In the 1970’s there was a lot of suspicion that other people were out to cheat and steal from you. It was not considered safe to put a £1 note inside a birthday card because someone – presumably the dishonest postal workers – would likely as not whip it out of the envelope and leave your poor Aunty Sue without.
It was also a very slow time. Things took ages. If you lived in Castle Cary and wanted to buy a 7″ from a little record company, a pair of bondage trousers or even a concert ticket for a show in Bristol, you would have to send off the money through the post. There were no online payments or phoning in a debit card. You could get an adult to write out a cheque for you, but for most young people it was a tricky problem. You could send cash, which would need to be well-hidden with card, sellotape and anything else to ward off any criminally-minded Royal Mail staff.
Or you could send a postal order. The older generation who mistrusted banks seemed to have more faith in postal orders, and you could get any denomination you liked with a combination of postal order with extra postage stamps stuck onto it.
So if you fancied a pair of zip ‘Clash’ trousers from the NME advert below, you’d need to go to a Post Office (Not at lunch time or a Thursday afternoon, or at the weekend because the Post Office would be closed then) and purchase a postal order.
Note from the advert below, if you had an enquiry – say, what size waist are the large trousers? – you’d have to write a letter, send a stamped addressed envelope inside your mailing, wait for the reply and then trot off to the Post Office to get the Postal Order. I make that 3 stamps, 3 envelopes, a postal order and a wait of approximately 3 weeks. You youngsters with same day delivery, contactless payments and online customer reviews have it so easy now!
When I set up my own record company in the late 1980s, there was still a lot of Post Office action; it was just like playing with this:
4 thoughts on “Mail Order”
Mail Order was a long time coming for me. I tended to buy records locally and when I chanced to find out about something that was only from the UK, it was an insurmountable challenge to buy what British vendors called an IMO or International Money Order in order to pay. Many was the time I went to every bank in my city only to get a dull, blank stare when I tried to purchase one. And all of this was a decade or more before the internet. I know I tried for a decade to do this on occasion only to fail each time. Once Paypal existed I almost wept at the ease of buying music from anywhere in the world that it represented.
I met an older friend in the mid-80s who bought from mail order catalogs to fill out his substantial collections. He indoctrinated me to the glories of music by mail order catalog – at least from other dealers in America. First, we would double up on an order and we would split the postage, but soon, I was building up hard-to-source collections like my Rezillos/Revillos, and Mari Wilson records that I always wanted to have but never found in local stores. Then I subscribed to Goldmine Magazine; the US record dealer bible, and awaited each fortnightly issue with a highlighter in hand. Scanning “set sale” ads with hundreds of records listed in tiny 6 point type. It was the best thing when i found a dealer who mirrored my tastes and would get me rare Stephen Duffy or Colin Vearncombe records because he knew I wanted them.
Most of everything I want now is available cheaply by mail order now that the internet has turned everyone [potentially] into a record dealer on Discogs or eBay. Records that would have cost me $15-20 in catalogs in the 80s are now $3-5 each. But the cost of international postage has skyrocketed; forcing me to wait years until I see a record I want on offer from a domestic dealer.
Lately, I have turned into a dealer and have thinned out my collection of things I don’t need with my Discogs store or eBay auctions. Many a trip has been underwritten by all of those rare Duran Duran records I was compelled to buy when I was so flush with income that my better sense had deserted me!
Oh yes, I had forgotten about International Money Orders! Ruth
punkgirldiaries – So you could actually buy them?!