ⓘ Dead letter mail or undeliverable mail is mail that cannot be delivered to the addressee or returned to the sender. This is usually due to lack of compliance wi ..


ⓘ Dead letter mail

Dead letter mail or undeliverable mail is mail that cannot be delivered to the addressee or returned to the sender. This is usually due to lack of compliance with postal regulations, an incomplete address and return address, or the inability to forward the mail when both correspondents move before the letter can be delivered. Largely based on the British model that emerged in the late eighteenth century, many countries developed similar systems for processing undeliverable mail.

The term dead mail is perhaps a misnomer, and several jurisdictions have opted for the use of the term undeliverable mail as more clearly representing the status of the item whose transmission has been impeded. As it is performed by internal departments within postal administrations, little information about the dead letter office function has ever been made public. A few journal articles and at least one recently published book Canadian dealing with this topic have appeared.

Classification as a dead letter is one of the few instances where postal personnel are allowed to violate secrecy of correspondence, ostensibly to search for clues as to the letters origin or destination. Countries must also set up regulations for the disposal of dead letters, particularly when they contain items of value. Some very valuable items have turned up in undeliverable mail, including a stolen painting by Marc Chagall which turned up in a United States Postal Service sorting center in Topeka, Kansas.

With increased collection and study of the postal markings originating from such offices, the body of literature on this obscure topic may grow. Many countries, including Canada and the United States, have issued special labels for envelopes that have travelled through the dead letter office. Genuinely used examples are highly prized by collectors, although mint labels, because they have no postage value, are often fairly common.

People interested in postal services throughout the world sometimes deliberately send mail to fictional addresses throughout the world to see if a particular nations postal authority would return the mail to the sender. Collectors of postal markings also use this method in order to receive uncommon postal markings seldom seen in everyday mail.


1. Dead letter office

A dead letter office DLO is a facility within a postal system where undeliverable mail is processed. Mail is considered to be undeliverable when the address is invalid so it cannot be delivered to the addressee, and there is no return address so it cannot be returned to the sender.

At a DLO, mail is usually opened to try to find an address to forward to. If an address is found, the envelope is usually sealed using tape or postal seals, or enclosed in plastic bags and delivered. If the letter or parcel is still undeliverable, valuable items are then auctioned off while the correspondence is usually destroyed. Despite this practice, in the past some undeliverable envelopes were acquired by philatelists.

Dead letter offices go by different names in different countries. Other names include returned letter office or undeliverable mail office.


1.1. Dead letter office Canada

Canada Post sends mail which is not deliverable to the Undeliverable Mail Office NUMO at Mississauga, Ontario, or North Sydney, Nova Scotia. Domestic mail which is still undeliverable after passing through NUMO is then destroyed, while incoming international undeliverable mail is returned to the country of origin.


1.2. Dead letter office Malta

In Malta, undeliverable mail was sorted in the General Post Office in Valletta. The facility was initially known as Returned Letter Branch, but later on it was also referred to as Returned Letter Office or Dead Letter Office. Various postal markings were used at the facility from 1889 onwards.


1.3. Dead letter office United Kingdom

A Dead Letter Office was first established in 1784 for dead and missent letters that had reached London. The bye-letter offices dealt with bye-letters and those that did not go to London. No postage was charged for returns, which were made after six months, where an addressee was found. From 1790 a charge was made for returned letter but the time was reduced to two months by John Palmer. Upon hearing of the return charge William Pitt rescinded the charge.

In the UK, undeliverable mail is processed in the National Returns Centre in Belfast which holds 20 million undeliverable items, or in a smaller office in Portsmouth.


1.4. Dead letter office United States

The U.S. Post Office, as it was known then, started a dead letter office in 1825 to deal with undeliverable mail. By 1893, it handled about 20.000 items every day. In 2006 approximately 90 million undeliverable-as-addressed UAA items ended up in the dead-letter office of the U.S. Postal Service; when the rightful owners cannot be identified, the correspondence is destroyed to protect customer privacy, and enclosed items of value are removed. Items of value that cannot be returned are sold at auction, except for pornography and firearms. The auctions also occasionally include items seized by postal inspectors and property being retired from postal service.

These facilities are now known as mail recovery centers MRC. Other former names include dead letter branch and dead parcel branch. The USPS mail recovery center is located in Atlanta, Georgia. Since April 2013, the postal auctions have been held online and include not only material lost in the U.S. but also material from other national postal authorities who consign them to the USPS for auction.


1.5. Dead letter office In popular culture

  • The 2014 television series Signed, Sealed, Delivered takes place in a fictional dead letter office in Denver, Colorado
  • In the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, two mail sorters handle a letter addressed to "Kris Kringle" at the New York City courthouse, and decide to deliver all the Santa Claus mail now in the dead letter office to the courthouse, where a man calling himself Kris Kringle is facing a mental competency hearing. The mans attorney uses the huge volume of mail as evidence that the federal government recognizes his client as "the one-and-only Santa Claus."
  • In The Simpsons episode "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday", Springfield Elementary School visits their local Post Office and are treated to a piece of undeliverable mail from the dead letter office as a souvenir.
  • The Bones episode "The Male in the Mail" season 7, episode 4 featured a decomposed body turning up at the dead letter office in Washington D.C.
  • The rock band R.E.M. released a compilation of B-sides and rarities entitled Dead Letter Office.
  • Terry Pratchetts Discworld novel Going Postal takes place in a post office. At one point, Moist von Lipwig, the novels protagonist, takes it upon himself to track down the intended recipients of as many dead letters as possible.
  • Horror writer Clive Barkers book The Great and Secret Show features segments centered on the dead letter office at Omaha, Nebraska.
  • In the 1996 comedy film Dear God, a character played by Greg Kinnear, who works in the dead letter office at Los Angeles, California, responds to letters written to God.
  • In Herman Melvilles short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener", it is suggested that Bartleby had been employed as a clerk in the "Dead Letter Office at Washington."

  • A dead letter office DLO is a facility within a postal system where undeliverable mail is processed. Mail is considered to be undeliverable when the
  • A letter box, letterbox, letter plate, letter hole, mail slot or mailbox is a receptacle for receiving incoming mail at a private residence or business
  • A dead drop or dead letter box is a method of espionage tradecraft used to pass items or information between two individuals e.g., a case officer and
  • A mail satchel is a type of mail bag that a letter carrier uses over - the - shoulder for assisting the delivery of personal mail on a designated route. According
  • exhibition of the mail art genre. On April 5, 1973, Johnson declared the death of the New York Correspondance School in an unpublished letter to the Obituary
  • The American Letter Mail Company was started by Lysander Spooner in 1844, competing with the presumed legal monopoly of the United States Post Office
  • other congressional offices. A Dear Colleague letter may be circulated in paper form through internal mail distributed on a chamber floor, or sent electronically
  • discussed above, the Postal Service diverts most of the return mailers of Netflix from automated letter processing at no extra charge, while refusing to offer
  • The National Association of Letter Carriers NALC is an American labor union, representing non - rural letter carriers employed by the United States Postal
  • housework. The Mail maintained the event until selling it to Media 10 in 2009. On 25 October 1924, the Daily Mail published the forged Zinoviev letter which