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2017 Graceful Envelope Contest
Call for Entries!

by Gini Ogle




Download 2017
Call for Entries flier


2017 CALL FOR ENTRIES: Calligraphers and artists from around the world are invited to participate in the 23nd 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. Postmark deadline: Monday, March 27, 2017

View winning envelopes from past years:


“Scripsit” magazine of past winning envelopes

Themes of past contests

This year's theme:
Pushing the Envelope

This year’s theme—Pushing The Envelope—embraces two concepts at the heart of the Graceful Envelope Contest.

The first meaning dares you to take your creativity beyond your comfort zone. "Push the envelope" and find new ways to use graphic design, hand lettering and postage stamps to enhance your entry. It may be a small canvas, but you are capable of big ideas.

The Graceful Envelope Contest also celebrates the significance of writing, sending and receiving letters. In this era of email, tweets and emojis, seeing a hand-addressed envelope in your mailbox can make any day special. So your entry should “push the envelope” in the sense of promoting the exchange of letters. Depict the joy of letter writing. Or salute an American tradition as old as the U.S. Constitution, which empowered Congress “to establish post offices and post roads."

Address your envelope artistically to:

The Graceful Envelope
100 Indiana Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001

POSTMARK DEADLINE: Monday, March 27, 2017

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 2017 theme, "Pushing the Envelope," invites artists to celebrate letter writing and to "push the envelope" on 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 27, 2017. The contest will not acknowledge receipt of entries.
  • Judging will take place in late April 2017 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 2017 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 47 cents for envelopes weighing up to one ounce. Postage for square, oversized or unusual envelopes starts at 68 cents. You can use 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