On Mailing the College of Arms

by Daniel de Lincoln

April 2002

These are hints on how to do mail for people who are on the SCA College of Arms (CoA) mailing list. I'm aiming this at new people, but I hope existing members can get ideas out of this too. I base most of this on my experience as a former Ansteorran external submissions herald.

I was warned not to do this article. The fear was that people will concentrate on the appearance and ignore the substance and think that they're doing a good job. This paper is not the important part. Other articles are, like that fine article "On Being a Kingdom External Submissions Herald". These are just little household hints.

(For non-US readers: Some of the advice in here is aimed at the US, because I live there and so do most of the CoA. Sorry. The " suffix means "inches", an archaic way of writing 2.54 cm.)


It should be easy to use your letters. It should be clear who it's from and when, where each item starts, and what they say.

Your letters should also be compact, to save money and filing trouble. When I was an external submissions herald, my copying costs and postage costs were about equal. They were a big chunk of the kingdom college budget. Also, everyone on the CoA mailing list has to file your deathless prose, so they'll thank you for not spewing paper.

Get recent Letters of Intent (LoIs), Letters of Comment (LoCs), and Laurel Letters of Acceptance and Return (LoARs) from your predecessor and/or principal herald. (If they don't have them, thwack them for violating Administrative Handbook X.B.) You should compare and contrast layouts, fonts, contents, et cetera, to see what works. These letters may also have comments on such issues. You should also experiment with a sample text, with mini-emblazons if you're doing LoIs. I tried a dozen different layouts to get the most compact.

One basic rule: if you're unsure or worried about something, for Heaven's sake ask for help! Other kingdom heralds are an obvious resource, but don't forget Laurel. The last few Laurel Sovereigns of Arms have loved to talk at length. I think it's a job requirement. Believe me, they'd much rather fix a problem at once than let it continue. If Laurel's too busy at the moment, or if they think they shouldn't get involved yet, they'll surely tell you how to get help. Please don't hesitate to ask, even just for general feedback.

Office Supplies

Loose-leaf binders, or file folders and maybe a file cabinet; you have to store your letters and all others'. Postage stamps, self-adhesive unless you're a masochist. #10 envelopes (US); the self-adhesives are easier but costlier. Otherwise, little sponge things at office-supply stores: some for moistening envelope flaps, and some for moistening stamps. For your envelopes, your return address on sticky labels or on a rubber stamp. In the US, "PAR AVION" stickers for non-US mail; get them free from your post office. A computer is practically necessary. E-mail and WWW access are ever so handy.

For submissions heralds: a small date stamp for submission forms' tracking boxes. Also for those boxes, self-inking stamps saying "Returned", "To Laurel", et cetera; better, "A R" (for Accepted / Returned) pre-printed on the forms where you just can circle one. Post-It Notes(TM) are your friends--it's very handy to stick a little detachable note to Laurel on a form. Fine-point pens for making corrections. Colored markers for fixing submitters coloring / artwork. Plastic-coated paper-clips for forms. A stapler. White Out(TM) or equivalent to paint over ink mistakes. Uhu Glue Stick(TM) or equivalent for cut-and-paste. A scanner for armory is nice.

Paper Handling

US domestic postal rates are based on ounces rounded up, so 1.01 ounce is charged as 2. Six sheets of average US copy paper (20 lb, 8.5"x11") are an ounce. Count a #10 envelope as a sheet and pull back one sheet as a margin of safety, so you want your mailings to have no more than 4 sheets of paper or 10 (4+6) at worst. If you're right at an ounce boundary and afraid of being charged more postage, you can use a big slicy thingy at the copy shop to trim the top and bottom margins a bit and lose a crucial 0.1 ounce per. However, please don't touch the left margin, because some people notebook the letters they get and need to hole-punch them.

Kinko's is thruout the US, but they're neither the cheapest nor the most convenient copy shop. I found my best deals at Office Max and Office Depot, but shop around.

Do two-sided copying! I just don't understand the people who do one-sided. Two-sided saves money and filing space. I've never seen two-sided cost more per side than one-sided. With every copier and printer I've ever seen, it's been possible to do two-sided copying, even if the machine didn't have a automatic control for it. (If it doesn't, you can copy it by hand. Copy all the odd-numbered sheets and put them back into the copier's input paper tray. Then copy all the even-numbered sheets onto the backs of the odds. Experiment on four original sheets first because you have to learn which way to stack the paper in the input tray, and three out of four ways are wrong. With two orientations, you'll copy odds and evens onto the same side, and with one orientation the back will be upside down from the front. Also, the order of the sheets in the copier top depends on the orientation. For example, you might have to load the even-numbered sheets into the copier in reverse order. (That's why you need four original one-sided test sheets: to be able to test that.) If you have an odd number of original sides, put a blank sheet at the end of the evens, or else the odds and evens will get out of synch. You can do similar tricks with a printer. Isn't this a hassle? Hell yes! It's much easier to find a copier that does two-sided automatically. Next episode, I'll tell you how to turn old site tokens into armor and how to make a cat sound like a dog.)

Do try to convince your submitters to do two-sided copying too. I failed miserably, but try anyway.

If you cut-and-paste mini-emblazons onto your original LoI, copy your original and copy from the copy. Copiers like to eat paste. Ansteorra found it easier to use a scanner instead of cut-and-past minis, because we had internal and external LoIs needing minis and we needed to send them fast to other officers. It also makes creating a master much faster, because most word-processing programs can insert a graphic easily.


You can delegate the roster maintaining, letter copying, envelope preparing, filing, and/or other clerical tasks to a non-herald, which increases the talent pool muchly.

A couple of Ansteorran royals were ex-heralds, so I made them happy by courtesy-copying my LoIs to them. You may have other courtesy copies too: major staff heralds, your publications herald, your herald archivist, ... Ask your principal herald or kingdom College of Heralds (CoH). I offered free subscriptions to the LoI for anyone who wanted them, about five people. It's educational and may get you a successor.

I don't understand the people who hand-address all their sixty-odd CoA letters each month. Aside from the effort, they can't be scanned easily by automated postal equipment, and that can't help send your mail reliably.

I bought blank address labels (the 2-by-10 per sheet kind, to handle some long addresses). I got software to print on those labels and I input the CoA mailing list. Some computer printers can print directly on envelopes, but I'm not sure it's more convenient. Besides, submission heralds might use address labels for something else: I printed the LoI blazons on them and stuck them on the corresponding device and badge submission forms. It saved having to correct all the forms by hand. Before doing that, test your labels on the current forms to see if they fit in the blazon space.

When Laurel provides a new CoA Roster, compare and correct your mailing list. Also look at the top of each incoming LoI, LoC, et cetera. If they announce an office change or move, please correct your roster at once even before Laurel does. Sending LoIs to an ex-officer is useless and annoying.

Elsbeth Anne Roth, the Laurel-designate as I write this, has plans for an on-line CoA roster. Please check your current Laurel resources, perhaps from Laurel, LoAR Cover Letters, or the Laurel web pages currently at http://www.sca.org/heraldry/.

The United Status Postal Service (USPS) has a WWW site, currently living at http://www.usps.gov/ncsc/lookups/lookup_zip+4.html. It tells you if an address isn't in their database. This usually means that your purported address is wrong. Also, it tells you the preferred form and ZIP+4 code. Bad street addresses were actually not uncommon in CoA Rosters and LoIs. Also, submitters must receive letters of notification, and their forms also have errors. (You may have to call or e-mail the person to get the correct address, or contact an SCA officer in their branch.) As well, the standardized address and ZIP+4 may speed your mail and make it more likely to get there. At least it shouldn't hurt.

USPS Optical Character Recognition (OCR) machines prefer 10- or 12-point plain Roman capitals with constant-width strokes. Sans serif are usually like that (see the example below), but typewriter-like fonts like Courier usually work as well. The USPS wants the address between 2 3/4" and 5/8" from the bottom of the envelope and in at least 1/2" from the sides. Especially leave the bottom 5/8" clear because the USPS puts barcodes there.

USPS reads addresses from the bottom up, so any "attention" lines should be at the top, out of the way. For international mail, put only the country name on the bottom line. A US-to-US example:

AUSTIN TX 78731-3104

If the apartment / trailer / suite doesn't fit, move it up onto its own line. If the last line's too long, move the city and state up:


Postal wonk wannabes can get more details, like how to barcode. Go to http://www.usps.gov/publications/ to download Publication 221, "Addressing for Success", a brief summary flier. Under http://pe.usps.gov/, you can find PDF versions of Publication 25, "Designing Letter and Reply Mail", and Publication 28, "Postal Addressing Standards". You can also call a local USPS Business Center to get free publications, cute plastic templates, et cetera.

You can prepare a set of envelopes ahead of time. It can save you if you get an end-of-month crunch. "What end-of-month crunch?" There are end-of-month deadlines for commentary printed in each LoAR Cover Letter. Miss a deadline and your commentary may not count and Laurel gets pissed at you. As for LoIs, Laurel rules on them four months after the month they're mailed. Mail on January 31 and it's ruled on in May. Mail just two days later, February 2, and you lost a month.

Try not to consistently emit letters at the end of the month. You'd get people mad at you, because you'll effectively be trimming a month off their commentary time. You should mail as early as possible. I know: easy to preach, not so easy to do. (By the way, you can emit more than one letter in the same month if you have to catch up.)

Non-Paper Handling

Send an electronic copy to Laurel! You almost certainly have one; I haven't seen a typewritten or handwritten LoC in years. Laurel has to put LoI headers into the LoAR and has to collate commentary from multiple letters. Electronic cut-and-paste is a heck of a lot easier than the physical kind. Find out what Laurel prefers. Diskette or e-mail attachment? What word processor formats? What layout?

Admin Handbook VII.D.4 says you can't send electronic LoIs or LoCs unless the recipient first says they'll accept it and how. You should offer it. Realize that most of your letters will go out on paper.

Other Distribution Notes

Unfortunately, the Admin Handbook has rather loose requirements about who you have to send LoCs to. You really, really ought to send them to everyone on the CoA Mailing List.

For extra bonus points, you can keep a log of all the CoA correspondence you got, check it against what you should have received, and complain if you're not getting it all. You can know all the LoIs you should have received, because the LoAR Cover Letters currently list all the LoIs at the top. LoCs are harder, but you can go thru the body and look for LoI / LoC references. Some people list every letter they got at the top of their LoCs; you might do the same. Some people even list the date on the letter itself, the date it was postmarked, and the date they got it.


Please! put page headers and/or footers on every page. I got a pile of various LoCs and LoIs from Star Principal Herald. There were a few cases where I had to use stratigraphy to re-assemble LoCs: the sheets were near each other and had similar fonts, and I could link up contents from one page to the next.

I preferred headers instead of footers. I could then extend items into the bottom margin when I had to. That led to more efficient use of space and avoided bad page breaks. Sometimes I saved an entire sheet of paper.

The header (or footer) should have the kingdom, because that's how Laurel files it. It should identify you by title or name. It should have page numbers like "M of N". For example, if you have a three-page letter, label the pages "1 of 3", "2 of 3", and "3 of 3" respectively. That would have helped so much in my LoC stratigraphy. It can also help show copier or envelope-stuffing problems. The header should have the date. You should avoid the "MM/DD/YY" date format because some countries use the more logical "DD/MM/YY" format. For example, "7/2/99" is a hot day in Texas (July 2) but bloody cold in Stockholm (February 7). I printed the final draft, copied, and mailed all in one night, so I was able to put the actual postmark date in the page header. You don't have to be so anal, but at least get the month right and the day close.

Some people file LoCs and LoIs in notebooks. See if your software can give you larger left margins on odd-numbered pages and larger right margins on even-numbered pages. After you copy two-sided, that gives room for them to hole-punch without hitting text. 3/4" margin is enough with my hole punch.

Newspapers and magazines put their text in multiple narrow columns for a reason: it's often easier to follow because each line is shorter and so the "eye flyback" distance is shorter. It also packs in more text, because you can shrink the side margins without making eye flyback too long. Using two columns, I was able to shrink the margins and I made text "flow" around mini-emblazons embedded in the body. Play with two-column as well as one-column formats. See which fills text better.

Text in a 12-point font takes about 44% more space than in 10-point. Unless it's a short letter, 12-point is a luxury you probably can't afford. If you have a fine printer, a fine copier, and a crying need to save copying costs, you might try 9-point or 8-point ... angering some of the CoA doing it.

No matter what, make sure your fonts and paper are readable when photocopied. Make sure you can tell normal, bold, and italics apart; standard CoA practices use all of them. I found that printing my originals on a really bright paper (brightness 99+) photocopied a little better.

If you put a little non-black colored mark in a corner of your original, you can easily tell which is the original and which is the copy.

Please don't put a honking big letterhead on your letters. Depend on the page headers or footers for the main information. Put your name, address, phone, and e-mail (if any) discreetly at the top of page 1. But do put all that there!

I preferred to staple the letters I sent. It made them much easier to fold and stuff into envelopes. However, some people prefer to receive loose sheets. They put the letters into notebooks, or hand them out at commentary, or copy them. It's your call.

Parts is Parts

The traditional parts for an LoI or an LoC are similar, but a few items apply only to one or the other. They usually occur in the following order.

General Content Notes

There are two fine articles from previous Known World Heraldic Symposia proceedings (available from Free Trumpet Press West). One is [Da'ud98], "The Commentary Process". The other is [Alison94], "The Art of Effective Commentary". They both have much good advice on what to say and what not to say. They focus on commenters, but a lot of what they applies to LoI writers too. I have nothing to add to them.

OK, I just lied.

Please don't apologize regularly. Save it for a special occasion like Guy Fawkes' Day. I saw people who wrote every time about how sorry they are because the LoC is late and it's shorter than it ought to be because work pressure was terrible and they had house problems and the dog ate their homework. I assume that CoA members are intelligent and good people, that they know they did bad, that they didn't want to do it, and that they're sorry. As for the whole "repent and sin no more" business, in this case I don't care much about repenting. I care more about the no more sinning.

Laurel separates the items in LoIs and LoCs and puts them in the submitters' files. If you put a bibliography at the end of the letter, it'll get separated from all the items that refer to it. Occasionally Laurel gets a question like, "Hey, I can't document Foobaria, but it was registered to Quux Foobaria in 1997. Would you please have a minion pull the file and tell me how they documented it?" The minion pulls Quux Foobaria's file and sees only something like "Foobaria is dated to 1215 in [12], p. 15". The minion then sighs and has to dig thru the very thick per-kingdom LoI / LoC file for the specific letter and its bibliography. This is long and tedious. Text like "see under Narf Gort above" has the same problem.

Therefore, I advise putting bibliographic references in the items themselves. This isn't much clutter, because they're rare. The overwhelming majority of my references were to sources in Admin Handbook Appendix H. They're famous enough that all you need is the author and edition, like "Reaney and Wilson (3rd ed.)".

There is now considerable automation, with much electronic processing of LoIs and LoCs. Get the current Laurel requirements and requests, perhaps from Laurel, LoAR Cover Letters, or the Laurel web pages (see above).

LoI Content Notes

The most important thing is that Laurel needs to get an electronic copy.

Laurel will cut-and-paste from LoIs into the LoAR. Save them some work and find out what layout the Laurel du jour wants. Making items look like recent LoARs is usually a good starting point. Currently, you ought to start like this:

1. Adam Adams. Name and device. Gules, an aardvark Or.

New name. ...

17. Salómon Jakobson jórsalafari. Household name House of the Jewish Vikings.

Appeal of Laurel return. ...

Please just use boldface and italics for unusual emphasis or in CoA-standard ways (as above: boldface item numbers and the name of the submitter, italicize blazons, and leave the rest in plain Roman type). A few people use plain Roman or boldface for their entire letter, and we can't see where items start or end.

If you're uncertain about how to express something and Laurel's materials don't help (LoAR Cover Letters and/or WWW pages), ask Laurel.

Ask Laurel whether they want you to remove graphics (read: mini-emblazons) from the Laurel e-copy.

Unless you need it for your own purposes, please omit the submitter's local branch. The CoA doesn't want it. If Laurel needs to form a holding name, they'll just get it from the form.

I've seen three places for mini-emblazons. I preferred to have the mini-emblazon in the body of the LoI right at the start of its entry. It was substantially more space efficient. Also, there wasn't the problem of missing / extra / unlabelled mini-emblazons; it was always clear which went with what. Also, it was easy to compare the blazon with the emblazon. Alternately, some like to have separate pages of mini-emblazons at the back. One reason I heard is for commentary groups that color and tack the mini-emblazons to the wall for everyone to see and check. Alternately, the third approach is to widen one margin on each page and put the minis in that space. That almost always has the mini near the text it goes with. Embedded minis (method 1) don't work efficiently with one-column text. If you get an armory-only entry, you'll have a lot of white space before the next entry. Some people have both embedded and end-of-letter minis.

A long-time commenter told me of some Secret Code Words. In the body of an item, if you mention that it's for His Highness (or Her, or Majesty), it means that you don't like the submission but you shouldn't be blamed because you have little choice. I don't know how common this is.


This is an article of little hints. There can be no conclusion.

OK, just one: content is much more important than format, but a good format helps.


The original version of this article appeared in the 1999 Known World Heraldic Symposium Proceedings. This is a slight update.

[Alison94] Alison MacDermot, "The Art of Effective Commentary", 1994 KWHS Proceedings, pp. 11-14.

[Da'ud98] Da'ud ibn Auda, "The Commentary Process", 1998 KWHS Proceedings, pp. 53-56.

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