This is the information page for the Paper Chain Letter Archive (PCLA), originated and currently maintained by Daniel W. VanArsdale. Chain letters may be used to study social replication and abstract evolution. For example, any general procedure which attempts to establish phylogeny given noisily inherited character strings can be tested using the over 170 "dl" type luck chain letters in this archive. PCLA provides a common data base and means of reference for anyone who wishes to cite, link to, download or print a paper chain letter in the archive.The unconditional right to do so is hereby granted. Please cite the URL of this page with "The Paper Chain Letter Archive" in any publication.
Note: The author has no intent to embarrass anyone by displaying a chain letter with a person's name on it. Upon your request I will modify your name and address, or do the same for a deceased relative. Celebrity names are an exception since these may explain the appeal of a chain letter, nor should such a presence be considered as evidence that this person was actually involved with the letter. Names and addresses of children and many adults have already been modified.
If you have any information on where we may obtain more paper chain letters please email. If you wish, I can copy and return to you the originals. Include the date you received the chain letter and its method of delivery, as by including the postmarked envelope if the letter came in the mail. If there are senders names on the letter please do not remove this information. As noted above, they can be modified in the archival version to protect privacy.
Here are the sub-directories (folders) and files in directory /chain-letter/, all pertaining to paper chain letters.
evolution.html Chain Letter Evolution - an analysis and history of paper chain letters.
bibliography.htm An annotated bibliography on chain letters and pyramid schemes. Contains all sources cited in Chain Letter Evolution.
glossary.htm Definitions of terms used for paper chain letters in Chain Letter Evolution.
Table 1 A table in Chain Letter Evolution giving counts of chain letters in the archive by motivational category and 5 year periods.
/archive/ A Directory containing The Paper Chain Letter Archive (PCLA) and associated files and folders.
/archive/!content File containing file name links to all the chain letters in the archive with brief descriptions of many letters.
/archive/!information.htm THIS FILE. Detailed information on the archive and file naming conventions.
/archive/!search.htm A program for searching through the /chain-letter/ directory. Provided by FreeFind.
/e-archive/!content File containing links to the email chains in directory /e-archive/. Most are cited in Chain Letter Evolution.
This section specifies what information is recorded in the archive and the format of its presentation as an HTML document. These details here and in the next section (file naming) are not required to utilize the archive. However they can assist in searching and should be consulted by anyone preparing a file for the archive. There are four parts of a PCLA chain letter text file: (1) the on-page title, (2) the text of the letter, (3) documentation and (4) HTML Meta tags.
(1) The page title of the chain letter appears at the top of the displayed page and should include: (i) the motivational category of the letter, (ii) the type of the letter within its category, (iii) optionally, more detailed information about this particular letter and (iv) the country and year of circulation. Thus for chain letter le1995-03_dl_wk its page title is: Luck chain letter. Death-Lottery type. "It does work." Kiss title. US, 1995.
(2) The text of the chain letter appears after the page title, between two HTML horizontal lines, and often in bold. Comments within the text field are rarely used, but if required are not in bold, and within square brackets. If the chain letter was originally produced by a standard typewriter its characters all have the same fixed width. For these letters, using a fixed width font allows one to reproduce the exact keystrokes of the letter. This not only provides the best possible documentation but is also useful for error checking. Errors in the original letters are preserved in the archive transcriptions. Each letter was double checked for keystroke accuracy, so very few new errors have been introduced. The original paper chain letters are kept on file and tagged with their PCLA filenames. Photocopies of originals are available on request.
(3) Documentation appears below the text, after the second horizontal line. It includes the following, if known.
(a) The medium: postcard / letter / photocopy / publication. Was the initial text produced by: hand / typewriter / word processor / commercial printing?(4) HTML Meta tags allow the author of a Web page to specify certain information about the page. The information in Meta tags is not displayed on the page itself. Some of these meta tags are not employed on every letter in the archive.
(b) Method of distribution: mailed / placed somewhere / handed to. Where was it received? Who distributed it?
(c) Date of earliest known naive circulation of this exact letter. Method used to determine this: postmark / notes / associated documents. If the date of circulation is not known with certainty, what range of dates is estimated and how is this arrived at?
(d) Faithfulness of the archived text to the original source: keystrokes preserved (typewritten texts only) / lines preserved / paragraphs preserved / any editing?
(e) Provider or seller, person holding source letter, person preparing the archived text file
(f) Names of associated image files if any. Prior file names or other identifiers of the letter. Present PCLA filename.
(g) Optional supplementary information: associated notes / letters / published information / references / historical context.
(h) After the word "Sic:" errors in the original letter that appear like they could instead be errors in transcription. Many of letters that were transcribed earlier do not list such errors in the documentation. These are being added (12/2012).
The title Meta tag appears in the title window of a browser when it links to the page. Some search engines also use the title for matching and ranking searches, or display it in search results. In the archive, the recent practive is to copy and paste the page title into the title Meta tag field.
The description Meta tag of a Web page is displayed by some search engines to provide a summary. Again, the on-page title may be used for this.
The keywords are used by some indexes and search engines to classify the page or match searches. For most chain letter files I have simply used the category name and the words "chain letter" (e.g. "luck chain letter" - the first words of the page title). There is also a classification Meta tag; for this I have used "memetics, folklore." Note: keywords have not been used in recent years (12/2012).
The author tag is the name of the person originating the WWW page. The archive uses "Daniel W. VanArsdale".
If file names for chain letters in the PCLA are sorted by name, they order by (1) category, (2) language and (3) date. They use only lower case letters, numbers and special characters that are compatible with HTML conventions, and should contain less than 27 characters. According to an official HTML source, the only special characters that can always be safely used in a URL file name are
! $ ( ) _ + ' -and that is the order in which these eight characters sort. Despite this assurance, a utility program has truncated file names after a "$" sign. Further conventions in naming PCLA files were chosen to facilitate writing and updating Chain Letter Evolution, especially tables that require the counting of letters with certain features. There should be a reluctance to change an established file name since there may be links to it not only internally but from other sites. The following abbreviations are used.
(1) The motivational category of a chain letter is designated
by a single letter which is the first character in the file name.
a = Advocacy
c = Charity
h = Letter from Heaven (Himmelsbrief)
j = Parody (joke)
l = Luck
m = Money
r = Religion
w = World Record
x = Exchange
(2) The language of the chain letter is designated
by a one or two letter abbreviation that immediately follows the category
designation. The language should be that of the original circulating letter,
even if only a translation is present in the archive. Secondary languages
in the source, or the language of a translation, should not be designated.
In 2006, separate sub-directories within the /archive/ directory were
established for chain letter texts in some foreign languages.
d = Dutch
e = English
f = French
g = German
h = Hungarian
ic = Icelandic
pl = Polish
pr = Portuguese
r = Russian
s = Spanish
t = Tagalog
(3) The circulation date is the earliest calendar
date the letter can be verified to have naively circulated. It immediately
follows the language designation, and has one of the following three formats.
yyyy (to year)
yyyy-mm (to month)
yyyy-mm-dd (to day).
Dating to the year is used if the month is not known. Dating
to the day is generally not used except for money chain letters in 1935,
or to distinguish two similar letters mailed in the same year and month. The
year or month circulation may be uncertain for some letters, in which case
it may be approximated and followed by "u". I have also added a
"u" to known year dates so that it sorts at the end of that year. Uncertain
dating of a letter should be clarified in the documentation.
(4) Chain letters from an accumulation received by the same person or institution may reveal additional information if examined as a group. We then affix a hoard designation at the end of the circulation date. This allows quick identification of all the letters in the hoard. Each has a link to the earliest letter, which documents what is know about the hoard.
(5) Chain letter types
are the broadest classification within motivational categories. Several
types of English language luck chains are identified and named in Chain
Letter Evolution (mainline,
outliers). Exchange chain letters
are typed by the object exchanged. Charity and petition chains are typed
by the stated cause. The type designation, preceded by an underline, follows
the circulation date (or hoard designation if present). Following are
some abbreviations with the corresponding type linked to its definition
in the glossary.
ap = Ancient Prayer
bym = Luck by Mail
cogl = Chain of Good Luck
d20 = Death20
dl = Death-Lottery
gl = Good Luck
ld = Lottery-Death
pr = Prosperity
rg = Romance Game
(6) Additional features are often encoded
in the file name, preceded by an underline. These may be a certain title,
postscript or other feature of luck chain letters, usually as examined
in Chain Letter Evolution.
b = the "Belief" title
c = the "Car" testimonial
hap = "Copy it and see what happens" on the Ancient Prayer letters
j = "St. Jude"
k = the "Kiss" title
l = the "Love" title or postscript
t = the "Trust" title
w = the "It Works" postscript
When present, numerical specifications of a chain letter
are often encoded in the file name, and are also used in the annotated
bibliography. The following abbreviations
are used followed by numbers.
d = deadline in days for sending copies
s = send
q = copy quota
n = the number of names in a list of prior senders
w = waiting period
Some additional abbreviations for features in money, exchange
and "world record" chain letters:
c = cents
cert = a "certified" money chain letter - payments authenticated
d = a US dime, 10 cents
kids = a chain letter specialized to circulate among children.
pc = post Card (exchange item)
pyr = Pyramid Scheme (money)
rec = recipe (exchange item)
ret = the letter asks for its return if you do not comply
sd = Send-a-Dime (a type of money chain letter)
trgt = instructions are present on who to send copies to
Origin from a certain country, state or city may be indicated
at the end of a filename. Some abbreviations now being used are:
e = England
au = Australia
ca = Canada
cal = California
fla = Florida
fr = France
ndak = North Dakota
sav = Savannah.
(7) Some special characters are used immediately after
the abbreviation for a feature, or at the end of a filename, with the
! (exclamation) = earliest collected appearance of preceding feature . If an earlier
example is subsequently collected it is designated by an exclamation,
and that on the previous example is retained and noted in its documentation.
+ (plus) = text has been added to the feature
- (minus sign) = text has been omitted from the feature
- (minus sign) = in other contexts, separates two related features
' (single quote) = the wording of the feature varies from the usual
_ (underline) = at the very end of a filename, there are likely major
omissions in a published text
_ (underline) = in other contexts, separates unrelated features
(k) = parentheses around a feature designation (e.g.
title k) means that this feature
does not appear on the letter, likely due to a recent deletion in its lineage.
(kcl) = parentheses may also designate the presence
of features in the order they appear
on the letter. Otherwise feature designations are ordered chronologically.
(8) An image file associated with a text file has the initial
characters of its name the same as the text file name so the names will
sort adjacent. The final characters in the image file name are "_image".
(9) Here are some PCLA file names with explanations of the characters in the name. We have left off the "htm" extension.
ce1889_martin_sdq10 A charity chain letter in English that was originated in 1889 by George Martin. It asks that you send a dime to Martin and states a quota of 10 copies of the solicitation to be mailed out.
je1935-05u_kick A parody (joke) chain letter in English that circulated in May, 1935 (with some uncertainty about May). The letter was titled "Kick in the Ass Chain."
le1993-04_dl_w-(kcl)! A luck chain letter in English that circulated in April, 1993. It is a death-lottery type with the "It Works" postscript, but this is missing a part (-). It contains the Kiss title, Car testimonial, and the Love title in that order on the letter (the Love title is transposed to a postscript). This is the earliest (!) appearance of this variation so far collected.
me1935-05-10br!_sd_note A money chain letter in English that was postmarked on May 10, 1935. It is from the "Bergrud hoard," a group of related letters received by Elma Bergrud in North Dakota in 1935. We have chosen this as the first ("!"), and hence after the text of the letter we document what is known about the hoard. This letter is a "Send-a-Dime" type, and contains a personal note.
xpr1995-08_pc_s1n4q6 An exchange
chain letter in Portuguese. Its circulation date is
8/1995 and it exchanges post cards. The recipient is
asked to send 1 postcard to the top address in a list of
names with 4 entries. In addition, the letter sets a quota
of 6 such appeals to be sent out.
Like last year's flies, old chain letters are hard to find.
We acknowledge here those who supplied one or more paper chain letters for
this effort. Some special acknowledgments
are also given in Chain Letter Evolution.
We also received one or more chain letters from: Robert & Norine Albers, C. Ronald Allman Sr, The John Bale Book Co., Julie Bandy, Alan L. Banks, Nick Barker, Christopher Barlau, J. Barré, Gary L. Bates, Robert Bezilla, Fletcher Bolsover, Terry Bowyer, Jan Boylen, William R. Brandel, Brentlinger's Emporium, James Burrill, Mrs. Gerarda Carlin, Mike Carter, Nita Choban, Daniel C. Cimo, Mrs. Phyllis Cloyd, Richard S. Collingbourne, Lynne Cooper, Lynn Crosby, Neal Coulter, Brian Cutler, Duane DeSalvo, Randi Deshayne, Jerry Docteur, Robert Duncan, W. D. Edwards, Bonny Einstein, Paul G. Ewart, Mrs. Carmen Ezell, Patrick Feaster, Fern Fryer, E. Jeffrey Galloway, W. J. Gambino, Christophe Gautier, Sherry Huff, Robert C. Goss, Jere H. Greider, Linda Haas, Dorothy Hall, Jennifer Hamrick, Edgar Hanbeck, Al Hansen, Lu Helney, Steven D. Heltzel, Cindy Hines, Sue Hines, Brett Holman, Andrea Howlett, Barb Huber, Jim Hudson, Karen Jensen, John of Westmont, Richard E. Joiner, Raquela Jamilla-Fiatte, Sonia John, Greg Johnson, Leigh Johnson, Steve Jones, Natalia Kasprzak, Larry Kellogg, Michelle R. Keresi, Leo Kerschitz, KMO, Josh Knight, Mary Ann Kolb, George M. Kutlenios, Anita C. Lane, Leslie Levine, Jacinta Lodge, Susan L. Lord, Martin Lovelace, Helen Lynn, Ray MacWilliamson, Jeffrey Mazo, J. W., Rachel McCart, Jim McCrea, McDaniel, Dan McGuire, Taryn Manson, L. Mente, Dennis Merchant, Dorrit Mikkelsen, Joseph J. Milewski, Miner Enterprises, William C. Nichols, D. O. Odom, Alexander Okbai, G. Orcutt, Nellie Pennington, Dave Petersen, Wendell Peterson, Pearline Pratt, Cathy Preston, Theresa Preston, J. Primm, Linda Rawls, Jean Reherman, Lyle Rhodeback, Kevin Roden, John Rogers, Felix Romero, R. Rozborski, Rum Trail Antiques, Bullock Runge, Patricia Rushton, J & L Rutherford, Sherman P. Sackheim, Mary Sage, Jonathan Sartzer, Jeannine Savin, Savio, Robert L. Marshall Schuon, Schuyler, Susan Scott, Jim Shaw, Patty Shimp, Don Shimpkus, Sue Snow, Kathy Spencer, R. D. Spencer, Maria Stahl, John Stefanov, Jim Sterken, James Stilson, Richard Storch, Rev. Michael M. Strong, Elena Suponeva, John C. Swanson Jr., Mike Tice, Marie Todd, Bruce Tomlin, Lisa Townsend, George A. Trach, Andrew Tumber, Alan VanArsdale, Elizabeth C. VanArsdale, Robert VanArsdale, Sharon VanArsdale, Thomas Waldron, Rob Washburn, Maggy Wells, John Witkauskas, Charles Wommack, Linda Wood, Diane Wooduff and Dale R. Worley.