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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Dead Letter Office: 1925

Dead Letter Office: 1925

March 25, 1925. "Frank C. Staley and Frank H. Bushby of Dead Letter Office, P.O. Dept." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
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Fond memories

Up until the late 1960s or so, we used to get parcels sent by my stepfather's family in India like the two behind the gent on the left.

A box would have been wrapped in a couple of layers of cotton duck and sewn securely, then tied with string. It was generously covered in wax seals but I am not sure if those were for customs purposes. I don't think they actually sealed anything as they would have in a letter. There would have been a great many postage stamps and cancellation stamps, as well as customs stamps and transit stamps.

I remember clearly one parcel we received which was crammed full of Indian sweets and delicacies. It was the first time I had ever tasted some of these things and several I have been looking for over the years, to no avail. One of the things that remained up in the cupboard over the fridge in our house for perhaps 30 years and was likely thrown out only when my mother sold the place was a tin of Bombay Duck, which is not duck at all but a dried and salted fish (Lizard fish).

Periodically, we would open the tin up and marvel at the horrible smell and close it up and put it back in the cupboard. I seem to recall being given a piece to taste back when we got the parcel and I suppose it tasted like any other dried, salted fish -- basically, disgusting.

We stopped receiving the parcels after we visited India in 1968 and my dad and his mother had a falling out.

The Tribulations of Suspenders

Stanton_Square, I always appreciate the supplementary material you add to pictures. Thanks! This one is particularly great--whoever wrote it had a light touch. The tribulations of suspenders, indeed!

Uncle Samuel's Auction

This year marked the first time that the Post Office conducted the annual auction itself rather then contract it out to a professional auction house. Perhaps that was the motivation for the photo.

Postal Auction Enriches Treasury by $2,000 in Sales

Accumulation in Mails Varies from Plugs of Tobacco to Layettes - Books Among the Wares - Bidders are Many - Continued Today.

"Ladies and gentlemen: What have we here? A pair of suspenders! Ah, a support - a sustaining influence of life. These hapless suspenders started out of a Chicago mail order house six months ago. Why did they never reach the ultimate consumer? Who knows? Perhaps, the buyer's trousers fell down before they got here. Maybe, he died. But Uncle Samuel must not let sentiment carry him away with the tribulations of these suspenders. They come now to the auction block. They are to go for a mere pittance. What am I offered for them? Fifteen cents? Why, lady, that's a miserly sum. Do I hear 20 cents?"

Uncle Sam, whose multiple businesses have carried him into all sorts of fields since he donned his well known attire, yesterday figuratively rolled up his sleeves and set about to rid himself of the accumulated stuff of his parcel post. For years he has been sitting around and listening to professional auctioneers, but now has learned how to do it himself.

As witness, yesterday's sale, conducted at the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania avenue at Eleventh and Twelfth streets, enriched his pockets some $2,000 and his wares are only half gone.

The variety of a rural general store went yesterday - 80 pounds of plug tobacco for $22; automobile tires, household furnishings, a baby's layette, if you know what that is; a half dozen shirts for men of discrimination and milady's wearing apparel.

Today, beginning at 9:30 o'clock, there is to go for more mere pittances, more automobile tires, more household furnishings and jewelry - everything from rich opals to shimmering diamonds - little pleasantries that might influence your sweetheart if she is indecisive regarding a decidedly decisive step.

The trials of the book houses that sell you through the magazine advertisement and let you become cold before the books reach you are reflected in the literary array. There is a book on the "Life of Woodrow Wilson," by Josephus Daniels, lying alongside "The Government as a Strikebreaker," by Joy Lovestone. There are books of every description, in fact.

The building was crowded for yesterday's sale, but just like the professional auctioneers, Uncle Sam is saving the best things for today.

F.C. Staley, superintendent of the division of dead letters and dead parcel post, is supervising the sale. He just returned from supervising thirteen other sales in various parts of the country. Captain of the Watch, A.S. Riddle, Charles Kracke, a clerk in the dead letter office, and F.H. Bushby, another postal employee, are crying the merits of the wares.

Washington Post, Apr 3, 1925

The heck with the toys...

...Have you seen what beat-up old wooden crates go for at antique shows?

Love to have that little touring car toy though.

Naughty Boys

I wonder how many of those cloche hats and baby dolls were stuffed in the mailboxes by smarty-pants boys who were teasing little sisters and hapless ladies.


Rosebud the sled was saved from the incinerator, changed her name, and promptly got lost in the mail.


That Champion sled brings back some great memories. Ahhhh....


It's still being auctioned off -- on eBay!

You know the Post Office

What do you bet that every item pictured is still sitting in a Postal warehouse somewhere... I mean, they aren't going to say "Ok...throw out all the old stuff."

[All of this stuff was unloaded every few months at a public auction. - Dave]

Dear Acme Bird Supply

Please send one pheasant nailed to a board. Am currently without. Thank you.

When Santa didn't come

...was probably Christmas 1924, since in my childhood everyone who lived in small towns used to get their Christmas gifts through Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward or other mail order catalogs. I would go so far as to say my mom ordered ALL our gifts from those two first mentioned. How heartbreaking for those who waited for the delivery that ended up in March, still in the dead letter office.


Look at all the toys. There's Rosebud front and center.

Guess my address labels fell off

I'm sorry, Mr. Postmaster, but all of these things are mine. I don't know how the mailing labels fell off. I've been waiting ever so long for all of it! Thanks for storing everything for me. Just go ahead and forward it all to me now. Thanks.


Most of the tires look pretty used. I wonder what the story is.

All those tires!

All those tires! I didn't know you could buy tires online back then!

Antiques Roadshow

I couldn't help wondering what the wheeled bear and tin car toys would bring today if they were to appear on the Antiques Roadshow. I doubt they ever found their rightful owners.

The moral of the story:

Don't send tires in the mail! They won't get through.

Tires by mail

Wow! I didnt know the mail-order tire business was that big back then. and what's with the dead pheasant nailed to the board??


I am amazed at how much of the dead mail is tires. Until 2003 I operated a rural garage and found that the Postal Service was the best choice when tires were being shipped to me. By this era experience had taught me that it must have been UPS that had a dead tire office.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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