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Book Review: An American Postal Portrait: A Photographic Legacy

First class all the way

Someone has done a beautiful job selecting the two hundred or so photos in this book. From my experience historical photo surveys often fall down because they frequently use far too many technically bad photos that do have someting to say about what they show. The nice thing about these pages is that you'll not find anything that'll make you say: Why was that picture included?"

Though it was published in 2000 I can't see that this dates the book at all. USPS might come across as a bureaucratic Washington monster but there is no getting round the fact that it delivers huge amounts of mail anywhere and daily.

The wonderful photos through the pages reveal the history of the mail service and one of the strengths of the book is the frequent naming of individuals in the photos. Page sixty-seven shows Carrie Hurley, a mailbag machinist who retired in 1923, she had sewn 48 million bag seems over twenty-six years, page 112 shows mail carrier Adolphe Lampe with his horse Daisy and wagon, after January 1955 motorized transport took over mail his deliveries in street of Philadelphia. Page 134 has a lovely photo of Moses Walter outside the Stella, Kentucky post office (ZIP 41469) where he worked for five decades and traveled over 500,000 miles delivering mail to Appalachian residents.

Mixed in with the individuals are historical photos of how the Service has moved with the times by using technology to handle ever larger amounts of mail. A photo from 1922 shows the Gehring Mail Distribution Machine used to sort mail but it wasn't until the fifties that non-manual sorting really took off.

The book is a treat to look at with large photos, obviously most are mono and they all get captions that are worth reading. Two spreads in the back pages feature sixty-seven stamps that use the mail service for the illustrations. I thought this was a lovely book that puts a human face on a service that tends to be taken for granted.

An American Postal Portrait: A Photographic Legacy is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | FR | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

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Each of the six chapters open on a spread like this.

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Two spreads at the back of the book feature stamps to do with mail carriers.

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The book's flyleaf.

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Left: the Gehring Mail Distribution Machine being tested in a Washington DC Post Office. It could sort mail to 120 seperate points.

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Right: During the WW2 years V-Mail was developed. Letters were microfilmed and then printed on photographic paper and handed out to the US military on the front-line.

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Right: mule train is still the best way for deliveries to Grand Canyon Havasupai Indian reservation, the book was published in 2000 so this might not be true now.

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Right: forensic analyst in the Postal Service Inspection Service Crime Lab in Washington DC.

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