By Bill Primavera
When was the last time you actually wrote a letter to a friend with a pen on paper, placed it in an envelope, sealed it, affixed a stamp, left it in your mailbox and raised the red metal flag to let the mailman know you were making use of the U.S. Postal Service?
For many of us, that activity has completely vanished, and the mailbox today serves mainly to receive bills, junk mail and campaign literature from politicians.
The mailbox also serves to notify drivers of the number assigned to our house and perhaps our family name. That is, for most people. As for me, I no longer have an individual mailbox, living as I do in a large condo building with a tiny mailbox slot that I open with a key. But that’s okay, I guess, considering that the primary function of the mailbox, even its necessity, has diminished significantly since the advent of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and texting.
It’s worth noting that FedEx and UPS, with their express mail and delivery of packages, which come directly to our doors bypassing the mailbox altogether, is responsible for a 30 percent decline in the use of the U.S. Postal Service in just 10 years.
Does this all mean that the mailbox will eventually disappear and go the way of the horse and buggy?
It would be a shame for that to happen, considering that since the 1860s when the postal service as we know it originated, the mailbox has become an accepted – even expected – feature and offers yet another opportunity to create curb appeal, distinguishing the look of our property from that of our neighbors.
But that wasn’t always the case. At the 18th century home I recently sold, I had a large tunnel-shaped mailbox, and both my wife and I loved it because it held so much, including packages. When we received all of our business mail there before the age of e-mail, it was frequently stuffed to the brim.
I learned that this particular style of mailbox was designed by a postal worker named Roy Jorolemen in 1915 and was soon adopted by postal regulations for universal use. By 1923, when it became mandatory for every household to have a mailbox, that shape dominated the roadside landscape for many years.
I found photographs of that house from the 1920s taken from the vantage point of the same sturdy mailbox that remains there today, protected through the years by layers of paint, a replaced wooden bottom and a sturdy metal pole supporting it.
In 1978, postal authorities approved a contemporary mailbox specification for alternative designs. Today, our local post offices don’t care much about how our mailboxes look. In checking a while back with my local post office, I was told that the only requirements now are to place the bottom of the box three and a half to four feet above the ground so the door can be easily accessible from postal vehicles. It must also be directly on the line of the curb, even if you don’t have a curb. Furthermore, a mailbox should have a signaling device – that red metal flag – to indicate mail is ready to be picked up.
Because we now have all this leeway in mailbox design, a new cottage industry has developed where specialty mailboxes can be designed to a homeowner’s whim. Design options range from a John Deere tractor, to a puppy dog, to an exact replica of one’s own home. Of course, they are ordered online.
Lately, the design has been influenced by the increased risk of vandalism with mailboxes made of composite plastic or heavy-gauge steel or aluminum plate. Some composite mailboxes made of resilient polymer plastics and mounted on ground spikes can withstand severe impacts from baseball bats or even being struck by a vehicle. Also, you may have noticed that some homeowners have built solid brick or stone pillars on each side of their driveways with a metal box lodged securely inside one of them.
Whatever the style of a mailbox, its look and upkeep are very much a factor in the perceived curb appeal of a property. It’s what a passerby — or prospective homebuyer — sees even before catching a glimpse of the house. So, its appearance is something to be considered.
Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.