs can be any size and shape. The bubble mailer envelopes hold up longer under repeated use, and add a cushion of protection for the contents, so most people prefer them. When using bubble mailer envelopes, it is helpful to cover the areas that are likely to be used the most with clear packing tape. People who use paper envelopes which work well, but are less costly, often cover the entire surface of their envelopes with clear packing tape so they will be sturdier. Never cover postage stamps with tape as this will invalidate them.

The PLB's owner's return address should remain on the envelope/box throughout its travels. Do not cover the owner's return address when you are mailing PLBs that you have received. If you see that the owner's return address has been covered at some point or is missing, it is a nice idea to contact the owner privately and ask if they would like you to restore the proper address.

Most people write an abbreviated description of the box's title someplace on the outside of the envelope. This will help when mailing several at one time.

External Packaging (applies to Micro PLBs): Micro PLBs use a fresh (new) #10 regular business envelope at each stop. The envelope the Postal arrived in is not reused. Most participants will include a set of return address labels to put in the upper left corner. They are either sticky labels, or a simple printed Word Doc of multiple address labels that can be cut apart and glued or taped on as needed. See General Guidelines for Addressing below.

Sealing Reusable Envelope (Standard and Heavy): Do not use the envelope's adhesive strip to seal the envelope. This damages the envelopes quite a bit, particularly with the bubble mailer envelopes. Instead, use clear packing tape to cover the adhesive strip so that it cannot be removed and also to seal the envelope. When you are repackaging a PLB that you have received, never reuse pre-existing tape, because it is likely to pop open in transit. Always use fresh tape! If possible, peel the tape to open the package. Try to avoid cutting the tape, but at times this is unavoidable.

General Guidelines--Addressing for Automation (Applies mostly to Micro PLBs): The Post Office uses automated equipment to facilitate speedy and cost effective handling of the US Mail (no comments please). In order for your mail to make the most efficient use of this system, it is best to use white envelopes or labels with black ink. Print carefully or type in all uppercase, use abbreviations where appropriate and no punctuation. Remember, the address needs to do the job of getting read by a machine, if a person needs to sort it out, it will take longer.

This is copied directly from USPS.com: Step 2: Address Your Mail
Print addresses neatly in capital letters.
Use a pen or permanent marker.
Do not use commas or periods.
Include the ZIP+4 Code whenever possible.

Security Precautions: Particularly since 9/11, the post office is much more concerned about matters relating to security. Just like you should not plant a letterbox that might be mistaken for a bomb, do not mail postals that might be mistaken for a bomb or weapon. Things that might cause a security scare can include (but are not limited to) not having enough postage, using only a person's trail name instead of their real name, well-worn packaging, and not using a proper return address label.

What should NOT go into a postal?

Do not put these items into a postal:
  • Hitchhikers intended to travel only among traditional boxes
  • Cooties
  • Anything that makes a package weigh too much unless it is cleared with the other participants
  • Anything prohibited by the USPS

What may I do with PLBs that have returned home?

There are a couple of main options:
  • Reissue as a Singleton postal so that the log book can fill up.
  • Retire the postal letterbox (change the status to "retired").

Once a postal is retired, you may choose to do a number of things with it:
  • Plant it as a traditional or mystery box.
  • Use it as a hitchhiker (if it is small).
  • Have it become a personal traveler (particularly if it is something special to you that you don't want to risk losing).

In these three cases, you will need to create a new listing for the box. You cannot simply change the box type or delete the old listing, because this can cause confusion in the online logbooks. You may consider noting in the clues that it was previously a Postal Letterbox so that nearby postal finders can choose whether to hunt for a stamp they may have already received in the mail. Some people also opt to use a new logbook for the box rather than the one that traveled as part of the PLB.

Are there any general postal guidelines for anyone new to postals?

  • Your Postals should always include a logbook and hand-carved stamp unless specified otherwise.
  • You should always use a suitable mailer based on the type of postal you are creating. Try not to crowd the package which can make it difficult for others to repack properly.
  • For Postals (other than the Micro version) put packing tape on all the appropriate places so the envelope can be used multiple times. (Over your return address, on the spot where the to: label goes, the corner where postage goes, the flap of the envelope and the section you are sealing the flap to.) Some types of mailers (i.e. paper) will only survive if they are completely covered with clear tape.
  • The more you can do to help the recipient efficiently remove existing labels and tape the more you will be appreciated. Folding over small corners of tape for easily removal is one such thing.
  • Remember: Never put tape over postage stamps as it will invalidate the postage!
  • For Micro Postals a fresh envelope is used each time. Small pieces of tape that do not increase the weight can be used to help seal the flap, reinforce the sides, and also protect the to: and from: address labels. It is not a good idea to cover the whole envelope with packing tape as this can cause the barcode that the PO imprints to smear and delay processing.
  • Always send your Postals to the same person in a ring unless otherwise asked.
  • Put all of the contents back into the correct envelope when you are done stamping in. (reseal bags, etc.)
  • If more that one member of a family or group makes stamps for a ring, please include all stamps and logbooks for that ring from that family or group in the same mailer.
  • Please don't use metallic ink on anyone else's stamps unless they specify it's OK.
  • If something comes up (vacation, sickness, etc.), let someone know so no one panics when they haven't heard from a stamp in a week.
  • Most people are very understanding if you let them know when there's a problem.
  • Please remember to log your finds. People like to keep track of their stamps.
  • Lastly, please know that comments are very much appreciated in both logging on-line and in logbooks. You can use the same comment for both, and they will always bring a smile.

How do I list a postal bonus box?

List it as a regular postal, adding the word Bonus to the end of the name and mark the status as unavailable. Once you join a ring, you can add the bonus box—but be sure the owner of the postal tracker approves before doing so.

What do the icons on a postal represent?

Stamp Types

AttributeDescription
The creator promises you'll find a genuine, 100% hand-carved stamp in the letterbox and not a store-bought or custom-made stamp.
The letterbox contains a unique, custom-made stamp.
The letterbox contains a store-bought stamp rather than a hand-carved or custom-made stamp.

Types of Postals

AttributeDescription
If a postal weighs more than 13 oz., it gets this icon so people realize it will cost more to mail. They mail as First Class Parcel or Priority Mail. For approx. 13oz. cost is $7.65 which includes tracking. (2022)
StandardA Standard PLB weighs less than 13 oz. and is usually mailed in a 6x9 reusable envelope. They mail as First Class Parcel. Starting at about $5.00 for up to 3 oz. includes tracking. (2022)
MicroPLBA Micro PLB weighs 1 oz. or less and fits into a business envelope and meets other PO requirements. They mail for one Forever Stamp. They can weigh over 1 oz. but the creator has to furnish sufficient postage to cover it for each stop. Extra ounce +20¢, non-machinable +30¢ (2022). No tracking is available for Micros

When my postal returns from a ring, how do I list it as a single?

Keep in mind that there is no such thing as "single postals," but rather "single trackers."

Create a new tracker, then set the attributes for it to be a singleton. Add your postal to the tracker, and you're good to go.

What do I do with a postal found in a traditional box

You really shouldn't find postals in a traditional box, but if that were to happen, you can either leave it in the box or take it with you.

If you take it with you, try contacting the owner of the box to see what they'd like done with it and, if that does not work, go ahead and give or mail the box to another letterboxer who might be interested in it.

What are Best Practices for MicroPlbing?

  • Do log your find at atlasquest.com. It is appreciated to leave a nice comment.
  • Do stamp your signature stamp in any available space and include the date and place (city, state). Again, it is appreciated to leave a comment in the logbook as well as on-line.
  • Extra stamp-ins are welcome if the box’s owner says it’s OK. Please conserve space.
  • Do stamp the image into your logbook. Clean by blotting excess ink off stamp.
  • DO NOT USE METALLIC INK on someone else’s stamp.
  • Do not over-ink a stamp, a gentle tap-tap-tap with the inkpad will do.
  • These stamps are thin and can easily gum up with ink.
  • If this PLB is part of a tracker, mail to the person below you on the tracker.
  • Do check your mail-to person’s status by looking at the tracker grid to make sure they are logging what you have sent to them.
  • If this PLB is a Singleton, you will need to contact the person below you on the tracker for their mailing address and to make sure they are ready to receive.
  • Do discard the envelope it came in. Write or affix a label with the address of the next recipient on a fresh/new #10 business envelope.
  • Use the return address label provided or write the name and return address of the owner on the new envelope--the return address should always be the owner’s.
  • Use YOUR own Forever Stamp. If the envelope is over 1 oz. an extra ounce stamp should be provided. You still need to use your own Forever stamp.
  • Put everything in the new envelope, making sure contents cannot shift around.
  • Make sure the envelope is securely sealed. Add a small amount of tape to secure the flap and edges.
  • Do not put anything in the new envelope that wasn’t in the old one.
  • Weight is very important, it is easy to exceed the 1 oz. threshold.
  • Drop the Micro in any mailbox for USPS pick-up.

How does mail get sorted?

Here's a quick video with comments following from Quiet Place who actually works at a mail sorting facility.
https://youtu.be/gB7QOK1bd3U
The following is quoted from a Postal Board message 1014656 by Quiet Place dated June 20, 2022

"Those images in the video aren't in the right order and the explanation of what is happening is somewhat lacking.

"The first machine dumping the mail will cull out letters that can't run on the Advanced Facer Canceler System (AFCS) machine where letters are faced and cancelled. But the AFCS machine is not friendly to unsealed envelopes, which is one of the main reasons for damaged mail in that location.

"Next, the machinable letters will be ran on a Delivery Bar-code Sorter (DBCS) or Delivery Barcode Sorter Input/Output Subsystem (DIOSS) to sort it to cities or to the next in-office run. We dedicate 3 machines for this.
DBCS or DIOSS will then be used to put the local mail in delivery point sequence for the carriers. We have 17 of those machines in my facility. Each will Delivery Point Sequence (DPS) about 100,000 pieces of mail every night. That mail will need to be run twice in a specific order to get it into sequence for the carrier. Every machine has at least two separate DPS runs which must both be complete by 4:45 a.m., and out of all that processing there might be a dozen letters that rip when a jam occurs.

"Considering how long it would take to sort all that by hand, ...the machines are well worth the risk. And besides, I find running these machines to be very satisfying work.

"If an envelope is intended to be hand-sorted, it should be thick enough so the machine will cull it. The most problematic mail is very narrow at the edges and contains a fat lump of mystery item in the middle. The narrow part will begin to feed into the machine and the lump will get caught on a gate or between two rollers.

"Even if you are sending the shaved stamp and want it to be machinable for cheaper postage, there are things you can do to help prevent causing a jam. The stamp should be housed between two pieces of cardstock inside the envelope to create tapering and to add sturdiness. Try to get the stamp to stay in the center of the envelope, maybe by putting it inside a small, thin plastic baggie and taping that to the center of the cardstock. Note that I'm advising cardstock and not thick cardboard... you have to be able to bend it somewhat or it will jam in the rollers. I would also add a piece of packaging tape that goes all the way around the length of it, but leave space at the bottom for the barcode. This tape should have no ripples or loose ends that don't stick well or other letters will get stuck to yours and now we're going to have mis-sorts AND maybe a jam. Summary: taper, sturdy but flexible, lump in the center, plastic (tape) is harder to rip than paper."

The following applies mostly to Standard Postals, not Micros:

"The post office has parcel sorting machines as well... In terms of package safety, all tape should be secured. If the edges of the tape come up, the package could tape itself to another package just long enough to end up in the wrong place."

On Standard or Heavy Postals, the common practice of covering "the entire postal package with tape...is best. Taping over labels prevents water from smearing it if it comes into contact with rain soaked packages. If you don't want your package to bend, put thick cardboard around it so that you yourself can't easily bend it. Putting something in a regular envelope and writing instructions on the outside will do nearly nothing once it gets into a processing plant."

(A little paraphrasing here) The machines can read the name AND the address. The machine, right from the beginning, will know if a letter needs to be forwarded or returned. At (local) facility it is kicked out into a different tray on every DBCS and then when the tray is full it gets put in a container and sent to a larger facility where it is processed with those yellow stickers that will forward it, return it, or send it back for the carrier to verify if there is a real problem or not. This process can cause errors. There is a set of names that belong at an address, so any name which doesn't belong may then be returned unable to forward.

"Machines can read cursive and even if the machine can't read it, letters get hand sorted when the machine rejects them."