A YOUNG lady of amiable nature appeared on my television lately to urge me to use some special hurry-up service of the postal people, assuring me it would cost "only" $2.90. So I said to myself, sezzi, "I wonder what happened to special delivery?" And I thought about my boyhood stamp collection, which is now in a vault in the custody of my posterity.
The special-delivery postage stamp cost 10 cents, and the first one I encountered showed a fellow on a bicycle, and later a messenger on a motorcycle. The price remained at 10 cents, I think - at least until I stopped collecting stamps. I don't remember when special delivery ceased here, but 25 years ago was pleased to find that in the Federal Republic, the Germans continued the service.
We had arrived in Hamburg by freighter from Montreal, and would go by rail to Wolfsburg to pick up an automobile arranged for before we left home. But the ownership papers and insurance policy had been mailed to us in care of an address in Esslingen, near Stuttgart. Our rooming clerk at Hamburg's Hotel Continental (since kaput) on the Hauptbahnhofplatz suggested Eilbote, which translates readily as our old 10-cent special delivery.
I telephoned to Esslingen, our papers were posted, and that afternoon the boy came on his bicycle and we were in business. The boy left his bicycle by the hotel's front door and came up in the elevator to hand us the envelope through our door. We went to Wolfburg the next morning, marveling at German efficiency.
There is still the good question as to why small-town customers of our postal service have to pay for delivery. We, on a rural route, get free delivery, and so do folks in the big towns and cities. But folks in smaller communities which do not have carrier delivery are required to rent a box in the post office, paying a fee quarterly. This makes revenue, plus the $2.90 now gained from a 10-cent special delivery. The postal service is reluctant to discuss this.
I was introduced to special delivery just about the same time I began collecting stamps. I was 10 or so. Our family had a post-office box then, No. 188. Instead of a key to open it, there was a combination lock - we dialed S-I. On my way home from school at noon (what hot lunches?) I would pop in, dial S-I, and take our mail along. One noon the postmaster, Luther Cushing, leaned out the stamp window to say "Johnnie - want to pass this to Dave on your way by?" It was a special delivery letter for Dave Lon gway, and he lived right on my way.
Even then, this whole thing was a bit of a hoax. Our town simply did not deliver special-delivery mail in any special way. Customers who dwelt on rural routes got any special letters along with the regular stuff - one trip a day. Those who rented a post office box had any special letters stuck in with the newspaper and the bills.
But now and then, if things "chanced," the 10 cents were well spent, and Postmaster Cushing had chanced to notice me. I was an honest-looking sort and could be trusted. When I handed the special delivery letter to Dave Longway, Dave said, "Jerooshly, Johnnie, whyt Lute stick it in my box and I'd-a got it this morning when I picked up my mail?"
Let us return to the $2.90 as advertised by the young lady. Luther Cushing, postmaster, gave me 8 cents to deliver that special delivery letter to Dave Longway. Like the well-brought-up boy I was, I demurred, "Oh, that's all right," politely refusing emolument for a chore that was right on my way. "No," said Mr. Cushing, "that's yours - you get 8 cents for that."
After that I became somewhat the official special-delivery boy for our town. Some letters were not "right on my way," and I made extra steps. I didn't have a bicycle. But I'd get 32 cents, maybe 48 cents, and once I got 80 cents - and when a boy was about 10 in those days and had coins like that to jingle, I didn't need any license to steal.
And what do you know? One day a special delivery came with my name on it, and I got 8 cents free and clear. The letter was from the Youth's Companion, telling me I had won honorable mention in the Halloween jingle contest.