Just My (Forty) Two Cents

A few months back, we here at Analog Nation delved into the intricate world of philatelists, individuals who are compelled to find, analyze, and catalog stamps. These people are connoisseurs. They see art where others see only paper and ink. And while it may be amusing to label them, en masse, as weirdos — which I have no problem doing — it's hard to argue the fact that they have a point. There is value in craftsmanship, even when applied to something designed to be licked. Well apparently The Furies decided that I was making japes at the philatelists' expense, and arranged a demonstration. I was to learn, to my intense aggravation, the worth of a well-made stamp.

The demonstration was to involve Christmas cards.

Most of the people on my Christmas card list receive a sneak preview of the hand-drawn card that hits the site on Christmas morning. However, I do mail out a certain number of actual cards, mostly to family members. And this year, the cards I got were pretty bad-ass: 3D pop-up scenes of Santa's Workshop from the Museum of Modern Art's design store. These things were no joke. Built to serve as both greeting card and fully functional toy, they were like yuletide tactical warheads, releasing cluster munitions of holiday joy to maximize the damage radius.

As a result, they were really more like small packets than cards. We have a postage meter at the office, which confirmed my suspicion that the cards were over the weight limit for a single stamp. I went to the Post Office to get some 17 cent "second ounce" stamps, but the automated vending system-deely had those stamps fairly well concealed in its menu of death. Given the growing line of disgruntled Financial District dwellers behind me, I gave up and simply bought two stamps for each card. Well played, Post Office, well played.

So now these things were over-stamped, at 84 cents per card. And I couldn't help noticing something about the stamps themselves. They were utterly disposable — flimsy to the point of being see-through. From a sustainability perspective, of course, it makes total sense to use less materials. But these things were a far cry from the level of quality seen in the average philatelist's collection. Well hey, stamps are stamps, right? Off the cards went to deliver their payload of Christmas destruction, postmarked December 15th.

Last Tuesday, one of them came back.

Ten weeks after I left it in the care of the USPS, it showed up in my mailbox, sealed in one of those protective "sorry we borked your mail" envelopes. Yet the card was completely un-borked. Not a scratch on it, in fact. This was just straight up returned to sender. At first I was merely bummed, but then I started to look for the reason it was got sent back ... and there wasn't one. The address was correct, it had nearly a dollar of stamps on it, and all the other cards had reached their targets just fine.

I don't know, genius, you tell me.

The envelope offers no explanation. It was rubber-stamped twice with a list of possible reasons, none of which are checked. All it says is, "Return to sender?" with a giant question mark, implying that there were other avenues left unexplored. "Feed to pigeons?" "Use as paint stirrer?" "Throw at homeless guy?"

I opened it up to get a look at the card, and that's when I noticed the stamps. They had not been processed as normal, but rather were crossed out with a pen.

This is as much as my crap-tastic webcam can focus.

I've been mulling this over for several days now, and the only conclusion I've been able to reach is that the card, which somehow got separated from the others, was flagged for insufficient/fraudulent postage and kicked back to my doorstep.

In other words:

Their new stamps are so shitty, they themselves are unable to recognize them.

And in the distance, surrounded by scrapbooks, tweezers, and magnifying glasses, the philatelists weep.