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Mr. Postman Look at Me: The Art of Letter Boxes and Mailboxes

Stamps are not the only parts of the postal system that are artistic and connected to culture, letter boxes and mailboxes (as they are called in America) are as well.

In Hong Kong, traditionally private letter boxes for the receipt of mail were hand-crafted from sheet metal. However, the craft of creating these functional and beautiful receptacles is fading. In 2018, the South China Morning Post, as part of its focus on Old Hong Kong, produced a video captioned, “Hong Kong’s last mailbox makers fight to keep their craft alive.” It profiled sheet metal craftsmen, including Michael Yu, who as of the date of the video, had taught more than 700 young people to make traditional letter boxes. The video noted that he was selling the boxes he makes to “customers who want to preserve a slice of Hong Kong’s history.” 

Traditionally-styled Hong Kong private letter boxes are lovingly and admiringly portrayed in the work of many Hong Kong-based artists including, Alvin C.K. Lam (The Metal Mailbox Maker), Eleanor McColl (in mixed media works like Jumping Fish and paintings like Falangcai Love) and Lorette Roberts (various works, including sketches and greeting cards). 

In Central and Sheung Wan all sorts of beautiful private post boxes, which are themselves pieces of art, are on display. The Hongkong Post does issue suggested dimensions for private letter boxes to aid in the delivery of mail.

In the United States, it is common to see private mailboxes decorated for various holidays, such as Halloween and Christmas. Sometimes organizations, like a local hospital, sell the decorations as a fundraiser.  

The U.S. Postal service encourages homeowners to take care of their mailboxes. According to the USPS website, “[e]ach year, the Postal Service designates the third week of May as Mailbox Improvement Week to encourage customers . . . to examine and, where necessary, improve the appearance of their mailboxes.“

As with stamps, technology poses some challenges for traditional and decorative mailboxes. As more people use online shopping and have their purchases delivered to their homes, mailboxes struggle to keep up with the flow of commerce. The USPS advises its customers in single family homes (as opposed to in an apartment building/estate) to “[r]eplace your small mailbox1 with a new package-friendly mailbox big enough for all your mail, too.” Hopefully for those of us who appreciate the design and cultural aesthetics of letter boxes, artists and crafts people will continue to create and sell traditionally-styled boxes and the art that portrays them.

For those who appreciate the rich culture of the postal system, be sure to read up on stamp collecting and the extraordinary designs of the Hong Kong stamps.


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'Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.' – Sylvia Plath

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