I like old buildings. I like brass. And, while I would never actually put a piece of mail down one, I have always been drawn to the elegant brass mail chutes you find in old buildings. Not that I give much thought to them between the times I happen to notice one when I'm waiting for the elevator in an old building...still.
But I was waiting for an elevator in an old building, and I made note of the manufacturer's name on mail chute.
It was a Cutler, produced by the Cutler Mail Chute Company of Rochester, NY.
Given that I am photography-challenged, I was not able to take a shot of the Cutler I was considering. I did find a nifty photo at the Postal Museum of a Cutler Mail Box, which is where all the bills, billets-doux, offer letters, checks, dear-johns, Valentines, wish-you-were-heres, cease and desists, flyers end up when you drop them down a Cutler Mail Chute.
If you want to see a shoot of a chute for yourself, Douglas Bowman has a nice one here.
Consider the Cutler Mail Chute.
For a brief period - from the advent of the skyscraper until the invention of the mail room - it was the height of distribution technology (admittedly, that's one-way distribution). Sure, things could get clogged in it - that's why there's so much glass in the chute. But mostly it worked.
James Cutler may have patented it, but he had his rivals, including the Automatic Mail Delivery Company of New York City. Just what was so automatic about mail that was only delivered to the collection receptacle, and not to the mail's addressee, I don't quite get. Nonetheless, there was something there, and in 1909, the Cutler Manufacturing Company merged with Automatic. As The New York Times reported, "This merges practically all the mail chute companies in the market."
Many Cutlers are still in use. According to Wikipedia - so it must be right, right? I mean, who would lie about the existence of a mail chute - there are 360 in Chicago, and 900 in New York. Alas, the Chrysler Building, the apple of my Big Apple eye, has closed down their mail chute. And in 1997, the National Fire Protection Association - those spoilsports! - banned their use in new construction. Imagine: the mail chute banned from Boston if not in Boston (actually, Quincy, Massachusetts).
Cutler kept going until a decade or so back, when it was acquired by mailbox maker Florence Manufacturing Company of Manhattan, Kansas - not to be confused with Manhattan, NY. Florence, in turn, was acquired by Gibraltar Industries of Buffalo, NY, which means that the Cutler has almost but not quite returned home to Rochester, NY.
I just like the idea of the mail chute: odd, old-fashioned, practical in its own way - no need to go down to the lobby to send your missive on its way. Of course, in its own way it is also wildly impractical - fine for the legal envelope, but what about big manilas? what about padded mailers? what about bulk?
To the short list of archaic items I would like to own, I will add a beautiful Cutler Mail Box. Once I get one, I will place it next to the horned Victrola, which I do not yet possess, but is the first thing on my archaic items list.
On the Victrola, I will crank out John McCormack's Long Way to Tipperary and other tunes of yesteryear.
As for the Cutler Mail Box, I may figure out how to store things in it - storage for us urban folks always being at a premium. Mostly, I think I will just sit there, John McCormack warbling in the background, and consider it.