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April 30, 2018



If you haven't heard from your new pen pal yet and it's been a couple of weeks, ask yourself: did I remember to put my return address on the envelope? If you're unsure, write them again! Just a quick postcard that includes your return address will do. I'm forever grateful that one of my new pen pals did this, as I was unable to respond to her initial letter that was missing a return address. We're still corresponding all these years later. :)

E. A.

I have a delightful correspondent who likes to place my address in unusual places on the envelope, and there are usually a lot of other things on the face of the envelope, with stamps above and below the address......and occasionally one or the other of us will marvel at how long it takes mail to get to me. ;)

The other day I received a SASE with the stamp on the lower left.

All of this to say: thank you - your reminders are helpful and eternally pertinent.


Thanks! Now I understand why the return address should not be on the back of the envelope! My family always needs my address. The ongoing challenge is to get anyone to write the Apt # on the same row as the address.
The PO sent us an official notice stating that the Apt should be on the same row as follows:
123 Street Apt 34

My street name is so long that people run out of room!


Many thanks for the tips! I would love to see a sample of your mini return address stamp. I never think about putting return addresses on postcards but it certainly makes sense! Also, I'm curious as to what happens to envelopes or postcards that have the addresses in unusual places, for example, E.A.'s correspondent noted above. Finally, how much does the post office frown on me if I write on my postcard and address vertically rather than horizontally? Sometimes I like to mix things up! thank you!

Joe F.

I've seen the information about putting your return address on the front of the envelope so as not to confound the automated sorters, and I *always* forget. When you've been putting your return address on the back flap for 40 years, it's hard to break the momentum. Many thanks for the reminder; if I read it enough times, I might actually remember one day.


any advice on stamping small address stamps so the print is not crooked?

Alan B

However, in Britain the official advice is that you SHOULD put your return address on the back. The sorting machinery senses the phosphor on the stamps and knows which is the front.

Marti Schrock

I used to have horrible luck with mail being returned to me. I put my return address on the back because I don't always leave room on the front. Now, I put my return address label on the short ends of the envelope in hopes the machines won't read it. Sometimes it works, & sometimes it doesn't. That's part of the fun of the mail, right? Oh, another tip. It could be your PO. Sometimes when I have something returned, I re-send it from another town.

Donovan Beeson

Technically, if you address your item vertically rather than horizontally, you should be charged a non-machinable rate, which for the USPS is the 2oz. rate currently 71cents. BUT, you can probably still get away with the postcard postage most of the time.

Donovan Beeson

Great tip Alan! Good to know. Youd think the UPU would have managed to coordinate these processes, but alas.

Donovan Beeson

Practice! You could also try aligning it against a hardback book. Put the book down on the letter above where you want your impression and glide the stamp down it. A brick would work too, I guess. Anything heavy and straight.


Always, always put your address on the left hand side top of the envelope, if you live in the USA or Canada. For the rest of us, put it on the back!


You know, I have to be honest, all these always, always, rules, rules, rules comments are bringing me down. I'm a mail artist and pushing the boundaries of what the postal system can handle and tolerate is a major part of the fun. Now, I love my postal workers and it's not my aim to make their lives difficult but I sure as heck am not in this game to make the lives of machines any easier. If the design of my envelope necessitates the return address being on the back, I'm putting it on the back. I've never had a letter returned for this reason and I send on average 2-5 a week. I know it happens but it's rare and if I did get it back, big deal, I'll just mail it again. I have seen some crazy loosey goosey addressing and it always arrives one way or another. If the cost of getting creative is that it takes a little longer or it might have to take two trips I think it's worth it. Forgive me for sounding like a crazy radical but the whole world is trying to squeeze us into smaller and smaller boxes of conformity and I just need to push back on that, especially with my most beloved hobby.

Alan B

Agreed, but mail art is not the same as letter writing, and it seems that in the US at least being creative makes you 'non machinable' and more expensive. Here there is no such restriction so you could say that being unreadable to a machine keeps postal workers in a job by preventing full mechanisation!

Donovan Beeson

Bravo! I do want to encourage this, but Im running into issues where people are not using a return address at all. Weve gotten a lot of lost my pen pal emails lately which prompted the post.


Do you have a go-to resource for formatting international addresses? I had to argue this out with my Belgian partner who insisted that I was formatting his mom's address wrong (I wasn't).

Donovan Beeson

I dont really. If Im stumped, I go to the postal website of the country and try to puzzle it out from there.

Donovan Beeson

Oh, but for mailing from the U.S.A., you have to append the country at the very bottom, under where the postal code is.

Alan B

It's not entirely up to date but you could try
Franks Compulsive Guide to Postal Addresses


Never, never would I have though so simple and useful a tip would generate so many comments!


The UPU website is useful too: http://www.upu.int/en/activities/addressing/postal-addressing-systems-in-member-countries.html

Select the country you need from the drop-down menu + click "Display," and you will see standard examples of how to address your mail for that given country.

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