Saturday, 22 July 2017

A 'true or false' quiz: Unusual items sent through the post.

A post.
Editor's note: "Charles, that's the wrong type of post!"
This week the Charles Fudgemuffin blog features a true or false quiz based on some of the unusual items sent through the postal services around the world. See if you can guess if the following items really were sent through the post, or whether I've just made them up as a sneaky bluff...

1) Children

In the early days of the US Parcel Post Service, at least two children were sent by post.

True or false?

2) A helium balloon

It may seem strange that someone would want to send a fragile item like a helium balloon through the post, but in 1928 Frank Miflin of California walked into his local post office and requested that a helium balloon (with a 20 gram weight attached) be sent by mail to his brother in Florida.

His reason for making such a strange request was financially motivated and also rather sneaky.  As the cost of sending a parcel was decided by weight, Miflin argued that because the balloon was able to lift 20 grams, once the weight was removed the balloon effectively had a negative weight of -20 grams.  He therefore argued that as items were charged by weight that meant the Postal Service should actually pay him for sending the balloon.

As you’d expect, the postal cashier refused his request but Miflin didn’t let it rest and took the Postal Service to court, successfully winning his case that under the terms of the Postal Service regulations he was entitled to payment from the postal service to cover the cost of sending an item through the post with a negative weight.

"Could I send this through the post, please?"
"Is it less than 20cms?"
Days later the postal regulations were amended to remove this loophole and so Frank Miflin became the only person ever to receive payment from the Postal Service for the honour of sending a helium balloon to his brother.

True or false?

3) Baby alligator

It’s legal to send a baby alligator through the post in the United States provided the animal does not exceed 20 inches in length.

True or false?

4) Bees

It’s legal to send live bees through the post in the UK.

True or false?

Diamonds are an insurance company's best friend.

5) A diamond worth a quarter of a billion dollars

In 1958 the Hope Diamond (currently insured for $250 million dollars) was rather bravely and trustingly sent through the post by Harry Winston to its new owner, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

True or false?

6) Waste, dirt, filth or refuse

‘Waste, dirt, filth or refuse’ may be sent through the post in the UK but only if the sender completes form F-48 beforehand.

True or false?

Scroll down the page for the answers...

1) Children - True

A post box ... on a post!
Charles' note to grumpy editor: "Ha! Try and complain this time!"
As ridiculous as it sounds, after the US Parcel Post Service was introduced in 1913 there were indeed at least two recorded instances of children being sent by post. However, once the Postmaster General learned of this practice he quickly issued a regulation making the sending of children in the mail illegal.

In case you’re wondering, the parents of the two children sent by post didn’t wrap them up in a parcel or anything like that.  They just stuck the appropriate amount of stamps on their jacket and then the kid had to ride in the mail carriage of the mail train, along with all the other letters and parcels.

However, back in 1913 one mail user did send the following amusing enquiry to the Postmaster General seeking clarification as to the appropriate manner by which a baby should be wrapped in order to be sent by post:

“Sir: - I have been corresponding with a party in Pa. about getting a baby to raise.  May I ask you what specifications to use in wrapping so it (baby) would comply with regulations and be allowed shipment by Parcel Post as the Express Company are too rough in handling.”

It’s bizarre to read that this potential parent refused to consider using the Express Company as they were ‘too rough’, and yet they were perfectly happy to wrap up a baby!

2) A helium balloon - False

Frank Miflin never sent a helium balloon to his brother because Frank doesn’t exist and neither does his brother.  I just made them up.

In the UK the Royal Mail do charge by weight for some postal services though, so you could try attaching a helium balloon to a letter and seeing what their response would be.  I would guess though, that the cost of the helium balloon would probably be more than the amount you would save by the reduced weight, so it’s probably not worth the effort, not to mention the embarrassment of the post office staff thinking you were a bit of a weirdo.

3) Baby alligator - True

It’s reassuring to know that the US Postal Service have included a precautionary condition that if the baby alligator is over 20 inches long then it can’t be sent through the post.  Because of course, sending a 21 inch baby alligator through the post would just be ridiculous!  Sending a 19 inch baby alligator through the post, however, is of course absolutely fine.

Anyway, as long as certain general requirements are followed, it is indeed legal to send a baby alligator through the US post. If you want to read the full terms for sending a baby alligator through the post you can find them in Publication 52 Section 526.6. The section is rather surprisingly entitled ‘Small, harmless, cold-blooded animals.’

A happy bee.

4) Bees - True

It is indeed legal to send bees through the post in the UK provided they are boxed.  The package must also be marked ‘Urgent - Living creatures - Handle with care’.

Other similar creatures which can be sent through the post include cockroaches, worms, parasites, maggots and spiders.  Anyone who is thinking about a career as a postman may therefore wish to bear this in mind, as I’m pretty sure Royal Mail don’t mention in their job adverts that the duties may include handling boxed cockroaches and parasites.

5) A diamond worth a quarter of a billion dollars - True

At the time it was only worth a ‘mere’ million dollars but even so I would imagine that sending such a massively valuable item through the post must have been quite a stressful experience.  I get a bit nervous even when I send my passport through the post for visa stamps, so if I was sending a diamond worth a quarter of a billion dollars I think the stress would give me a nervous breakdown.

However, under current rules if you send something by Priority Mail Express you do automatically qualify for $100 worth of insurance, so I’m sure that must have at least eased Harry Winston’s concerns slightly.

6) Waste, dirt, filth or refuse - False

"Excuse me, Mr Bird, have you completed form F-48?
If you were to take completed form F-48 to your local post office they would probably look at you like you were a bit of a loony, because in actual fact form F-48 is an application form to handle oysters, clams or mussels in the state of New Jersey.

Waste, dirt, filth or refuse may not be sent through the post in the UK no matter what forms you fill in, and unfortunately being authorised to handle oysters, clams or mussels in New Jersey makes no difference whatsoever.  This is just an example of adding an official sounding requirement to a ridiculous claim to make it sound more believable.

. . . . . . . . .

The true or false quiz featured above was taken from the book 'True Or False: 100 Light-Hearted Facts And Bluffs' which is available for kindle from Amazon:
'True Or False: 100 Light-Hearted Facts And Bluffs' for kindle

. . . . . . . .

On the theme of postal items, here's a plug for my latest short story 'A Parcel For Your Neighbour' for kindle:
'A Parcel For Your Neighbour' for kindle

Here's the blurb:

"Adrian Marshall's plans to end his life meet with an unexpected twist when three thugs turn up at his house demanding payment for a debt Adrian knows nothing about..."

Despite the serious sounding description, and the ominous cover, 'A Parcel For Your Neighbour' for the most part actually has quite a daft tone to it. You may have already guessed this from the author's name.

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About The Author

The 'How To Save The World' books
by Charles Fudgemuffin
Charles Fudgemuffin is the author of the alien comedy 'How To Save The World' books which are available for Kindle from Amazon.  The first book in the series is available from the following link:
How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy

As with all Kindle books, you can also download a free sample of the first few chapters.

Please note, the 'How To Save The World' books contain material suitable for ages 18+ and are not recommended for prudes or squares.