Nostalgia for postcards and letters, how it’s being used for electronic commerce: Tec Review looks at the history of the postal service.
At Melissa Zermello’s feet lie fifteen different-sized boxes, filled with second-hand clothes, accessories and shoes that she sells on her Instagram used goods store. The states to which these boxes are addressed are as different as their sizes.
Melissa’s is not the only used goods store that uses the Mexican postal service to send packages. In the same line, there are many more vendors preparing their packages. “We not only send boxes with products, but we also send a letter of thanks to our customers for placing their trust in us,” the vendors agree.
Before the health crisis, used goods stores on social media had become very famous. Due to their high level of demand in different parts of the Mexican Republic, the Mexican Postal Service has become the preferred method to send shipments to customers outside of Mexico City.
“Before I had clients in Monterrey or Puebla, I had never been to the Postal Palace. I thought it was a museum, but when I was looking for a cheap parcel service, I found this one because the rest are more expensive. I ship to the entire Mexican Republic for an extra $50.00 pesos,” says Elizabeth Martínez, administrator of one of the used goods stores.
The Postal Palace does have a museum inside; the Postal Museum. But it’s easy to mistake this architectural gem for a museum due to its extraordinary appearance and gilded interior.
The Quinta Casa de Correos de México (The Fifth Mexican Post House) is located at Tacuba 1 in the Historic Center of Mexico City. Construction began in 1902. Before its inauguration in November 1906, the newspaper El Mundo Ilustrado showed off the building with photos by Guillermo Kahlo.
“Creating this Postal Palace is the equivalent of making a Facebook or Google Palace. It tells us about the modernity that it symbolized at the time; this building was made to accompany the future National Theater,” explains Carlos Villasana, a chronicler from Mexico City.
Mail carriers no longer just bring letters, now they bring packages. Or at least that’s how Débora González perceives it: “When I see the mail carrier’s motorcycle approaching my house, I get excited because I know it’s something I ordered online. Sometimes it’s a surprise because some of the orders I make are through AliExpress and they come from China, so when they finally arrive, I’ve almost forgotten what I ordered. I also get orders from used goods stores.”
Currently, 98% of the population have access to Postal Services; that is 108,642,478 people. According to figures from the Mexican Postal Service, a total of 2,322,003 items of postal material including documents and parcels were received in June alone.
Amidst permanent digital communication and unlimited connections, letters have fallen into disuse, and those that do arrive are outstanding bills such as property tax and bank notices. However, although the era of communicating by letter has ended, parcel delivery has given the Postal Service a new lease of life. For example, Melissa Zermello and the rest of the used goods store administrators on social media calculate that they send at least 50 packages every 10 days.
Many of these young women are also consumers of other used goods stores outside the Republic, which in turn send them their orders through the Mexican Postal Service. “I buy from other used goods stores that are bigger than mine because they have very affordable prices, and they arrive by mail as well. I resell what I buy there, but I use the mail for everything,” explains Elizabeth Martínez.
Today, on the 34th anniversary of the Mexican Postal Service, it is used in a totally different way than it was back in 1986 (when its foundation was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation), but it does still continue to provide a public postal service and, now more than ever, parcel delivery.
At the entrance of the Postal Palace and in the streets around it there are some stalls where framed photographs of characteristic places of Mexico City are on display. One doesn’t even notice these pictures, because now it is more practical to upload photographs of the places you visit to your Facebook profile. But before, these postcards were the only way there was to prove that someone had visited a place. They were even used as advertising to attract tourists to Mexico.
“Before photography, we knew about other countries from atlases, but with postcards, we began to see other places. Other countries also began to see Mexico,” says Carlos Villasana, who also collects postcards.
Carlos’ love of postcards began in his childhood. His father founded the telesecundarias (a system of distance education programs for junior high school students in Mexico) and as he could not accompany him around the Mexican Republic, his father would tell him how beautiful the place he had visited was on the back of a postcard. “I saw what my father saw, and it was special to receive those photographs because they meant that my father had remembered me on his trip,” says Carlos.
Postcards are a great tradition in Mexico, Villasana says. With the postcards, tourists and photographers began to come, “imagine seeing magnificence like the post office and pyramids too. Many photographers fell in love with Mexico and never left, as did Guillermo Khalo, who even came to school here.”
The collector says that in the 50s, postcards were what brought our grandparents to Mexico City. “These are great quality photographs. They were taken by the best photographers of the time. You can take the frame off, scan them, and it looks like they were taken yesterday. Postcards were the evidence that early travelers brought home after their travels. They were the old version of Facebook; you sent a postcard and it was what you bragged about. You even exchanged them,” he explains.
The postcards that were most successful were the traditional ones, where you could see characters from everyday life: the milkman, the person who sold mole. “But also, in the Golden Age in 1928, the divas of Mexican theater sold their postcards to fans every season. They were all businesswomen, such as Virginia Fábregas,” says Carlos.
These photographs were also used to attract tourism. “On the Centennial of Independence in 1910, they made lots of postcards and they were sent to all parts of the world. That’s what advertised Mexico. This is how postcards were a symbol of travel, a form of advertising, a great business; and they also served to promote and disseminate tourism,” explains Villasana.