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2016 Graceful Envelope Contest

by Gini Ogle




Download 2016 Graceful Envelope Contest call for entries flier


2016 CALL FOR ENTRIES: Calligraphers and artists from around the world are invited to participate in the 22nd annual Graceful Envelope Contest, conducted by the Washington (DC) Calligraphers Guild and the National Association of Letter Carriers. The contest is open to all ages, with separate categories for children. There is no entry fee.

View winning envelopes from past years:


“Scripsit” magazine of past winning envelopes

Themes of past contests

This year's theme:

Ever since Benjamin Franklin became America’s first Postmaster General, many of our most important messages arrived inside an envelope. Now your challenge is to design the outside of an envelope to highlight this—or any other—mode of communication. Your Graceful Envelope could honor the mail or the internet; the telegraph, telephone or television; person-to-person conversation or whatever kind of communication inspires your imagination.

Address your envelope artistically to:
The Graceful Envelope
100 Indiana Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001

POSTMARK DEADLINE: Monday, March 28, 2016

Get started right away on creating your individual interpretation of the theme of Communication. Because, as Franklin wrote, “You may delay, but time will not.”

Winners will be chosen based on artistic hand lettering, creative interpretation of the theme and effective use of color and design, including incorporation of postage stamp(s).

The contest was created in 1995 by the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum, which administered it until delegating responsibility to the Washington Calligraphers Guild in 2001. Beginning in 2003, the National Association of Letter Carriers agreed to partner with the Washington Calligraphers Guild and exhibit the Adult winners.

In addition to promoting the art of calligraphy, the Graceful Envelope Contest celebrates the role of letters in binding people together and serves as a reminder that the people who deliver the mail are career government employees who take pride in their work and care about the communities they serve.

Contest Rules         (Below: 2015 Best in Show by Hannah C. Holder)

Hannah HolderWHO CAN ENTER

  • Entries will be judged in these age groups:
    -- Adult
    -- Grades 9-12
    -- Grades 5-8
    -- Grades 1-4
  • Only one entry allowed per person.


  • There is no entry fee.
  • Each entry must be a stamped envelope, either manufactured or handmade, delivered through the U.S. Postal Service. The envelope will not be opened.
  • Entries may not be enclosed in a separate envelope or in any protective covering.
  • Size may not exceed 7x9 inches. Standard #10 business envelopes are also permitted. (Some envelope sizes require additional postage.)
  • Use calligraphy or hand-drawn artistic lettering to address the FRONT of the envelope to:
    The Graceful Envelope
    100 Indiana Ave. NW
    Washington, DC 20001
  • On the BACK of the envelope, legibly print your name, mailing address and email, clearly labeled "FROM." Students must indicate their GRADE and may use their teacher's email and school address.


  • Creative interpretation of the contest theme to transform an ordinary envelope into a work of art. The 2016 theme, "Communication," invites artists to illustrate anything related to the concept of communication. Use your imagination!
  • Quality of calligraphy or artistic lettering used to address the envelope. Computer-generated or -enhanced lettering is not permitted.
  • Effective use of color and design employing standard media such as paint, ink, markers and pencil. Not permitted: stickers or manufactured rubber stamps (hand-cut stamps permitted).
  • Entrants are encouraged to integrate postage stamp(s) into the design.
  • See below for the advice of a past judge.


  • The Call for Entries is issued in the Fall, when the following year's theme is announced.
  • Entries must be postmarked no later than Monday, March 28, 2016. The contest will not acknowledge receipt of entries.
  • Judging will take place in late April 2016 by three professionals from the postal, calligraphic and arts communities. Only the front of the envelope will be judged; the name of the entrant should appear on the back where it will not be visible to the jurors.
  • All contestants will be notified in early June 2016 as to the final status of their entry. Although no prizes will be awarded, winners will receive certificates and possible media publicity.
  • Winners will be exhibited online at www.calligraphersguild.org and Adult winning envelopes will be exhibited at National Association of Letter Carriers headquarters (100 Indiana Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001; 202-662-2851) and may also be published or exhibited elsewhere. Non-winning entries will not be displayed or returned.


  • If you have any questions about entering or if your entry is returned to you, contact Lorraine Swerdloff, contest administrator.

  • To help the envelope reach its destination, make certain the zip code (20001) is easily readable. (You may also repeat the contest's address on the back of the envelope, clearly labeled "TO.")

  • First-class postage is 49 cents for envelopes weighing up to one ounce. Envelopes that cannot be processed by USPS mail-sorting machines because they are square, unusually shaped, thick, or rigid -- OR contain clasps, string, or glued elements -- OR envelopes with the address parallel to the shorter dimension of the letter -- require 21 cents additional postage. You can use postage stamps issued in any year. NOTE: If you reside outside the US, use your country's postage in the denomination required for mail going to the States.

  • One of the judges of the 2011 contest, Shane Perry, provided this insight into the judging process:

    For the Graceful Envelope Contest, I look at a compelling design that grabs my attention and that conveys the theme, either directly or indirectly if it is cleverly done. The lettering needs to be well-executed and congruent to the overall design. Also, the use of the stamp needs to be well-considered, since it is part of the envelope, and therefore is part of the design. Envelopes that are expertly painted and/or drawn but contain lettering that seems like an afterthought would not be considered a winner. Expert lettering that does not produce a pleasing overall design that adheres to the theme would not be considered a winner.

    But an envelope with a design portraying the theme in a unique way, setting it apart from the pack, with lettering that works well with the design and a stamp that looks like it belongs, would definitely be in the running.

    Overall, I don't believe it is the best calligrapher that will always win, nor the best draftsman or painter -- it is the artist who is able to use both effectively to execute the theme in the most compelling way

Themes of Past Contests

1995--no theme
1996--Mother's Day or stamp-related
1997--Pushing the Envelope
1998--National Postal Museum's 5th Anniversary
1999--The Beauty in Nature
2000--Significant Events from the Past Century
2001--25th Anniversary of the Washington Calligraphers Guild
OR Celebrating 200 years of Washington as the Nation's Capital
2002--Greetings from America
2003--The Written Word
2004--The Weather
2005--the letter P
2006--A Fine Line
2007--A Mailable Feast
2008--C's the Day
2009--Address the Environment
2010--A Stream of Letters
2011--Time Flies
2012--D-liver D-letter D-sooner D-better (the letter D)
2013--A World of Change
2014--The Superlative Letter S
2015--There's No Place Like Home