July 23, 2007 9:57 AM   Subscribe

What is third class mail?

Yes, I know there are a lot of definitions I can pull up on google, and I already have, but I was wondering if third class mail was just advertisements or if it was used for something else?
posted by 517 to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Would it ever be used for legal documents?
posted by 517 at 10:08 AM on July 23, 2007

Probably not if you wanted to keep your job.
posted by jbroome at 10:16 AM on July 23, 2007

Third class is bulk rate. It has to be presorted by the sender, because part of why the rate is lower is that the sender is doing some of the work.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:26 AM on July 23, 2007

The company I work for rents out monitoring equipment to our customers, which can then be returned via third class mail when the subscriber cancels the account. The equipment is valued at $400 per machine, which may tell you something.
posted by lizzicide at 10:38 AM on July 23, 2007

Third class mail predated presorting by many many decades, and you can still send Standard (A) mail that is not presorted. They are not directly related.

The primary reason for the existence of third-class mail was to preserve the monopoly of private mail delivery from express companies, originally adjuncts of the railroad business. It was designed around making sure that package delivery remained private but letter and letter-like delivery of specific items to specific addresses remained under the Post Office. This was effective and meaningful before FedEx entered the business and there were tweaks to the laws, essentially carving out exceptions because the Post Office was considered slow and undependable. The governing laws are called the Private Express Statutes.

I would imagine that if you were sending a massive legal document third class might make sense (historically). Something without a critical delivery time, and with enough substantial savings versus first class.
posted by dhartung at 10:47 AM on July 23, 2007

Interestingly, this was a huge national issue in 1876-1878. The NYT ran regular updates on the legislative and lobbying back-and-forth -- what the rules and costs should be.

Anyway, the earliest non-technical definition I could find was in an old Britannica:

Third-class matter includes printed books, pamphlets, engravings and circulars in print or reproduced by a copying process. The rate for third-class matter is one cent for every two ounces.

This is why it was sometimes called book rate or in the UK book post. (There's an international convention which governs mail, and keeps some level of conformity.) I can see some scenarios where your "legal documents" -- perhaps copied materials as part of a discovery? -- would fall under those regulations, but I was wrong about the cost, since third-class was (at the quoted time) twice as expensive as first-class.
posted by dhartung at 11:11 AM on July 23, 2007

Standard mail cannot be personalized - no mail with more individualized information than name and address. Hence, bank statements and that sort of thing are sent first class presort. If your legal document contains information that is merged from a database so that every letter is different (beyond the mailing address) standard mail is not for you.
posted by DandyRandy at 12:04 PM on July 23, 2007

There's no such thing as third-class mail in the U.S. anymore. It has been replaced by Standard Mail:
Standard Mail consists of mailable matter that is neither mailed or required to be mailed as First-Class Mail nor entered as Periodicals (unless permitted or required by standard) and that weighs less than 16 ounces. Standard Mail includes matter formerly classified as Standard Mail (A) and third-class mail.
It has to be presorted by the sender

Wrong again, Steven. There is nonautomation Standard Mail.

It does have to be a bulk mailing though. "Each mailing must contain at least 200 pieces or 50 pounds of pieces."

Consult the DMM for all your postal policy needs! And always use the ZIP code!
posted by grouse at 12:43 PM on July 23, 2007

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