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2014 Graceful Envelope Contest

by Gini Ogle




Download 2014 Graceful Envelope Contest call for entries flyer


2014 CALL FOR ENTRIES: Calligraphers and artists from around the world are invited to participate in the 20th 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:
The Superlative Letter "S"

In this year’s contest, find the Essence of S by symbolizing some sentiment starting with the letter S. Then complete the design of your envelope by sketching stylish shapes and lettering in sublime or spirited script. Find your own way to show spark and skill…and don’t forget the stamp.

The Graceful Envelope Contest is co-sponsored by the National Association of Letter Carriers, reminding us the letter S also stands for U.S. Postal Service six days a week, including Saturday.

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).

Address the envelope to:

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

POSTMARK DEADLINE: Monday, March 24, 2014

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


  • 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 Contest
    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.
  • 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.")


  • Creative interpretation of the contest theme to transform an ordinary envelope into a work of art. The 2014 theme, "The Superlative Letter S," invites artists to illustrate anything that begins with the letter "S."
  • 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.


  • Entries must be postmarked no later than Monday, March 24, 2014. The contest will not acknowledge receipt of entries.
  • Judging will take place in late April 2014 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 by early June 2014 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 at swerdloff@gmail.com, contest coordinator for the Washington Calligraphers Guild.
  • Schools are encouraged to participate. Not only does the contest allow artistic students an opportunity for recognition, but it teaches such disappearing life skills as addressing and mailing an envelope. Schools can use the contest to introduce students to the network of people and technology that collects, transports, sorts, and delivers the mail. See the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum website information on how the postal system works, including curriculum suggestions.
  • To learn more about calligraphy, see the resources on this website. Beginners may want to call the listed calligraphy suppliers for recommendations.
  • 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. I believe all of this year's winners accomplished those criteria, and the best in show took those ideas "up one notch": the overall design was strong, with the "time flies" theme being executed in a novel way; the lettering, with its heavy pen manipulations, gave the look of the hairy, gritty parts of a fly; and the stamps looked like an intentional part of the design.

    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

REGARDING POSTAGE for your Graceful Envelope: First-class postage is 46 cents (increasing to 49 cents on Jan. 26, 2014) 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 20 cents additional postage (increasing to 21 cents on Jan. 26, 2014). 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.


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