Thursday, 2 May 2013

Send it with Sound

For a seven month period during 1984 and 1985, a purchase of a £1.70 booklet of stamps offered an opportunity to send off for a special LETTER CASSETTE pack.

For 68p in stamps (that's four out of the ten 17p stamps in the booklet) you could buy a unique Royal Mail-sanctioned package. It was a specially designed padded envelope with a prepaid 1st Class 'Frama' label attached to it (named after the machine that dispensed them) - so you could mail the package anywhere in the UK. An Airmail gummed-label was included, and a space below the 1st Class label, to stick an additional stamp to pay for overseas use.

In the package there was the all important blank tape cassette of 20 minutes duration on which recorded messages could be sent to the recipient. Also enclosed was a set of instructions (with typically period illustrations) enabling the user to make the most of the 'Letter Cassette' that they'd just spent 68 pence on. A lot of effort by the Royal Mail then for what they must have believed would be a successful initiative.

I doubt whether anyone knows today how many of these things actually sold. But I've never come across any recorded-on examples of a 'Letter Cassette'. Neither have I spotted genuinely used envelopes - the ones which were not merely unopened packages that had been sent through the mail for purely philatelic use.

However, this idea didn't fade away. It was taken up by An Post, the Irish postal service, around the same time - and for possibly the same kind of duration as the UK service. Of course, this idea is not a new one.

Decades earlier, 78 rpm discs with personal messages were mailed across the world. In future posts, I will focus on such wonderful items as 'Fonopost' 78 rpm recordings from 1930's Argentina, and the UK's 'Voices of the Forces' discs which began in the later years of WW2, and remained in active use for several years afterwards.

But really - I wonder how many people actually used the Royal Mail's 'Letter Cassette' pack, rather than simply relying on their own do-it-yourself versions - where you could buy a blank cassette of longer duration and stick it in an envelope, all for less than the 68 pence that a 'Letter Cassette' cost?

Ok. Anybody out there with a genuine three decades old recording on a 'Letter Cassette'?

The Cassette (unused) and back of Letter Cassette packet

Front of the Letter Cassette envelope

interior of advice booklet
cover of advice booklet
back page of booklet
front and interior of the £1.70 stamp booklet containing the Postal Cassette offer

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