Daniel W. VanArsdale
©1998, 2002, 2007, 2014
Abstract: Apocryphal letters claiming divine origin circulated for centuries in Europe. After 1900, shorter more secular letters appeared in the US that promised good luck if copies were distributed and bad luck if not. Billions of these "luck chain letters" circulated in the the next 100 years. As they replicated through the decades, some accumulated copying errors, offhand comments, and calculated innovations that helped them prevail in the competition with other chain letters. For example, complementary testimonials developed, one exploiting perceived good luck, another exploiting perceived bad luck. Twelve successive types of paper luck chain letters are identified which predominated US circulation at some time in the twentieth century. These types, and their major variations, are described and analyzed for their replicative advantage. In the 1970's a luck chain letter from Latin America that touted a lottery winner invaded the US and was combined on one page with an indigenous chain letter. This combination rapidly dominated circulation. In 1979 a postscript concluding with "It Works" was added to one of these combination letters, and within a few years the progeny of this single letter had replaced all the millions of similar letters in circulation without this postscript. These and other events in paper chain letter history are described, and hypotheses are offered to explain advances and declines in circulation, including the near extinction of luck chain letters in the new millennium.
Perhaps the most dramatic event in chain letter history was the advent of money chain letters. This was spawned by the infamous "Send-a-Dime" chain letter which flooded the world in 1935. The insight and methods of its anonymous author, likely a woman motivated by charity, are examined in detail in a separate article titled "The Origin of Money Chain Letters." This constitutes Section 4.1 below, where its link is repeated. It can be read independently from this treatise.The online Paper Chain Letter Archive contains the text and documentation of over 900 chain letters. Most of these texts have been transcribed from collected physical letters, but many come from published sources including daily newspapers present in online searchable archives. Some unusual items in the archive are: an anonymous 1917 chain letter giving advice on obtaining conscientious objector status; a 1920 Sinn Fein revolutionary communication; rare unpublished scatological parody letters from 1935; a bizarre chain letter invitation to a suicide from 1937; and a libelous Proctor and Gamble boycott alleging satanism from 1986. An annotated index provides easy access to all chain letters in the archive. An Annotated Bibliography on Chain Letters and Pyramid Schemes contains over 425 entries. A Glossary gives precise definitions for terms used here, facilitating the independent reading of sections.
2. Luck Chain Letters
2-2 The Predominant Series
3. How Chain Letters
3-1 Population Dynamics
3-2 Distribution Networks
3-6 Mainline Testimonials
3-7 Effective Copying
3-8 Effective Distribution
4. Events in
Chain Letter History
4-1 The Origin of Money Chain Letters (1933 - 1935) (Independent Article)
4-2 Divergence of Luck and Money Chains (1935 - 1939)
4-3 Luck Follows Money (1949)
4-4 The Media Chain Letter (1948 - 1995)
4-5 The "It Works" Conquest (1979 - 1982)
4-6 The Death-Lottery Chain Letter Since 1980
I could not have conducted this study without the assistance and friendship of Dr. Michael J. Preston, University of Colorado English Professor and folklorist. He obtained scores of letters, gave me copies of his files and put me up in his home while I worked in the CU Boulder library. The help of Dr. William F. Hansen, folklorist and Head of the Department of Classical Studies at Indiana University was also indispensable. He provided many useful chain letters and translations, and his interest and encouragement have been sustaining.
Special thanks also go to Alan E. Mays, who sent many chain letters, his bibliography on chain letters and the Himmelsbrief, and archived chain email. Paul Smith also provided scores of letters and an extensive bibliography. Anna Guigne sent a stack of chain letters and answered questions. Steve Glickman helped with microfilmed Denver Post articles at UC Boulder. Carol Petty copied local newspaper articles in Springfield, Missouri, where chain letters rampaged for a few days in 1935. John Burkhardt shared his thoughts early in the project and emailed digitized letters. James H. Patterson has provided photocopies of many rare chain letters from his collection of "unmailable" items. Sandy Hobbs sent photocopies of every chain letter that has appeared in the publications Dear Mr. Thoms and Letters to Ambrose Merton.
I have received much needed help with foreign language chain letters. Prof. Sarah E. Winter translated several chain letters and an entire article from French into English. Dr. Yana VanArsdale found several Russian chain letters and articles, and translated published letters in Polish and Russian to English. Dr. Jean-Bruno Renard has sent chain letters from France and Brazil, and a bibliography of French publications. Natalia Kasprzak sent two Polish articles on chain letters and translated a Polish letter into English. Bill Clark translated some chain letter Tagalog. Martinovich Vladimir Aleksandrovich provided Russian chain letters he collected, and has translated a Russian version of the Romance Game chain into English.
Though I am solely responsible for the approach and presentation here, this effort was sustained because a few people expressed interest. I am especially thankful for the encouragement of Richard Dawkins, who suggested I write "a book on chain letters, with all your detailed examples and analyses." This is not a book, but likely it is enough detail for most readers.
A list of those who provided one or more paper chain letters
appears on the
page for the archive.
Seeking paper chain letters Overview Auxiliary Files and Conventions
paper chain letters.
If you have any information on where I may obtain more paper chain letters please email. Any chain letters received should include the postmarked envelope if the letter came in the mail. Even a single letter nearly identical to one already collected could be very useful. Foreign examples, clippings, obscure or foreign references, beliefs and rumors about chain letters, stories of receiving unexpected money in the mail or other personal experiences with chain letters are also welcome.
Texts that appeal to superstition to encourage their copying or publication have circulated for over a thousand years. For English language letters, beginning around 1905, copy quotas and deadlines appeared and claims of divine authorship and magical protection were removed. These innovations probably began in other languages and were translated into English. The resulting "luck chain letters" eventually spread worldwide, and in over four thousand generations of copying (with variation) they accumulated ways to sustain and increase circulation that challenge our understanding.
Using a collection of over 900 dated paper chain letter texts, I have identified types and variations that appear and disappear over the years. Unexpectedly, it was discovered that, repeatedly, a single letter bearing some new innovation had propagated so abundantly and rapidly that within just a few years its descendants replaced all similarly motivated letters in circulation.
Subtle methods that increase replication include:
Auxiliary Files and
Listed here are files in the directory /chain-letter/ and sub-directories /archive/, /e-archive/ and /photo-archive/ which support this essay and are publicly available.
The following conventions may help the reader decide whether
to pursue a link.
1-2 Motivational Categories
Protection Charity Religion Luck Advocacy Money Parody Exchange World Record Chain Email
A chain letter explicitly asks a recipient to make
or purchase copies of itself
and distribute them.
It may also instruct the reader
to make some modification of the
letter, such as updating a list
of senders. In this treatise I will use the term
"chain letter" exclusively to refer to paper chain letters.
that the form and content
of chain letters
are highly correlated
with the principal
motive to distribute copies. I have
classified each paper chain letter
in the archive into one of nine
which I define here. Three of these categories (Protection, Luck,
and Money) are described in detail in following sections and hence
only briefly here. The order of the categories
here is the chronological order that English language examples
The Letters from Heaven (German: Himmelsbrief) claim to have been written by God or some divine agent. They often command Sabbath observance and promise the bearer magical protections.
Himmelsbrief have circulated
in Europe and elsewhere for
many centuries. They do not exactly fit the above
definition of a chain letter
since most do not ask that copies
be made, but instead ask the reader to "publish"
the text. I discuss them later
The filenames for
the Letters from Heaven
begin with the letter
"h" in the Paper Chain Letter
A charity chain letter requests money or some item be sent to a fixed address, ostensibly for charitable, political or memorial purposes.
Charity letters were common
from 1888 up into the 1920's, and influenced
early luck chain and money chain letters.
Apparently 1888 was a boom
year for them, judging from
newspaper reports. There was even a
parody that circulated . A
June 1887 newspaper
found by Patrick Davison describes a "remarkable scheme" for collecting
donations by personal contact which uses a pyramid of 6,144
persons to collect $17,412. Participants were assigned one
of the six letters A through F depending on their role in the
scheme. Early charity letters may have been influenced by such schemes.
A December, 1888 letter in the
archive solicits dimes for the
education of "the poor
whites in the region of the Cumberlands."
This letter states it
is an adaption of a previous
and asks that four copies
be sent to friends.
For compliance ". . .
you will receive the
blessing of Him who was ready
to die for us". Excluding
the Himmelsbrief, this
may be the oldest chain letter
An older charity chain letter from
the summer of 1888 is described
Collins, and likely
some others circulated previously.
A report of an 1881 charity
chain letter in
the Washington Post is apparently
false. In an 1892
example, an American college
student solicited dimes
and ten copies. This
letter, like most early charity chains,
claimed to be self-terminating:
recipients were asked
to increment a generation
count at the top of the
letter until it reached some preset
maximum at which time the donation
was to be made, but not more copies.
This practice continued
at least through
Usually, a few years
after a letter was launched,
only those circulated which had
inflated this maximum (NYT 1917).
For example, there
are two examples of a solicitation
for used postage stamps to build
a children's ward in Australia
The first is
and is numbered
173 of 180 maximum. The second, highly modified,
in circulation ten years
and is numbered 375 of 480
maximum. Many chain
letters exaggerate the loss
if there is a single
break in transmission
Apart from intimidating
recipients to comply,
this may have been influenced
by certain mail frauds
of the time (Thomas 1900).
letters that did not state a termination
number were called "endless"
for a few decades, and
this language still appears in some
In 1989 the Craig Shergold appeal
get well cards for a dying
child (since recovered),
intending to break a Guinness world
record that existed at the
time. It was launched by FAX, email
and chain letters. By December
1990 a record 33,000,000 cards had been
to stop the appeal,
of millions have now
been sent. Charity chain letters
were an influence
on early luck chain letters
and, 20 years later, enabled the
advent of money chain letters.
They are common on the Internet
but most of these are hoaxes
item in the archive is
a nine page chain solicitation
for one dollar contributions
to the 1950
Howard Taft. These were rescued
from the discarded files
of the Atlantic Coast
Line railroad police.
Archive filenames for
charity letters begin with
Religious chain letters promote religious beliefs, causes or practices, but do not ask for money. If they do they are classified as Charity chain letters.
In English speaking countries, religious chain letters circulated in small numbers throughout the twentieth century. Most of these have Roman Catholic themes. There is a single example in the archive of a chain letter which is titled "A Prayer to St. Joseph" which dates back to 1898. The text follows (format shortened, slightly edited):
A Prayer to St. Joseph.
Oh, St. Joseph
Whose protection is so great success so prompt before the throne of God. I place in you all my hopes, and confide to you all my interests. Deign Oh, St. Joseph to assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your divine foster son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
So that after having enjoyed here below your heavenly favors, I may offer you my thanksgiving and homage to the most tender and loving of all fathers.
Oh, St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you with Jesus asleep on your arms; but I dare not approach while he reposes on your heart.
Press him in my name, kiss softly his forehead for me, and ask him to return that kiss when I draw my last breath.
St. Joseph, patron of despairing souls pray for me.
- - - - -
To obtain the request granted to this prayer it must be written and given to five different persons who will give it to five others. Repeat the prayer for nine days after distributing it. It has never been known to fail in any request.
Mary Hennessey. 
only five copies are requested,
but the prayer
is to be repeated
on nine successive
days as in a Novena
In the last paragraph
it is revealed that the sender
may have made a personal
"request" of Joseph,
who is described as
the "patron of despairing souls."
This and other features,
including the claim
that "it has never been
known to fail," suggest
this letter may be a distant
source for personal appeals
to St. Jude that appear in the
classified ads of present
day newspapers in the U. S. (>jude)
St. Jude also appears
on subsequent English
language luck chain letters
beginning around 1987
(much later than
some have supposed). One appositive
for St. Jude is
"Saint of things almost
Other religious chain letters that have been collected include a solicitation for prayers , and Catholic devotional themes, one of which is called "A Little Flower of Jesus" and claims to be approved by "the sisters of St. Francis" [1937, see also 1951].
for religious chain letters begin with
an "r" in the Paper Chain Letter Archive.
Advocacy chain letters promote some cause other than religion, and do not ask that money be sent. Often they involve a petition. Also included in this category are announcements and invitations.
A 1903 postcard, as well as asking that copies of itself be distributed, asks that recipients send their name and address to the "U.S. Moral Society" to be added to a petition to Congress to prohibit the sale of cigarettes to minors. In subsequent examples the initial communication itself could be a petition, as in an attempt to draft Calvin Coolidge as the Republican nominee for President . An example not involving a petition is an August, 1940 letter advocating Republican Wendell Willkie for President and asking that ten copies be sent. A 1917 chain letter with detailed instructions for establishing conscientious objector status is a rare example of anonymous advocacy. Other chain letter causes include Czech independence , nuclear disarmament , protests of apartheid , and a libelous call for a boycott of Proctor & Gamble  alleging satanism. Recipients are invited to a party, and possibly a suicide, in a 1937 chain letter. Advocacy chain emails are also common, such as a perennial appeal to support National Public Radio [e1996].
chain letters have filenames
in the archive.
Luck chain letters appeal primarily to superstition, promising good luck if the letter is copied and distributed and bad luck if it is not. They are often called "prayer" chains because many prior types started with a prayer or Bible verse.
Luck chain letters may have developed
either from a requirement to distribute
a prayer in a Roman
Catholic Novena devotion
, or as a secularization of
promises and threats in the Letters from Heaven , possibly in a
language paper luck chain
letters of the twentieth
be my principal topic.
Most examples in the last
few decades are highly
varied devices to promote
propagation. The lists of
prior senders that often accompanied
luck chain letters have at times motivated
replication in order for one to display to
others that a high status person sent
them the letter. Since this motive is not
catered to by any language in the host chain
letter, I have not listed it as a separate
motivational category. Luck chains have
also been common on the Internet.
Though originally these were simply
digitizations of paper
letters, they subsequently
specialized to the email medium
Filenames for paper luck chain letters begin with the letter "l" in the archive.
Money chain letters urge the recipient to send money to one or more prior senders, claiming that one can likewise benefit if sufficient copies are distributed.
The key innovation of money chain letters was a list
of names and addresses with the instructions to
remove the top entry, move the others up one slot,
and add one's own name and address at the bottom. I
call any list with these instructions a controlled list. Money
originated in the
United States in the spring
of 1935 with the "Send-a-Dime"
A prior luck chain
as a model for
Send-a-Dime. These and other details of the advent
of money chain letters are presented in the article The Origin of Money Chain Letters which can
be read independently of this treatise, or read in sequence
letters have influenced
the content and distribution
of luck chain letters
up into the 1950's
and possibly beyond
Also included in this category are pyramid schemes,
which we define
as not using the mails to recruit
(but they may, or may not, use the
mails to make payments). Money chain
letters continue as
nuisance to this day, both
in paper 
and as E-mail .
Money chain letters and pyramid
schemes violate Federal
and State (West's
Filenames of items in this category begin with "m".
Parody letters mock the style and methods of circulating chain letters. The request for copies may not be serious, but parody letters have often circulated in the mails.
There is a single example of an 1888 letter mocking
charity chain letters which had just appeared in large numbers at that time.
This letter purports to seek "brutes in pantaloons"
to wed "old maids" in Massachusetts. It was not
until the money chain letter craze of 1935
that parodies appeared in large numbers and many varieties.
These mocked both
the language and geometrical
progression of the Send-a-Dime
letter, as well as the exchange letters
it had inspired. Examples mentioned
in the press
include the "Liquid Assets
may have actually been used to exchange liquor,
possibly the "Send-a-Pint"
letter) and the "Drop Dead
the first person on the
list). I have collected
several complete texts
of early parodies, including
The familiar "wife
was very common in the 1950's, and
found a bare bones example
These wife exchange
letters illustrate how punch lines can be
topped successively. The early 1935
example simply states that one may receive
15,125 women for its humorous effect.
Then a 1939
introduces the quip
that one man broke the chain and
got his own wife back. Though illogical,
this disappointing result was
the final punch line up into the early
1950's. A mimeographed 1953 letter
notes in a postscript that at
the funeral of a friend who received
183 women, everyone remarked that "he
had a smile on his face for the first time
in years." This in turn was topped in
by an account of the
difficulties that three
undertakers had in removing that
smile. The "Fertilizer
to the top address on
the list and crap on the
very likely goes back
to 1935, but it is unlikely
it would have been published
in a newspaper. The wife exchange parody
produced as a postcard ,
and an undated
even earlier commercial
production of chain
letter parodies [1940?].
The wife exchange parody itself fell victim to parody
exchange letter .
chain letter parodies
in different versions
like photocopied office
humor. There is no serious
request for copies, thus
technically they are not
chain letters. Parodies have
probably served to educate
the public on the fallacies
of money chain letters, and
have influenced the
content of luck chain letters.
They are very common on the
Paper parodies of chain letters
appear in the archive with
The exchange chain letters ask that an item of small value be sent to one or more prior senders, promising that if a specified number of copies are distributed the sender will in turn receive many such items.
Within weeks after the proliferation of the first money
chain letter, Send-a-Dime, letters
appeared which utilized its controlled
list method to exchange items
other than money. 
the text in these chain letters, as well as the number
of names on the list, had been reduced.
luck chain letter types,
the copy quota on exchange
varies considerably, as does
the number of names present in
the controlled list. In chronological
exchanged on archived
chain letters are: recipes,
quilt patches, handkerchiefs,
stamps, tea towels,
postcards, dish towels, aprons,
wash rags, Turkish towels,
earrings, QSL cards,
Tshirts, new panties, paperback books,
dog toys, collectibles, grocery
coupons, lottery scratchers
and children's books. Exchange
chains were still circulating in paper
Only one example
in email form has been collected
(a used paperback book
Filenames for exchange
chain letters begin
with an "x" in the archive
The world record chain letters motivate replication exclusively by claiming distribution of copies will likely set a world record and that participants will be acknowledged. They circulated primarily among children after the new millennium, having developed from a lineage of postcard exchange letters.
In 1976 a
postcard exchange letter claimed
that it was approved by the US
Postal Service as an "educational
game for children". It also claimed
that it had never been broken in over
three years, and that just to delay sending
copies beyond three
days constituted breaking
the chain .
A 1985 cognate,
said to have been started
by "kids in Germany",
asserted that if the letter
continued unbroken for
a little longer it would
be in the Guinness Book of World Records.
such letters promised that each
person who participated
in the chain would get their
name in the Guinness record
book. But should the recipient
not send copies, or even delay doing
so for more than three days, the
record would be spoiled and all the
children "would have to wait
another nine years to be in the
record book" [1996-08].
This descent into
absurdity had became inevitable
when an innovation that
promoted the total exclusion of
adults replicated. On a 1999 letter
the recipient is instructed
to "... send it to six kids."
Soon this restriction
to kids was
strengthened ("KIDS ONLY"), and
was justified by saying
it meant "kids will do the longest
chain letter" [2001-04]. Distributions to adults may not have changed the text of the
versions, but increased
discard may have
A letter mailed in the new millennium [2000-11] drops all mention
and declares that
"it is an attempt to get
into the world records."
So a new motivational category
is necessary to cover
this chain since postcards are
no longer exchanged. I call
this motivational category
"world record". Our earliest
example also claims that "the
post office is keeping track".
Further, perhaps to make
this seem more plausible, the list
of names and addresses, which
previously directed the flow
of postcards, had now migrated
to the outside of the envelope. This
in turn nurtured a grave fear:
the post office could determine "who
broke the chain" [2005-04].
This is no small matter:
"it has never been broken so
please don't spoil
it for every one." An additional
feature of this letter was the
claim that it would be delivered
without a stamp. Cognates
collected in the next few years,
most of them claiming to have
started in Australia, dropped
this feature but added the
instruction that one should write
on the envelope: "This is
the official Guinness Book of World
Records chain letter" [2001-04],
similar. Presumably this would
allow the Post Office to "track"
the chain. This
requirement of an external
declaration continued on most
letters of the lineage,
and on these we see again the claim that
a stamp was not required for delivery.
One only had to write the
declaration where the stamp would
normally be affixed [2005-09].
This curious feature also appeared
type luck chain
letters in 1974
( > no
stamp ), as well
as in certain French
chain letters. The list of names
was soon dropped in the lineage
of Post Office tracking
continued without it.
The exchange of postcards is the most logical use one can
imagine for a paper chain letter. This is because the invitation to participate
be a collectible postcard.
Thus it is ironic that
a variety of postcard
exchange letter gave rise
to this most absurd of all
chain letters. Most of the
on the "kids" type
letters are likely accidental
or naively motivated, but
many recipients must have believed
them. A letter from a mother
describes her daughter's
fear of being identified as
one who broke the chain [2007-01].
These "world record"
paper chain letters may
have been one of the most
abundant English language
paper chain letters in the first
decade of the new millennium.
But recently (2012) their numbers
may have been greatly reduced
by computer searching on text.
As for all chain letters
here, children's names and addresses
have been obscured in online
Filenames for the "world record" chain letters begin with a "w" in the archive.
The primary focus of this treatise is on paper chain letters. But it is sometimes useful to examine copying behavior on the internet, particularly frequently forwarded email ("chain email"). This has a large and growing number of motives for replication. Hoaxes, humor and expressions of friendship are prominent. The following is an alphabetic list of some of the many topics observed since 1993: admonitions (duty to friends, sobriety, safe sex), anti chain letters, aphorisms, ASCII art and scrollers, communication experiments and demonstrations, consumer warnings, friendship, hoaxes (virus warnings, charity, giveaways, false quotations), human rights alerts, humor (single jokes and lists, office humor items, stories), inspiration, Internet protection (modem tax, phone charges, anti-censorship), good luck (often in sex or romance), missing children, money chains, number guessing tricks, parodies, patriotism, personality tests, petitions, photographs and videos, poems, political commentary, practical jokes (especially April Fools Day), prayer requests, protests, rumors, school & exams, seasonal (Christmas, St. Valentine's Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving Day), speeches, surveys, tag (snowball fight, mooning), urban legends (warnings, humor), voting recommendations, and Web page suggestions. Many of these topics appear in combination, such as a humor item with a short luck chain attached.
Many e-mail chains began as digitizations of paper chain
letters. A very
early example is an
of a circulating paper
luck chain letter [e1982
- note archaic address
office humor items were also
put online [e1995].
chain emails rarely surge in replication due to an offhand
change or copying error, as
we will see occurs within the paper medium.
This is because an email is usually
reproduced exactly, and
thus there a few if any variations.
However both luck chain emails
and money schemes quickly developed
adaptions to the new medium through
a series of deliberate hoaxes
or calculated modifications. A new
restraining factor manifested when
email chains were posted on various
lists and group venues, provoking critical
analysis and ridicule. Recipients
of a chain email (and chain letters) are now
likely to search the web on key text, particularly
if money is solicited. Such a search
will discover naive postings and attempts
to recruit participants in money
schemes. However, high in the list of matches,
one will also encounter critical comments
and disarming analysis, such as on some
of the money chain emails in the archive
associated with this essay [me2009].
Email screening criteria by Internet
Service Providers have, in recent years,
also become a significant factor in the
survival of email replicators.
of above section
of Chain Letter Evolution
The collection of letters Table 1 - Contents of the Paper Chain Letter Archive Foreign language letters Publications Web Sites Interviews
I began collecting chain letters in 1973 with the hope they would reveal an evolutionary sequence. This effort was renewed several years later after discovering the folklore literature, particularly Michael Preston's 1976 article "Chain Letters" (Preston). This documented chain letters in a state of flux and presented variations of the same letter. Subsequently I placed ads for chain letters in collectibles magazines. Collecting large numbers of more recent letters began in June 1995 when Dr. Preston solicited chain letters for me from folklorists. In recent years I have also purchased old chain letters on eBay, the immense on-line auction. Sometimes copies were provided free by the seller or buyer, or a transcript could be made from auction photographs. I renewed collecting efforts in Dec. 2013 by subscribing to the commercial online newspaper databases newspapers.com and newspaperarchive.com. These have provided over a hundred chain letters for the archive and many entries for the bibliography.
All of the datable letters (except for some foreign examples and recent money chain letters) have now been digitized in HTML format and each is accessible on-line as a separate file in the Paper Chain Letter Archive. An index for the archive lists clickable file names of all items in the archive with annotations for most. The archive directory also contains an information page listing abbreviations used in file names and other conventions. The text of all the letters in the archive can be searched using using a site search engine provided by FreeFind. Transcriptions in the archive preserve the errors in the original letter unless otherwise noted. The medium of the letter, its date of circulation, how it was delivered, the provider, and other information is documented after the text.
Table 1 - Contents of the Paper
English language chain letters presently (April, 2015) in the Paper Chain Letter Archive are tabulated below by year of circulation and motivational category. Himmelsbrief and religious chain letters are excluded. Scores of additional published letters, especially early luck and charity chains, can be easily obtained from existing online newspaper archives.
|1885 - 89||4
|1890 - 94||2
|1895 - 99||6
|1900 - 04||5
|1905 - 09||54
|1910 - 14||61
|1915 - 19||35
|1920 - 24||42
|1925 - 29||38
|1930 - 34||24
|1935 - 39||12
|1940 - 44||21
|1945 - 49||15
|1950 - 54||15
|1955 - 59||12
|1960 - 64||5
|1965 - 69||11
|1970 - 74||16||1
|1975 - 79||28||6||2
|1980 - 84||37||3||2
|1985 - 89||35||1 (b)||11||2||6
|1990 - 94||53
|1995 - 99||49
|2000 - 04||5
|2005 - 09
(a) Over 100 money chain letters have been collected since
1975 but most have
not been digitized.
(b) The Craig Shergold appeal circulated widely beginning in 1989. Many are published (Guigne); only two are archived here.
The numbers in the table may not be reliable measures of
relative circulation. Newspapers were much more likely to print the
text of a chain letter prior to 1960. The large number of Ancient Prayer examples
collected is because it circulated largely on postcards, many of which were
saved and eventually offered for sale by dealers on eBay. Recent correspondence
is rarely offered for sale. Time gaps in the number of money
chain letters in the archive reflects a lack collecting
effort rather than circulation.
Presently there are over thirty English translations of foreign language chain letters in the archive. Most of these are also presented in their original language as well. There are several foreign language letters that have yet to be translated.
Because of the ease
with which letters are transmitted
internationally, chain letters are,
and have always been,
by the extensive collection
of foreign language
examples can an accurate genealogy
of chain letters
be constructed. It
is also revealing to see how
chain letters vary from one
culture to another. Sub-directories
have been established
in the archive for chain
letters in French, German
In 2006 I was contacted by Martinovich Vladimir Aleksandrovich, head of the Center of New Religious Movements Studies in Belarus. He has collected many chain letters in the Russian and Ukrainian languages. Transcriptions of some have been entered in the sub-directory /archive/russian [content-ru].
Of the 900+ letters in the Paper Chain Letter Archive, 230 were found in publications. Early in the project the New York Times Index located many texts of chain letters, and a mention of a McKinley Memorial chain before it was collected (NYT 1906). As mentioned above, I have found over a hundred texts of chain letters using newspapers.com and newspaperarchive.com, online archives of digitized microfilm images. This has filled in many blanks in chain letter history, particularly with the luck chain letters of the 1920's and 30's. Newspaper transcriptions destroy formats and rarely report lists of names adequately. Some French (Le Quellec) and Polish (Robotycki) publications contain many chain letters that have yet to be entered into the archive or translated. Newspaper articles are also frequent in the Annotated Bibliography, which currently contains over 375 entries, most of them from newspapers.
There are many thousands of WWW sites that match a search on "chain letter." The vast majority of these are about "email" chains, which are not my topic here. A useful list of annotated links appears in Watrous, and I will not duplicate this. To find the texts of luck chain letters one can search for traditional text, such as "Dolan Fairchild" or "Dalan Fairchild." A few transcriptions of paper luck chain letters found this way have been entered into the Paper Chain Letter Archive . Others are present on the WWW, but it is difficult to judge if they are complete and unedited. An article by Charles Bennett, Ming Li and Bin Ma, titled "Chain Letters & Evolutionary Histories" appears in the June 2003 issue of Scientific American (Bennett). This uses phylogenetic inference algorithms to construct a cladogram for 33 DL type chain chain letters. These are available on the web, and if dated I have copied them to the archive here.
I have obtained some information about chain letters and people's attitudes toward them by informal questioning of acquaintances. Several inquiries about foreign circulation have been made on USENET newsgroups. Much more could have been learned by systematic interviewing. However, people who send out chain letters, for luck or money, are often reluctant to reveal their activities and motives. Nevertheless, some interview material in newspapers and popular magazines has been very useful for understanding replication (Marilyn Bender, New York Times, 1968).
< Start of above section
of Chain Letter
Evolution - Contents
Ancient documents that advocate their own perpetuation The Letters from Heaven Transitions to chain letters
documents that advocate
their own perpetuation.
Many ancient texts survive which provide diagrams, incantations or prayers that claim to benefit those who learn them. Some come close to our definition of a chain letter by urging that a personal copy be made. The Ancient Egyptian "Book of that which is in the Underworld" states (of a picture it provides):
Another Buddhist text, the Diamond Sutra, is the oldest (868 AD) extant book printed by wood block reliefs. It promised great merit to those who "observe and study this Scripture, explain it to others and circulate it widely . . ." (Goddard, p. 96)
The Surangama Sutra states:
The "Letters from Heaven" (often called by the German "Himmelsbrief") claim to have been written by God or some divine agent. Many authors restrict the term to apocryphal Christian letters. These often claim miraculous delivery to Earth, magical protection for the possessor, blessings to those who "publish" them, and divine punishment for disbelief of their claims. The original copies are often claimed to have been written in gold letters, or with the blood of Jesus. Many published versions were illuminated. An early and frequent feature is the command for extreme Sabbath observance, as in the Madgeburg Himmelsbrief [text].
A German authority on the Himmelsbrief, H. Stube, said the letters long predated Christianity (Oda). Examples in Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Syrian, and Ethiopic have been published with German translations. Jewish and Islamic Himmelsbrief are also reported (Hand). These may all derive from an early Greek source (Bittner). A letter which was said to have fallen from heaven existed in the third century AD (Hippolytos, Refutation of All Heresies). The oldest Letter from Heaven for which we have a full text is the Latin "Letter from Heaven on the observance of the Lord's Day," the original of which dates from the close of the sixth century (Priebsch). St. Boniface denounced this as a "bungling work of a madman or the devil himself." Eckehard (1115 AD) wrote that it had spread over the whole globe then known to man. It has circulated in English in many versions [1795 text, image].
Jacob, organizer of the Crusades of the Shepherds, claimed (ca. 1251) the Virgin Mary appeared to him and gave him a letter. While in public he always carried it in his hand. A cult of uniformed flagellants appeared in Germany in 1261 claiming to possess a heavenly letter that had descended upon the altar of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem before a multitude. The text has survived: God, angry at human sin, has decided to destroy all life, but the Virgin intercedes and God grants humanity one last chance to reform. Any priest who refused to pass on the divine message to his congregation would be eternally damned. During the Black Death (1348-9) the same letter, with a paragraph on the plague added, was used as a manifesto by a revived flagellant movement. At gatherings the manifesto was read publicly, the audience being "swept by sobbing and groaning." (Cohn)
Some Letters from Heaven specialized in protection, and accumulated long lists of weapons by which the possessor could not be harmed. The Count Philip Himmelsbrief  granted protection against "spear, sword, sabre, cutlass, knife, tomahawk, rapier, helmet, burdon, . . . , and everything prohibited by holy writ, that is from all kinds of weapons, artillery, cannon, musket, rifle, gun or pistol." A preamble mentions its use in the American Revolution and claims that Count Philip of Flanders sponsored it after he was unable to execute a condemned prisoner who had secreted a copy on his person. Various Letters from Heaven in German were printed in Pennsylvania during the 19th and early 20th century (Oda), [1887 image1 & image2].
Letters claiming divine authority are also reported from India. Chain letters circulated in Shahabad in 1864 that condemned the breeding of pigs and consumption of alcohol. They were said to be from Heaven. In North Tirhut, 1872, cow protection was advocated by "strange papers" which "warned that Jaganath (Lord of the World) would curse any one who did not pay heed to this message and would burn down the house of any one who failed to pass it along to other people." Letters advocating cow protection in 1893 mandated recipients "make and then issue copies to at least five villages" - an early example of a copy quota. (Yang)
An email chain posted to an Islamic coins mailing list
consists of: (1) an
"Letter from Heaven," which
likely first circulated
in paper, and (2)
a reduced version (testimonials
only) of a paper
luck chain letter I call the
type. In II Chronicles 21:12 it is said that
Elijah sent a letter to King Jehoram. It has
been determined by scholars that Jehoram did not reign
until 14 years after Elijan's death and the text
has been interpreted by some clergy to mean that the
letter came from Heaven. (1947)
It may be thought that the Letters from Heaven were a phenomenon of centuries past. But searching online newspaper databases reveals that probably hundreds of Jesus' Sabbath Letter have been published in local newspapers in the United States in the last two centuries, continuing up to the 1960's. Searching on the text "fast five fridays" produced 25 matches using newspapers.com and 72 using newspaperarchive.com. Most of these printings were responding to requests by faithful possessors of the letter, heeding its command to "publish" it. One columnist revealed: "It used to be sent to newspaper editors, demanding that the passage be published in the paper and setting out all sorts of dire consequences if the editors failed to acquiesce." (1939) Usually a brief succession of possessors is given, some of whom had bad luck after they did not publish a letter in their possession. Such claimed lineages may go back to the original legendary possessor of the letter . The Holstein Himmelsbrief, which features protection from weapons, has gained favorable newspaper testimonials for its use in both World War II and the Vietnam war: "He kept track of those to whom he sent a copy of the letter and every one of them returned unharmed from the war." 
to chain letters.
Edwin Fogel, writing in 1908, assumed that a luck chain letter  was a new version of a Letter from Heaven (Fogel). There is little similarity in the texts, but perhaps Fogel was familiar with transitional forms now lost. Speaking of the apocryphal Letter from Jesus Christ , Edgar Goodspeed wrote "it is sometimes sent through the mail with a request that the recipient send copies of it to three others, as some great misfortune is likely to befall him if he does not" (1931). Such a practice must have long predated 1931. Thus luck chain letters may have evolved from the preambles and postscripts to Letters from Heaven. At some stage the divine communication may have been replaced by a less pretentious "prayer," followed by entreaties to copy it. This is the form of the "Ancient Prayer" type [1905 - 1925] discussed in the next section. Some versions of Ancient Prayer promise deliverance "from all calamities" and threaten "eternal punishment"  - as do some Letters from Heaven [Madgeburg]. Folklorists have generally followed Fogel in presuming that luck chain letters derive from the Himmelsbrief tradition (Ellis), though transitional examples have yet to be found.
More collecting should clarify the transition
to chain letters. The first
luck chain letters may
also have been influenced
by early charity chain letters
introduced the idea
of a copy quota.
< Start of above section < Start of Chain Letter Evolution - Contents
2-2 THE PREDOMINANT SERIES
Features of 20th century luck chain letters The Series of Predominant Types Statement Types
Ancient Prayer Good Luck Flanders Prosperity Flanders-Prosperity Blind13 The Luck of London
Chain of Good Luck Luck by Mail Death20 Lottery-Death Death-Lottery
In this section I list characteristic features of English language luck chain letters, classify most of them into 12 sequential "types", identify certain kinds of statements that are frequently seen on them, and give a complete text and further information for each of the 12 types.
Features of 20th century luck chain letters.
After 1900 chain letters were influenced by increasing literacy, international mail and postcards, and changing attitudes about religion and miracles. Also chain letters themselves accumulated new technologies for increasing replication. Whereas the prior Letters from Heaven usually urged the reader to "publish" the letter, chain letters gained more circulation by relying on individual copying with specific copy quotas and deadlines. The following features characterize luck chain letters of the 20th century.
(1) Brevity. The Letters from Heaven typically had over 500 words and were often elaborately printed. By contrast, the widespread luck chain letter from 1905-25, called "Ancient Prayer", had about 120 words and was usually distributed by handwritten postcards.
(2) Secularity. Luck chains originating in the 1900's dropped claims of divine authorship, delivery from heaven to earth, granting protection from fire or weapons, divine punishment for disbelief, and miracles generally. A Saint, missionary or military officer may be attributed as the author of the letter, but never Jesus. Promises of good luck and threats of bad luck exploited vague popular superstitions rather than naive piety.
(3) Copy quota. Chain letters state a minimum number of copies that the recipient is encouraged to distribute.
(4) Deadline. This task is to be completed within a stated period.
(5) Waiting period. But according to most letters, one must wait a certain number of days before receiving good luck.
(6) Testimonials. All English language luck chain letters since the 1930's contain accounts of fortune and misfortune allegedly experienced by prior recipients of the letter. These testimonials are told in the third person, usually of a named individual.
(7) Circumnavigation. Almost all luck chains since 1910 have either (1) declared they are to go "all over" or around the world, or (2) claimed a certain number of completed circumnavigations.
(8) Lists. When someone signs their name on a chain letter, a recipient may faithfully copy this name, perhaps thinking this was the author of the original letter. Eventually another person may sign below the first name, suggesting to downline recipients that they should do the same. In this way chain letters often accumulated long lists of senders , even though this behavior may not be solicited in the text of the letter. Initials, names of couples , dates received , and company letterheads  have similarly accumulated. Lists often reached fifty or more names and became a burden to copy  (Lardner). Some chain letters avoided this by instructing, for example, "Copy the above names, omitting the first, add your name last" . If this processing is always undertaken a controlled list of fixed length results. Other chain letters forbade "signing on" - notably postcard chains  and Internet luck chains [e1994]. The presence of a senders list on a chain letter may change the motives for sending it and the choice of recipients.
|2||Good Luck|| 34
|| Most: X to
||Luck of London
||Luck by Mail
||1974-75||Maryland||383||24 & 20 (e)||4||9 & 4|| All:
||1973-05||AFC||351||20||4||4|| Early: Some
(a) Circulation in the US in 1924 was dominated by quota
ten versions of Ancient Prayer. Two
items from England, and one each
from Australia and the US, had quota, deadline
and wait all seven [1916, 1925, 1923,
(b) Augmented versions of Good Luck predominated from 1925-26.
(c) A 1937 reduced Prosperity chain on a postcard asks for ten copies .
(d) "Send this copy and four others" is on Flanders-Prosperity, Luck of London and Luck by Mail types.
(e) On early examples 24 is the quota in the Lottery block and 20 in the Death block.
(f) Some early examples of DL had a senders' list between the D and L blocks.
To recognize copying
when there is high variability,
and to simplify descriptions
of chain letter text,
it is useful to identify and name
yet common types of statements that
appear on various luck chain letters.
I will capitalize these names to distinguish
them from conventional uses
of the same word, and allow them
to be both nouns and adjectives.
Linkage. A statement on a chain letter which describes one or two of the latest transmissions of the letter in hand. If present, Linkage statements usually appear at the start of a chain letter, and can function as a declaration that the letter is a chain letter (Dundes). They may also be inserted when a list is removed. Linkage statements appear on some Ancient Prayer examples and are near universal on the Flanders type. Examples:
Dear Friend - I am sending you a prayer that I received with the request that it be sent to nine persons. [Ancient Prayer, 1906]
This was sent to me by a friend. [Ancient Prayer, 1909]
The above letter was received be me and I am sending it on to you. [Good Luck, 1922]
The Flanders Chain of good luck has been sent to me and I am sending it on to you. [Flanders, 1929]
Circumnavigation. A request
that the letter is to go all
over the world, or that
it is to go around the world,
perhaps more than once. Or a claim
that the letter has already gone
around the world some number of times.
This prayer ... is being sent all over the world. 
It ... must go around the world three times. 
It has been around the world nine times. [Death20 block, 1974]
Expectation. A suggestion
that the reader should
"see what happens" after
a certain number
of days, implying that some
joyous event or good fortune
will happen. Examples:
... copy it and see what will happen. 
See what will happen on the fourth day. 
A statement which, speaking as
affirms the validity
of the claims in the letter.
It may attempt to explain
how the letter works, or
restate a claim with different
are highly variable and are often
doubled or deleted. They are universal on the Flanders and Prosperity
type letters. Examples:
"It is positively remarkable
how many times this
prediction has been fulfilled
since this chain was started."
"The theory is to set up a definite and positive thought. 
"Here is infinite proof of this progress" 
"That's proof for you." 
"It works!" 
Recycle. A statement which warns the reader to get rid of the letter (often within a certain amount of time), or to distribute it along with the copies that are to be sent. Recycle statements first appeared on the Flanders letters. If there is a list requiring updating, the received copy is no longer a candidate for being sent out again and a Recycle statement will usually not be present. A Recycle warning has become universal on the mainline since 1940. Examples:
"Do not keep this letter in the house more than 24 hours." 
"Send this and four others within 24 hours." 
"Do not keep this letter. It must leave within 96 hours after you receive it." 
Based on what has been collected so far, the "Ancient Prayer" letter was the first "luck" chain letter to circulate in the US, and this started abruptly in 1906. It likely circulated in other countries many years prior. There is a mention from France that it was denounced by the Bayonne Diocese in 1905. The earliest US example is a letter postmarked in Leeds, Maine on January 6, 1906.
Note that the first sentence, a "Linkage," is probably a personal communication that has been incorporated into the text and copied. Here "He who will not say it will be afflicted . . ." implies that recitation of the prayer is sufficient to avoid punishment for noncompliance. "Bishop Lawrence" was the Episcopalian Bishop of Massachusetts and a well known author, at least among Protestants. Adaptive ambiguity was likely at work in the predominance of this attribution. Many Catholics would have presumed by his title that Lawrence shared their faith. He actively denied he had anything to do with the chain letter, but received complaints from all over the world for his alleged endorsement. (1926) Beginning around 1910 a persistent new version of Ancient Prayer developed.
I received the other day a chain prayer.
Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, we implore Thee, O Eternal God, to have mercy upon mankind. Keep us from all sin and take us to be with Thee eternally. Amen
This prayer was sent by Bishop Lawrence, recommending it to be rewritten and sent to nine other persons. He who will not say it will be afflicted with some great misfortune. One person who failed to pay attention to it met with a dreadful accident. He who will rewrite it to nine other persons commencing on the day it is received - and sending only one each day will on or after the ninth day experience great joy.
Please do not break the chain. 
This prayer was sent to me.
It is being sent
the world. It
was said in Jesus time
that all who would
write it and pass it on would
be delivered from
Those who would not write
it on would meet with some
misfortune. Those who
write it before nine days,
day received, to nine of their
friends will on the ninth day
receive some great joy.
So do not break
Received Oct. 6. Name unsigned. 
The "dreadful accident" and the false attribution to Bishop Lawrence have been dropped and will never return. The advantages to replication of "all over the world" is discussed later (> circumnavigation). The reward of "great joy" for compliance is present on nearly all examples of Ancient Prayer I have discovered (for Russia, see Viola, note 59). Around 1909 the playful suggestion to copy the letter and "see what will happen" was introduced. This "Expectation" became common (but not universal) on Ancient Prayer and persists in the mainline to the present day . Early versions of Ancient prayer reveal an influence from the Letters from Heaven. For example, a 1909 letter claims that its rewards and punishments were spoken of in "Jerusalem." This was subsequently replaced by in "Jesus' time", perhaps originating as a copying error.
An interesting feature in the
above 1910 text
is the word "stating",
to be a copying error
by comparison to
other examples [1908, 1911]. A recipient
to this error by writing the date (Oct.
6). An abundant
was soon established which
and the date of the prior receipt [1912,
1914, 1915]. The advantage to replication
this variation was probably
that it reminded
the recipient of the impending
postcards lacking the date
of receipt notation could
be more easily ignored
until the recipient realized
the deadline had passed
with no ill effect. The role
of copying errors in chain
letter evolution can be overestimated,
to deliberate innovations.
But for any copying error
to produce a successful
variation is remarkable,
and I will investigate other possibilities
of this below (> LD).
Some Ancient Prayer examples are self titled "The Endless Chain" , or "The Endless Chain of Prayer" (Fogel, 1908) [1923, 1925]. Chain letters as we know them were originally called "Endless chain letters" (NYT, 1906) to distinguish them from the then familiar self-terminating charity chains. The title "Ancient Prayer" did not appear on American chain letters until around 1909.
With U.S. entry into World War I in 1917, Ancient Prayer
Some were exclusive
within various fraternal
some prayed for "peace"
for "victory." An unmarried
woman in Ohio received
at least three of the
Victory postcards just
in October of 1917. [1917A , 1917B] The chain
so numerous that
the editors of the New
York Times proposed that
as a German plot to clog
the mails (NYT, 1917d).
A wartime postage rate
increase, from one to
two cents for postcards, may
have cooled the chain off and
foiled the Huns.
The same chain postcard with
substituted titles had also
served the martial spirit
of the Central Powers. A
German language version, postmarked
in Austria a year before
the start of World War I, begins
"We Germans fear God,
and Nothing else on Earth!"
Immediately after the war Ancient
Prayer declined in the U.S.
and England. Some resented
that "during the First
World War they and many people
they knew had received letters threatening
death or horrors to their loved ones
in the trenches of France if the
chain was broken." (Simpson 2000). In 1924
Ancient Prayer revived in the US with a copy quota of ten and a new prayer.
One such letter has been collected which was written in a fancy script
Though Ancient Prayer continued to circulate for many years
after the end of World War I, and even had a boomlet in 1924, the postwar
worldliness was not a good fit for its piety. The last Ancient Prayer chain
letter to appear in the archive was a much reduced version on a postcard
mailed in 1938.
By 1995 the Ancient Prayer chain letter was nameless and all but forgotten. But the chain was preserved on postcards and letters, and these were old enough that they were offered for sale. Of the 165 examples of Ancient Prayer in the archive, about 50 are physical postcards or letters purchased on eBay.
According to some reports (1948, 1968) the Good Luck letter was started by an American soldier during World War I. However our earliest examples come from 1922, a boom year for the chain both in England and the U.S. Thorough searches and inquiries have failed to date the letter prior to 1921. The text was short and secular, and retained the request for nine copies as on Ancient Prayer. Many examples had long lists of paired names ("X to Y") at the top, sender to receiver . There is a physical example in the archive with 113 names , and a newspaper report of 214 . Below is a prototypic example, a typed letter mailed from Birmingham, Alabama on June 8, 1922. The X to Y list had 30 entries (I have deleted 27 of them here). Though "Claude Sanders" leads the list, he was not the author of the letter, though recipients who had not seen this chain before may have presumed so.
.................................................................................................................No claim is made in the letter that it was started during World War I. "Smilin' Through" was a hit silent movie starring Norma Talmadge. It was released on Feb. 13, 1922. Many later Good Luck letters retained versions of this postscript, often simply updating the year.
Birmingham,Ala. June 8, 1922
Claude Sanders to Phil Gleischman
Phil Gleischman to M. H. Starr
A. A. Gambill to J. F. Suttle
Copy this out and xxxxxx send to nine (9) people whom you wish good
luck. The chain was started by an American Officer and should go
three times around the world.
DO NOT BREAK THE CHAIN, for whoever does will have BAD
LUCK. Do it within twenty-four hours and count nine days and you will
have some great good fortune.
"Let all go smiling through 1922." 
Good Luck Augmented.
The 1922 Good Luck chain letter was by far the shortest of all our predominant types (< Table 2). This seems to have invited the placement of additional text both at its start   and end . The following example was published by syndicated columnist Helen Worth in 1925.
This good luck chain letter has been sent to me and I am asking you, as I have been asked, not to break the chain. Copy this and send it to nine persons whom you wish good luck. The chain was started by an American officer and should go around the world three times. Do not break the chain, for whoever does this will have bad luck. Write nine letters and send them within 24 hours. Count nine days and have some good luck.Here a standard Good Luck letter (in bold above) has a Linkage statement added at the start, an Affirmation at the end, and perhaps what was an incorporated personal closing after that. This letter is reported to have had a list of 115 names, probably in the X to Y format. With that many names it is safe to assume that the letter had circulated well over a year. Changes can take place in the body of a chain letter while it is accumulating names on a list. 
It is positively remarkable how many times this prediction has been fulfilled since this chain was started.
Much success to you and yours. Let us go smiling and happy through 1925. 
Flanders Chain of Luck.The "American officer" of the Good Luck letters has now been placed in Flanders, famous for World War I battles. Either the title on the prototype, or "Flanders Chain of Good Luck", were almost always present. Other key innovations were: (1) the reduction of the copy quota from nine to four (or five) copies, (2) a leading Linkage statement, (3) a Circumnavigation declaration, usually to "go around the world three times", (4) an Affirmation (highly variable), (5) an Expectation, usually "see what happens on the fourth day", and (6) a Recycle statement at or near the end. Lists of any type are universally absent from the Flanders type, as are testimonials.
This letter was sent to me by a friend and I am sending it to you, so as not to break the chain. Copy this off and send it to four persons, within 24 hours, in whom you wish good luck. This chain was started by an American officer in Flanders and should go round the world three times. Do not lose it as you will have BAD LUCK. It is positively remarkable how this prediction has been fulfilled since the chain started. Send this copy away as soon as possible and see what happens on the fourth day.
Pass this on and DO NOT KEEP IT IN THE HOUSE. 
Folklorist Harry M. Hyatt reported in 1935 that "during the latter part of 1933 a 'chain letter' fad appeared" and he gave a complete text except for two towns and two names in the list that he withheld to protect privacy.
We trust in God. He supplies our needs.
Mrs. F. Streuzel,*****........Mich.Copy the above names, omitting the first. Add your name last. Mail it to five persons who you wish prosperity to.
Mrs. A.Ford, Chicago .........Ill.
Mrs. K.Adkins, Chicago . .....Ill.
The chain was started by an American Colonel and must be mailed 24 hours after receiving it. This will bring prosperity within 9 days after mailing it.
Mrs. Sanford won $3,000.
Mrs. Andres won $1,000.
Mrs. Howe who broke the chain lost everything she possessed. The chain grows a definite power over the expected word,
DO NOT BREAK THE CHAIN
See what happens on the 9th day.
Hoping it brings you luck.
There are fourteen Prosperity type chain letters in the archive, all but three from publications. Most of the standard versions have: (1) the presence of a controlled list, (2) copy quota 5, deadline 24 hours, wait 9 days, (2) a title that mentions God, (3) attribution to an American colonel, (4) win-win-lose pecuniary testimonials, and (5) an Affirmation after the testimonials. Notably absent are Circumnavigation, Expectation and Recycle statements. Nor are there any Linkage statements, as we should expect since a list of recent senders is usually present. Linkage, Circumnavigation and Recycle statements were near universal on the predecessor Flanders type.
This is a concatenation of a quota five Flanders letter on top and a Prosperity letter below it. Let me argue the case for this.
The good luck of Flanders was sent to me and I am
sending it within twenty four hours. This chain was
started by an American Officer in Flanders and is
going around the world four times- and one who breaks
it will have bad luck. Copy this letter and see what
happens to you four days after mailing. It will bring
you good luck. Send this copy and four others to
people you wish good luck. Do not keep this letter.
It must be in the mail twenty four hours after receiving it.
Mrs. Gay Field received $5000, five hours after mailing.
Mrs. Ambrose received $4000, four hours after mailing.
Mr. Nevin broke the chain and lost everything he had.
Here is definite proof for the good luck sent prayers.
Good luck to you and trust in God. He who suffers our
This brings prosperity to you in four days after mailing.
Do not send money. Cross the top name off and put yours
at the bottom.
J.H. Mason, Petersburg, Va.
B.B. Hoag, Louisville, Ky.
C. J. Lingenfelder, Chicago, Ill.
C. A. Woerner, Indianapolis, Ind.
E. M. Cunningham, Columbus, Ohio
J. D. Moore, Osborn, Ohio
Richard M. Hubbell, Indianapolis, Ind.
M E Berkley, Shelby, Ohio 
Chain of St. AnthonySeveral other examples of this "Chain of St. Anthony" have been found in newspapers dating from 1936-37. But the chain did not dominate circulation until 1940-41 and by this time the item seems to have appeared on postcards exclusively, and had dropped any mention of "St. Anthony". Apparently identifiable Catholicism limits the propagation of a chain letter in the United States. This may be caused as much by denunciation by priests as it is by Protestant rejection. Here is a standard example of the abundant postcard version from Kingsport, Tennessee:
This chain must go around the world. It has been started by a sentimental person. You send it to 13 persons and wish them joy, prosperity and good fortune.
As soon as you receive this copy make one like it and send it to a friend, even out of the city. Make one every day for 13 days and you will receive unexpected grace. Be sure you mail this, and say the Apostles' Creed for 13 days.
A woman did this and on the thirteenth day received a letter containing $26. Another woman made fun of this and her daughter went blind. Another woman did not do this and her home and family were destroyed. Pay good attention to this and you will enjoy health and prosperity. 
Since the threat of blindness in the family is near universal on these, and to note the odd and unvarying copy quota, I call the type "Blind13". It may be cognate to a published quota 13 Polish chain  titled "Letter to St. Anthony", in which the major threat reads: "A Pole from America tore this letter and his son vanished after 13 days". Perhaps an ancestor of this Polish letter circulated among Eastern European immigrants in the 1930's, its English translation giving rise to the "Chain of St. Anthony", and that mutating to the non-Catholic postcards. Or the influence could be from "America" to Poland instead. Judging from the archive, the peak year for Blind13 was 1941. There is a French language letter from 1955 appealing to Saint Anthony of Padua that also may be cognate to Blind13. A Spanish language source is also possible; thirteen may have been a traditional quota for Mexican letters . St. Anthony chain letters may have appeared in many countries, always demanding 13 copies and always brandishing a harsh threat to a family member.
Oh Lord, be merciful upon us and all nations. This is the prayer of safety. This must go around the world. If you fail to send it a misfortune will enter your home. As soon as you get this card, copy and send it to 13 persons and on the 13th day great happiness will fall upon you and you will receive $16.
One woman made fun of this and her daughter went blind. Pay attention and the Lord will bless you. Please don't let this die in your home. Read the 18th Psalm. 
"The Luck of London" chain letter was said to have originated during the blitz (1940) and continued to circulate in Europe and America even after the war. (DeLys, 1948). A letter published in the Neosho Daily News on March 16, 1942 is our earliest example. Columnist Robert McNight described it as a "new type of chain letter".
This good luck of London was sent to me and I'm sending it to you within 24 hours. This chain was started by an American Officer. It has been around the world five times. The one who breaks it will have bad luck. Copy this and see what happens 4 days later, after posting it. It will bring good luck. So don't keep it. Send this and 4 others to people whom you wish good luck. Grace Fields received $40.00 after posting it. Dr. Arcrose won $1,000 but lost it because he broke the chain. This is proof for you to post it. It will bring good luck 4 days after posting it.
Do not send money. Good Luck 
Clearly this chain letter is close to the Flanders-Prosperity
type with "London" replacing
"Flanders". Both types still have
the leading Linkage, the
same copy quota five, four day wait,
24 hour deadline, a Recycle command,
the pecuniary testimonials
followed by an Affirmation,
then the "Do not send money"
command. And the two names in the testimonials
above are cognate to the names on the Flanders-Prosperity
text we gave: Grace Fields vs. Mrs.
Gay Field and Dr. Arcrose vs. Mrs. Ambrose.
Considering these similarities one could classify the Luck of London letters as a variation of the previous Flanders-Prosperity type. But there is a fundamental difference, besides the updating from World War I to World War II. All of the Flanders-Prosperity letters have a controlled list of names and often towns also. None of the nine Luck of London letters in the archive bear a list of any kind. Also the prior type promised prosperity as well as luck. The Luck of London letters have dropped the mention of prosperity and focus solely on luck. Luck was more needed than money during the war. The new chain letter, with its tribute to a city that survived an onslaught of the German air force, must have appealed to many who had family members at risk in the armed services. I rank the Luck of London chain letters as a new type, as columnist McKnight judged them to be in 1942.
of Good Luck.
The letter below was handwritten and mailed from Sandoway, Burma on June 17, 1949 to A. Logozorie at a Roman Catholic Mission in Gold Coast, British West Africa.
Chain of Good Luck
This chain of good luck was send to me via United Press despatch and was sent in 72 hours. It was started in Africa by a French Officer under General De Gaulls and is going round the world for the first time. The person who break this chain will surely receive bad luck. Do not keep this letter. This must be mailed within 72 hours after your receipt here of. A private in the Philipine Army won the first prize in the sweeps takes for complying with this chain. Mr. Frankling D. Roosavelt was elected for the third term as president of the United States 52 hours after he mailed this letter. Captain Remero who broke this chain died 72 hours after he received this letter. Detective Segundo B. Villanueva of the city of Baguio who laugh at this chain of good luck met instantaneous death in an accident on June 14, 1948.
Instruction Cancel the first name and add your name to the last. Make 12 copies and mail it to your friends. Do not retain this letter.
1. Alfred .T. O.koo 2. Y.T. Chaung. 3. Paul A. Chang. 4. Olive Pan
5. K.H. Chan . 6. N. Lee. 7. E. Chu. 8. Franky Monk . 9. G.T. Aung
10. M.T.O. 11. M.K.N. 12. M.T.H
Copy to:- A. Logozorie for information and necessary action. 
There are just eight complete examples of the "Chain of
Good Luck" (COGL) in the archive,
but this international chain letter
seems to have dominated the luck genre
in the US in the year 1949. They all attribute
their origin to a French officer
serving under General DeGaulle
in Africa. Other universals
for the type are: (1) the title
"Chain of Good Luck", (2) a leading
Linkage statement, (3) a declaration
that the letter is to go around
the world the first time, (4) two
Recycle declarations, (5) testimonials
featuring a Philippine army
private, President Roosevelt, and
two victims of sudden death, (6)
a controlled list of varying length.
In the leading Linkage statements, all but one COGL reads
like the standard example
above, claiming the
chain was sent via "United Press
Dispatch", or "United Dispatch",
etc. But a 1952
in Syracuse, New York, reads: "This
chain of good
luck was sent to me
by Ronald Service, Essex, ...".
This may tell us that "United
Dispatch", and similar business
names on the other examples of COGL,
may have started as a corruption
of a personal name. COGL has structural
similarities to the Flanders
type described above. And on a 1928
Flanders example the Linkage
reads in part: "The Flanders Chain
of Good Luck was passed to me by A.
E. Blandfield ..." . So there is a precedent
for personal names in Linkage,
and the Syracuse COGL example may
derive from one. Having a senders
list makes a Linkage statement redundant,
so if there ever were a personal
name in the COGL Linkage it may not have
been updated, and instead subject to
many generations of unguided copying and
corruption until finally someone miscorrected
it to a more familiar name - of a business.
Note also that the 1952 example of COGL gives the city,
Exeter, that the sender
once removed lived in. None
of the four newspaper
examples of COGL in the archive give
the contents of the list, but
here we get a hint that the deleted
list on some published COGL examples
may have contained both names and
towns. If a controlled list
had enough entries - twenty would
be more than enough - one could prove
that a chain letter had actually
gone around the world if the locations
of senders were on the list. The prototype
example above contains only names
and initials, yet one might still infer
that it was going around the world in a westward
direction, perhaps from mission to
If there is one prime reason why the Chain of Good Luck gained so much sudden compliance in the United States it was likely because it contained a potent death threat. "Detective Segundo B. Villanova . . . met instantaneous death in an accident of June 14, 1948." Such detail! This looks like a news item that came over the wire from "United Press Dispatch".
The Prayer. Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not on thy own understandance in all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy path.
Please copy this and see what happens in four days after receiving it. Send this copy and four to someone you wish good luck. It must leave in 24 hours. Don't send any money and don't keep this copy. Gen Patton received $1,600 after receiving it. Gen Allen received $1,600 and lost it because he broke the chain. You are to have good luck in 4 days. This is not a joke and you will receive by mail. 
The Luck by Mail type also introduces "this is not a joke" and the qualification that you will receive your luck "by mail." These are now mainline universals, and I judge the latter to have been the innovation most responsible for the predominance of this type in the 1950's. This hypothesis involves a possible relationship with money chain letters (> Luck Follows Money). The declaration "this is not a joke" is discussed in section 3-4. Around 1954 the geographical attribution to "the Netherlands" first appears and became near universal in the mainline. Lists are highly variable on the Luck by Mail type - those present are often trailing controlled lists of prior senders.
Luck by Mail continued to circulate well into the 1960's, in many variations. This is surprising since a potent innovation appeared in 1959.
THINK A PRAYER
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and all will acknowledge Him and He will light your way."
This prayer has been sent to you for Good Luck. The original copy came from the Netherlands. It has been around the world nine times.
The luck has been sent to you. You are to receive good luck within four days after receiving this letter. It is no joke. You will receive it in the mail. Send 20 copies of this letter to friends you think need good luck. Please do not send money. Do not keep this letter. It must leave within 96 hours after you receive it.
A U.S. officer received $7,000.00. Don Elliott received $60,000.00 but lost it because he broke the chain. While in the Philippines, General Walsh lost his life 6 days after receiving his copy. He failed to circulate the prayer. However, before he died, he received $665,000.00 he had won.
Please send 20 copies and after see what happens to you on
the fourth day. Add your name to the bottom of the list, and
leave out the first one when copying this letter.
Mr. Joseph Kushner
Mr. Irwin J. Cole
Mr. Barry L. Dahne Mr. Burnard Margoles
Mr. Nicholas H. Hope, Jr. Mr. Edmond Yandow
Mr. William H. Williams, Jr Mr. Sydney E. Tindall
Mr. Charles A. Knott Mr. Clarence Lusk
Mr. Martin D. Munger Mr. Jack Lumiere
Mr. William L. Morris Mr. Murray Sobel
Mr. Richard Jacoff Mr. James E. Pierce, Jr.
Mr. W. R. Rosensteil Mr. Lamar Wheat
Mr. George B. Garvey Mr. John L. Hutcheson, III
Mr. Elliott Guzofsky Mr. Jim Reilly
Mr. Arthur A. Pomper Mr. Paul Mako
Dr. Robert B. Jeffrey
Dr. James J. Sullivan