Down the Rabbit Hole with the World's Smallest Postal Service


Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

I'm a firm believer in clinging to as much childlike wonder as possible. I love it when people take it upon themselves to inject a little magic and whimsy into the human herd. A few examples, one from my past that's stayed with me, one a recent discovery. Years ago, I was living in a group house. A woman came to visit, an artist and crafter who specialized in miniatures and dioramas. Her work, which she shared with us via a slideshow, was breathtaking – these pristine little dioramas, frozen scenes from some alternative kidverse of talking-animal storybook characters and various human strangelings, all going about their daily Lilliputian lives inside her little black boxes. She stayed for a few more days, and after she left, life on the commune moved on. We had a tree in our front yard which was itself something out of storybook, a big ol' gnarly tree with a humongous rotted knothole on one side. One day, I was doing some work in the yard, likely grumbling over the heat and the generalized ick of a Virginian late-summer afternoon. As I passed the tree, something caught my eye, something in the knothole. I peered in, and for a triple-take moment, all of the wistful fantasies of childhood overtook my adult reality. There, inside the dank hole, was a tiny overstuffed chair sitting on a braided rug, and next to it stood a floor lamp. Tiny pictures hung on even tinier nails on the inside walls of the knothole. A family portrait. Reclining in the chair, watching the TV inside the hole, sat a little rabbit-man. I think he had on overalls. And he may have been drinking something. A can of carrot juice? Honestly, I don't remember the details, and I'm sure time and memory have exaggerated them. But I honestly remember the impact. It was a simple reality hack with extraordinary impact, a rare moment when magic existed in the world. It worked me on so many levels – the fact that she never said anything to us about it, the amount of thought and work she'd put into it (all in secret), my chance discovery of it days after she'd gone, and that brief, delicious blurring of the mundane and the fantastic – a gift given only to those who happened upon it.
This is all a very long-winded way of introducing my most recent encounter with someone doing the work of the fairy. Lea Redmond calls it the World's Smallest Postal Service. She writes little tiny letters on little tiny stationary and seals them with wax inside a little tiny stamped and canceled envelope. The letter is then placed by an official World's Smallest Postal Service employee (er... Lea) inside a little tiny blue post box.
Then our ham-handed land of the giants reality takes over and the little magic letter is prepared for real-world mailing. It is put into a slide mount-like viewing envelope and then inside of a larger glassine envelope with a magnifying glass thoughtfully included so that the recipient can actually read it. You can order the letters online or you can check the calendar to see where the World's Smallest Postal Service will be setting up shop in the Bay Area. Online, you fill out a form with what you want your letter to say (up to 12 lines!) and where you want it sent. Each letter cost a measly $8. I bought a bunch of them for family and friends over the holidays and everyone seemed genuinely enchanted by the whole enterprise. Be sure to check out the rest of Lea's site. There's more clever whimsy to be had: matchbox theater, recipe dice, conceptual knitting patterns, earrings with flower seeds in 'em, and lots more awesomeness, If you ask me, we need a lot more surprise knothole dioramas and little tiny wax-sealed letters in this-here junkyard world. Are ya with me, people?


  1. hmm… yes, very cool. very cute. but, um, maybe the font for the link is the World’s Smallest Font Size?

  2. Whenever nobody is looking I break off icicles, invert them, and place them into a snowbank to make a righteous castle. Also, little 12-inch snowmen (with twig arms) on strangers’ car hoods also goes over well.

    Up With Whimsy!

  3. Delightful!

    I just ordered a birthday card for my 4-year-old son written by a mouse living in his basement!

  4. Slightly tangential to this topic — more under the category of random acts of kindness, but years ago, my wife and I started paying the toll of the car behind us when we paid. More than once, the person would race up next to us and look rather alarmed, like we must have some dark or nefarious reason for paying for them. The looks were priceless, but after it happened a couple of times, we stopped doing it.

  5. Gareth – not anonymous enough. Feed parking meters.

    Whimsy introduced into a dangerous situation (like a freeway full of fast moving cars) or a supposedly dangerous situation (like a TSA line) is usually seen as trying to make a fool of someone passive- aggressively.

    Remember the lite-brite mooninites? Wonderful… except for the context, one in which many “very serious people” just could not see the fun in it.

    Find a way to make the very serious people smile without freaking them out and you win.

  6. My wife and I bought our first house last year, and during the summer, we noticed that a small rabbit had taken up residence our bushes.

    There was a distinct hole made by the rabbit in the monkey grass surrounding the base of the bushes, and on a whim, I decided to create a mailbox for him(or her).

    I also added some mail for the bunny, because who doesn’t like to get mail (except for maybe those Val-Pak mailers):

    More pictures here:

  7. Oh my gosh this reminds me of the best parts of elementary school. Diaoramas were amazingly time-consuming to build, but I remember making a city scene once that I still remember all the details of.

    The product’s absolutely enchanting.

  8. This is amazingly awesome. Love the concept. What fun.

    An experience I had that evoked a similar sense to how you describe the knothole:

    A year or two back, I was driving down the road when I noticed on the left about 30-40 stuffed animals sitting on a grassy bank that sloped up to the woods. No buildings or signs or anything, just a neatly arranged congregation of stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes, in several orderly rows, all facing the road, sans explanation.

    Bizarre but wonderful. I regret not stopping to get a picture.

  9. Tasha Tudor (1915-2008), an enormously creative American illustrator of children’s books, did this with her children when they were small. She called it “Sparrow Post”, if I recall correctly. That woman made her own magical life.

  10. A few days ago, I saw that you were gonna be a guest blogger. I first read your writing back in 1995 in a book by our mutual…acquanitance…Patch Adams. I then bought the Happy Mutant Handbook, volunteered at GI!, and haven;t turned back.
    I hadn’t noticed the author of this post when I started reading. For some odd reason, the phrase ‘clever whimsy’ reminded me of GI! and you.
    Did you know Cheryl Casteen? She and I used to send an unwrapped fish pencil box back and forth in the mail, stuffed with odd baubles and notes. It was fun to see the look on the postal employees’ faces whenever I got it weighed for postage…

  11. My Valentines Card to mrs grom arrived this week via Lea’s World’s Smallest Postal Service and was unfortunately opened early as it didn’t have the promised ‘Do not open until Feb 14th’ on the outside envelope. Not a big deal as it was deemed a thing of beauty by mrs grom and everyone who has seen it so big brownie points for me and I don’t have to worry about getting anything for Valentines.

    We’re also going to order a letter from the Tooth Fairy for each of our littl’uns.

    These really are extraordinarily cute and don’t worry about Lea’s poor wrist – she only handwrites orders taken in person, online orders are printed using a custom font of her handwriting (but still looks awesome)

  12. The rest of her shop is brilliant too — she has earrings which are little capsules full of seeds, and recipe dice!

  13. I had a wonderful experience along these lines.

    About 15 years ago I was visiting an obscure part of the Chesapeake Bay in MD. While skipping stones I picked up a flat, somewhat rounded, roughly triangular stone, approximately the size of 50-cent piece.

    As I cocked my arm back to throw, I noticed scratch marks out of the corner of my eye. After 2-3 minutes adjusting the stone’s angle to the sun, I could just make out the following message, which was scratched into the surface by something very sharp, and very thin:

    “You now have 3 wishes”

    This stone was literally right on the shoreline. The odds that it would be found, and that the message would be noticed, seem infinitesimal…

    For many years that stone made me smile. Unfortunately I lost track of it some time ago, but remembering it still brings me joy.

    I imagine the next person — if he or she is lucky enough — finding it, noticing the message, and wondering just how and why it came into their life.

  14. @Gspeex
    Yes, I know (and dearly love) Cheryl Casteen! I haven’t seen her in person in a while, but we’ve talked on the phone, in email, and on Facebook.

    I love mailing weird stuff in the mail. My favorite was a very realistic-looking pelvis a friend sent to me in 1999 when I got my hip replacement. She just wrote the letter right on the faux-bone and glued stamps on it. I proudly display it in my library.

  15. Jut a quick note:
    Lea/World’s Smallest Post Office will be appearing with the ladies of Pod Post (a duo of like-minded letterwriters) at The Curiosity Shoppe (Valencia St.)this weekend (02.07.09)in SF; come on down and say “howdy” from 2-7 pm.
    There’ll be valentines and tiny missives galore!
    –Jennie Pod

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