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 luck chain letters are identified which predominated circulation at some time in the twentieth century. These and their major variations are 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 modified letter had replaced all the millions of similar letters in circulation without this postscript. These and other events in chain letter history are described in detail and explained within their historical context using evolutionary hypotheses. The circulation of paper luck chain letters has collapsed in the new millennium.
The author has completed another paper, titled "The Origin
of Money Chain Letters", which can be read independently from Chain
Letter Evolution. It describes the origin of the first
money chain letter, the infamous
"Send-a-Dime" 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. A 1933 luck
chain letter is shown to have provided a
model for the Send-a-Dime letter. This 1933 letter itself
may have brought unexpected money
in the mail to some senders in small towns.
A link to The Origin of Money Chain Letters is provided below. [pending]
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)
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. 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 information
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 letters, 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
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
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 motivational
categories 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 first appeared.
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 article
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."
states it is an adaption
of a previous solicitation,
and asks that
four copies be sent to friends.
". . . you will receive the
blessing of Him who was ready
to die for us". Excluding
the Himmelsbrief, this
may be the oldest chain letter
physically collected. An
older charity chain letter from the
summer of 1888 is described
by Paul Collins,
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 1916 [Billy].
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,
was still in circulation
ten years later 
and is numbered 375 of 480 maximum.
Many chain letters
exaggerate the loss if there
is a single break
in transmission . Apart
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
efforts to stop the
of millions have
now been sent. Charity chain
letters were an influence
on early luck chain
letters and, 20 years later, enabled
the beginning of money chain
letters. They are common on the
Internet but most of these are
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
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
the last paragraph
it is revealed that the sender
may have made a personal "request"
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
with "a" in the
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
, or as a secularization of
promises and threats in the Letters from Heaven , possibly in a
paper luck chain
letters of the twentieth
century will be my principal
topic. Most examples
in the last few decades
are highly traditional,
accumulated 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 [e1995].
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"
4.1 I show [pending
as an independent article] how a prior
luck chain letter 
as a model for
Send-a-Dime (> Origin $).
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
an omnipresent 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,
as was possibly
the "Send-a-Pint" letter)
and the "Drop Dead Club"
(shoot the first
person on the list). I have
collected several complete
texts of early
parodies, including some scatological
examples . The
familiar "wife exchange"
was very common in the 1950's, and I recently
a bare bones example from  using
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 example
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
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 1954 by
an account of the difficulties
that three undertakers
had in removing that smile. The
Club ("go to the
top address on the list
and crap on the front
also very likely
goes back to 1935, but it is
unlikely it would have
been published in a newspaper.
The wife exchange
parody was commercially
produced as a postcard ,
and an undated matchbook
even earlier commercial
production of chain letter
The wife exchange parody itself fell victim to parody
in an imitative
chain letter parodies
circulated 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 Internet
Paper parodies of chain letters
appear in the archive with filenames
with "j" (for joke).
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
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. Unlike
luck chain letter types, the copy
quota on exchange chain
letters varies considerably,
as does the number of
names present in the controlled list. In
items 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 in 1996. Only
one example in email
form has been collected (a used
paperback book exchange).
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
A 1985 cognate,
said to have been started
in Germany", asserted
that if the letter continued
unbroken for a little longer
it would be in the Guinness Book
of World Records. Later other
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
curtailed their propagation.
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"
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
chain letters. The list of
names was soon dropped in the lineage
but the claim
Post Office tracking continued
The exchange of postcards is the most logical use one can
imagine for a paper chain letter. This is because the invitation to participate
can itself 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 propagative
innovations 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 transcriptions.
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 exact
transcription of a
circulating paper luck chain
- note archaic address
formats]. Paper office
humor items were also put online
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
< Start 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
Chain Letter Archive.
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||34
|1920 - 24||42
|1925 - 29||38
|1930 - 34||24
|1935 - 39||12
|1940 - 44||20
|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
(a) Over 100 money chain letters have been collected since
1975 but most have not
(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,
have always been,
phenomenon. Only 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 and Russian.
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)
"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 Lottery24 type.
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.
||1906-21, 1924 (a)
|2||Good Luck|| 34
||1922-23, 1925-26 (b)
|| Most: X to Y
||1||9/4|| All: controlled
|| All: controlled
||Luck of London
||Chain of Good Luck
|| All: controlled
|| Most: controlled
||1959-77||Bloomsbury||193||20||4||4|| Most: controlled
||1974-75||Maryland||383||24 & 20 (e)||4||9 & 4|| All: controlled
||1973-05||AFC||351||20||4||4|| Early: Some (f)
(a) Circulation in the US in 1924 was dominated by quota
of Ancient Prayer. Two items from England,
and one each from Australia and the
US, had quota, deadline and wait all seven
(b) Augmented versions of Good Luck predominated from 1925-26.
(c) A 1937 reduced Prosperity letter 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
is high variability, and
to simplify descriptions
of chain letter text, it is useful
to identify and name certain
non-essential 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. Examples:
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
an observer, affirms
the validity of the
claims in the letter. It may attempt
to explain how the letter
works, or restate a claim with different
Affirmations are highly variable
and are often corrupted, rewritten,
doubled or deleted. They are
universal on the Flanders and Prosperity
type letters. Examples:
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
all over the world.
It was said
in Jesus time that all
who would write it and
pass it on would be delivered
from all calamities.
Those who would
not write it on would meet
with some misfortune.
Those who write it before nine days,
the day received, to nine of
their friends will on the
ninth day receive some great joy.
So do not
break the chain.
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
be a copying error for
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 further possibilities
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
proliferated and differentiated.
exclusive within various
prayed for "peace"
and others for "victory."
woman in Ohio received at
least three of the Victory
postcards just in October
of 1917. [1917A
, 1917B] The
so numerous that
the editors of the New
York Times proposed that it originated
a German plot to clog
the mails (NYT,
1917d). A wartime postage
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 [1924, image].
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.
2. Good Luck.
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 seven standard Prosperity type chain letters in the archive, all but one from publications. All 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, and (4) 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 always 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 the 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
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 mission.
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".
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 
It is reasonable to suppose that chain letter copy quotas have increased because of the availability of photocopying. But in 1959 copiers were not readily available - this is the same year that Xerox introduced its first plain paper copier (the Xerographic 914).
The Death20 chain still circulates, but an entire chain letter has been added to it.
11. Lottery-Death (LD).
Apparently in the early 1970's a quota twenty-four chain letter was translated from Spanish into English and put into circulation in the U.S. or Canada. Abundant copies of this letter exist combined with Death20, but no examples of it in English as an independent letter have been collected. There are cognate forms in other languages, such as the French 1979 with a grisly testimonial. I name this type "Lottery24" because of the original copy quota and its introduction of the "Boss Wins Lottery" testimonial:
Constantine Diso received the chain in 1953. He asked his secretary to make 24 copies and send them. A few days later, he won the lottery of 2 million dollars in his country.State lotteries were spreading in the U.S. in the 1970's and this letter must have appealed to those holding lottery tickets. Since Lottery24 by itself is an outlier that has never been collected in North America, I do not include it as a predominant type. Probably it did circulate abundantly in South America in both Spanish and Portuguese versions, and it was there that it acquired its testimonials adapted to office culture and state sponsored lotteries.
Around 1973 Lottery24 (L) letters were combined with Death20 (D) on single pages in the two orders LD and DL. This event was documented with unedited multiple examples by Michael Preston (1976). With the appearance of these two high copy quota types in the 1970's, the use of photocopying as a means of reproducing paper chain letters totally dominated. Hand copying all but disappeared. Perhaps a motive for initially combining two chain letters was to reduce photocopying costs after some one received both at about the same time. Our earliest example of the combination Lottery-Death (LD) is a letter mailed from Maryland in 1974.
Take note of the following:
Constantine Diso received the chain in 1953. He asked his secretary to make 24 copies and send them. A few days later, he won the lottery of 2 million dollars in his country. Carlos Brandt, an office employee, received the chain. He forgot it and lost it. A few days after, he lost his job. He found the chain, sent it out to 24 people, and nine days later, he got a better job. Zerin Berreskelli received the chain, not believing in it he threw it away. Nine days later he died.
For no reason whatsoever should this chain be
Make 20 copies
and send them. In nine days
you will get a surprise.
Write F.E.G.E. in
the right hand corner of the
envelope instead of a stamp.
THINK A PRAYER
Trust in the lord with all your heart and all will acknowledge that he will light the 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 the good luck within four days after receiving this letter. It is not a joke! You will receive it in the mail. Send 20 copies of this letter to people 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. Don Elliot received $68,000, but lost it because he broke the chain. While in the Philippines, General Walsh lost his life six days after he received this letter. He failed to circulate the prayer. However, before his death, he received $775,000, which he won.
Please send 20 copies and then see what happens the fourth day after. Add your name to the bottom of this list and leave off the top name when copying this letter.
[A four column list of 33 names follows, six struck out, several in different hands] 
The above device, "Write
F.E.G.E. in the right
hand corner of the
envelope instead of
a stamp," appears
on many LD chain letters.
Various initials were
recommended (some without
the instruction to omit
the stamp), and examples
also come from France (Bonnet
the USSR. The instruction to
omit a stamp seems severely counter-replicative.
However, in the US the original
initials may have
been "F.M.B.H" standing
for "Free Matter for the
Blind and Handicapped."
Current postal regulations allow
free postage for legitimate
purposes if the quoted sentence
is written where normally
a stamp would appear. Presumably
the initials suffice, though I have not verified that. Someone
in the early 1970's may have used the privilege
to mail chain letters for free. Most
recipients would be baffled
by the suggestion above, but if the letter
they received had no stamp many would try it since they could easily
convince themselves that all their stampless letters also got delivered.
After all, with no return address there was no way to ever find out
otherwise. Since the initials were meaningless
to almost all copiers, they would
quickly be corrupted. In disbelief,
some copier dropped the instruction
to omit a stamp and advised
the initials be written on the upper
left hand corner of the envelope.
These versions may have benefited
by being opened more often than a letter
with nothing at all where one expects
a return address. Meaningless initials ("cryptoids") often appear on grimoires and
chain letters. Dr. Jean-Bruno Renard has
collected an interesting chain letter
in France that revives the use of initials
as a substitute for a stamp .
Posting without a stamp is
also a feature of many
of the recent (2006) World Record chain
letters that circulate
among children. Post Office
automation, rather than
may explain why many of these
stampless envelopes were delivered. Yet such delivery
supports the absurd claims in these letters of Post Office involvement
with verifying a world record, and even with identifying a person that
broke the chain.
The LD type was prolific in 1974 - 1975, and also circulated in the U.K (Times, 1974). Some Hungarian chain letters , though much reduced, reveal descent from an LD source. By 1980 the Lottery-Death letters had been completely replaced in North America by our final mainline type, the "Death-Lottery" letters.
12. Death-Lottery (DL).
The following letter was collected by the American
Center, Library of Congress,
in October, 1974. It
was typed, except for the
last three names in the second
This prayer has been sent to you for good luck. The original copy came from the Netherlands.
It has been around the world 9 times. The luck has been sent to you. You are to receive good
luck within 9 days of receiving this letter. It is no joke. You will receive it in the mail.
Send 20 copies of this letter to people you think need good luck. Please do not send money.
Do not keep this letter. It must leave within 95 hours after you receive it.