If you were talented, you could attach spinning wheels that exploded into life at the slightest breeze
Or for another upmarket effect, you could always spell out the house number. To quote Marge Simpson: “This area is so fancy the house numbers are written out in letters.” To which Homer replies, “Soon we’ll be writing out everything in letters”.
Part of the enduring loveliness of the letterbox was its ability to be customised to reflect the homeowners’ personality. It was easy enough to knock one up with the kids as a school holiday project: all you needed was a metre or two of timber, some nails, a hammer and a tub of leftover house paint. Depending on what the fascination du jour happened to be, the letterbox could then be decorated to resemble a Transformer, Pokemon or, in contemporary terms, that character Elsa who seems to have mammoth amounts of thermal underwear under her ballgown. (Because the cold never bothered her anyway.) And here’s the thing: once that pop culture entity crossed the border into eye-rolling and “That’s sooooo last year, Mum” territory, you could paint the whole thing over and start again.
It wasn’t just the children who could play around with letterboxes. Anyone who enjoyed tinkering about in a workshop – that’s what we had before the Internet, kids – could whip one up in a weekend. If you were especially talented, you might even create a scale model of the house it belonged to. You could also attach little wooden sailboats to signal your nautical bent or spinning wheels that exploded into life at the slightest breeze. Patriotic types could daub theirs with the Australian flag while those who’d grown up watching American TV shows might add one of those red levers that the postman would lower or raise to signal new mail had been deposited.
As long as they fulfilled the basic requirement of being able to accommodate an envelope, the options were endless. Through motif, colour, wit and whimsy, they provided an insight into those who lived a few metres beyond and went more than some way to creating streets lined with homes as opposed to houses.
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