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. Using
an archive of over 900 dated
letters, predominant types are
identified and analyzed for their
replicative advantage. In 1935 the
first money chain letter appeared,
the infamous "Send-a-Dime," which
flooded the world within a few months. The
motives and insight of its anonymous author
are examined. A 1933 luck chain letter is shown to
have provided a model for the Send-a-Dime letter,
and this letter itself may have brought unexpected
money in the mail to some senders in small towns.
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 the
postscript "It Works" was added to it and within a few
years the progeny of this single letter had replaced all
the millions of similar letters in circulation without
this postscript. Aided by examining hundreds of chain letters
in the archive, evolutionary hypotheses are formulated that
explain these and other events in chain letter history.
An Annotated Bibliography on Chain Letters and Pyramid Schemes contains over 425 entries. A Glossary gives precise definitions for terms used, 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
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 recently 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
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. Chain letters can be sent directly to D. VanArsdale, 1404 W. Guava Ave., Lompoc, CA 93436. Include the date you received the chain letter and its method of delivery, as by enclosing 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 were added, and claims of divine authorship and magical protection were removed. 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 available to all users.
The following conventions may help the reader decide whether
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.
Examples reveal that
the form and content of chain
letters are highly correlated
with the principal motive
for a recipient to distribute copies. I have
classified each paper chain letter
in the archive into one of eight motivational
categories which I describe below.
The order of the categories is the order
that English language examples first appear in the archive.
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 protection. Himmelsbrief have circulated in Europe and elsewhere for many centuries. They do not 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 (> Heaven) as predecessors to luck chain letters. The filenames for the Letters from Heaven begin with the letter "h" in the Paper Chain Letter Archive.
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.
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.
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 physically
collected. An older charity chain
letter from the summer of 1888 is
described by Paul 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 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 (OED). The first
is from 1900
and is numbered 173
of 180 maximum. The second, highly modified,
was still 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
recipients to comply, this
may have been influenced by
certain mail frauds of the
letters that did not
state a termination number were
called "endless" for a few decades,
and this language still appears
in some laws.
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, hundreds
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
A revealing item in the archive
is a nine page chain solicitation
for one dollar contributions
to the 1950 campaign
Ohio Senator Howard Taft.
These were rescued from the discarded
files of the Atlantic
Coast Line railroad police.
Considerable pressure was applied
to employees to participate.
Archive filenames for charity
letters begin with "c".
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,
the prayer is to be repeated
on nine successive
days as in a Novena
devotion. 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 despaired of."
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]. Filenames 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]. Advocacy chain letters have filenames beginning with "a" 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 preamble. The English language paper luck chain letters of the twentieth century will be my principal topic. Most examples in the last few decades are highly traditional, having gradually 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 attendant 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 chain letters originated in the United States in the spring of 1935 with the "Send-a-Dime" letter, also called "Prosperity Club" [Denver]. In Section 4.1 I show how a prior luck chain letter  was used as a model for Send-a-Dime (> Origin $). Money chain letters have influenced the content and distribution of luck chain letters up into the 1950's and possibly beyond (sections 4-2 and 4-3). 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 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 CA) laws. 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 Club"
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
familiar "wife exchange"
was very common in the 1950's, and I recently
found a bare bones example
This wife exchange letters illustrates how punch lines
can be topped successively. The early 1935
example relies simply on stating 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 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 1954 by an
account of the difficulties that
three undertakers had in removing that smile.
Club ("go to the
top address on the list
and crap on the front lawn")
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
suggests even earlier
of chain letter parodies [1940?].
The wife exchange parody itself fell victim to parody in
exchange letter .
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 [St. Paul]. Paper
parodies of chain letters appear in the archive
with filenames beginning
with "j" (for
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.
By 1937 the
text in these "exchange" chain letters, as well as the number of names
on the list, had been reduced. Unlike
chain letter types, the copy quota
on exchange chain letters
varies considerably, as does
the number of names present. 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
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. 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 became irrevocable
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
most irrational versions,
but increased discard
may have curtailed their
A letter mailed in the new millennium [2000-11] drops all mention
postcards 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 French
chain letters. The list of names
was soon dropped in the lineage
but the claim
of Post Office
tracking continued without
The exchange of postcards is the most logical use one can imagine for a 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 digitizationis of paper chain
A very early example is
an exact transcription
of a circulating paper
luck chain letter [e1982
- note archaic address
formats]. Paper office humor items
were also put online [e1995]. Once
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
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 (November, 2014) 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||60
|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 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, an international
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). Recently 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
< Start 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" - a very early example of a copy quota. (Yang)
An email chain posted to an Islamic coins mailing list
consists of: (1) an Islamic
"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
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.
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 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 (1908). 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
which likely 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
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.The Series of Predominant Types.
(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 that downline recipients 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
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 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
when there 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 almost always 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. 
Affirmation. 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 words.
Affirmations are highly
variable and are often corrupted,
rewritten, 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." 
The "Ancient Prayer" letter was, based on what has been found so far, 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 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
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,
stating 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
text is the word "stating,"
to be a copying error for
by comparison to other examples
1911]. A recipient
to this error by writing the date (Oct.
6). An abundant variation
established which contained "stating",
and the date of the prior
1915]. The advantage to
variation was probably that
it reminded the recipient
of the impending
deadline, whereas 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, as compared
to deliberate innovations.
But for any copying error to produce
a successful variation is
remarkable, and I will investigate
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"
and others for "victory."
An unmarried woman
in Ohio received at least three
of the Victory postcards
just in October of 1917. [1917A , 1917B] The chain
was so numerous
that the editors of
the New York Times proposed
that it originated
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 [1924, image].
Though Ancient Prayer continued to circulate for many
years after the end of World War I, and had 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). 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 twelve 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. 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 Flander-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 it 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
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 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
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 this 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 broken!!!!!!
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
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.
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. Someone
in the early 1970's probably
misused the privilege in order to mail
chain letters for free, protected
from official reprisal by anonymity. Most
recipients would be baffled
by this suggestion, but many would repeat
it to save postage. Since the initials
were meaningless to most copiers,
they would soon 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. The mysterious initials (a "cryptoid") may have themselves
spurred interest in the chain.
Current U.S. postal regulations require
that an envelope claiming free matter
be unsealed to allow examination of the
contents. 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 deliberate indulgence,
may explain why many of
these stampless envelopes
are delivered to addressees.
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
Folklife Center, Library
of Congress, in October, 1974.
It was typed, except for the
last three names in the second column.
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.
A B.S. Officer received $70,000. Don Elliot received $160,000, but he lost it because he
broke the chain. While in the Phillipines, 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 on the 4th day after. Add your name to the
bottom of the list and leave the top name off when copying this letter.
This chain comes from Venezuela, was written by St. Aptine de Cade a missionary from South
Since the chain must make a tour of the world, you must make 20 copies identical to this one
and send it to your friends, parents, or acquaintances, and after a few days you will get
a surprise. This is true, even if you are not superstitious.
Take note of the following: Constantine Dies received the chain in 1953. He asked his
secretary to make 20 copies and send them. A few days later he won the lottery of $2
million in his country.
Carlos Brandt, an office employee, received the chain. He forgot it and lost it. A few
days later he lost his job. He found the chain and sent it out to 20 people. Nine days
later he got a better job.
Zorin Barrachilli received the chain. Not believing it, he threw it away. Nine days
later he died. For no reason whatsoever should this chain be broken. In nine days
you will get a surprise.
Judy Van Aalten
E. & W. SchmalzArline Robbins
P. & H. Lic [?]M. Buynovsky
G. & D. KalmanB. Robichaud
P. & M. Edelstein A. Boudreau
H. Kirsner M. Bevis
M. Lambert S. Battaini
J. Lambert P. Battaini
P. Brown S. B [?]
C. Beasley C. Con [?]
E. Spindel E. Eff
John Dyer Morgan
Modesto Antonio Guerra
Susan Honig 
This is a Death20 letter placed above a
of the Lottery24 letter
(without a title) - the reverse of the LD concatenation.
This Death-Lottery (DL)
type first appears in the
archive with an example 
published by the well
know Canadian author John
Robert Colombo (1975).
it is missing a testimonial I have chosen
the above letter, supplied
by the American Folklife Center,
as our standard for the type.
One feature of the above letter is atypical - the list starts at the end of the letter. Most DL letters up to 1978 had a list of prior senders like the above, but they were "internal" in the letter, since they originated with the Death20 block and were bounded below by the added Lottery letter. Superstitious recipients may copy a list with the same diligence that they give to the text of a letter. With little room to expand, the internal lists on early DL letters may have been exactly copied for a few years. But by 1979 both these and all the LD letters stopped circulating. As photocopying had became more frequent, there was greater reluctance to comply if one thought some modification of the letter, such as updating a list, was required.
Though I make little use of formatting
to infer relatedness, the most common paragraphing
of a DL letter trespasses on the unity of the Lottery24
block, placing the last sentence of the Death20
block ( "Please
send 20 copies of the letter
and see what happens in four days")
as the first sentence
in the new paragraph starting
the Lottery block (right before
"The chain comes from Venezuela
and was written by . . .")
This may aide
by disguising the compound
nature of the letter and its
and contradictory claims
The early DL type was temporarily eclipsed by LD letters during 1974-75, but a hyper-competitive DL variation captured the entire luck chain letter niche before the end of the decade (the It Works postscript described in > Section 4-5). Thus all mainline luck chain letters since 1980, certainly over a billion, have been the DL type. Within this type are variations that compete with each other for the attention and resources required for replication. The advantages of some of these variations are explained in the sequel (> Section 4-6).
The DL type luck chain letter not only dominated circulation in the United States for decades, it also took hold in many foreign countries. That it originated in the US or Canada, around 1973, is fairly certain since this region nurtured the circulation of the Death20 component as an independent chain letter, and also spawned many early variations, including the unsyncretized 24 copy quota in the Lottery24 component (in LD letters only, as < above). From North America it has spread to many countries. Examples so far collected are listed below - each of the foreign language text cited is supplied with an English translation.
of above section
< Start of Chain Letter Evolution
Cross Crossings Cautiously Chain Letters from France The Luck of St. Thomas Sick Girl Performs Miracles Every one will get thousands
The Brill Letter Chain Letters from Mexico The Media Chain Letter Romance Game Medium Jumpers
There are over ten "types" of English language luck
chain letters in the archive that did
not dominate circulation in the US in any year. Some
are represented by only one letter. I discuss these outlier types here in
their chronological order.
1. Cross Crossings Cautiously
A 1926-01 quota nine advocacy chain letter is titled "Cross Crossings Cautiously" (CCC) and states: "I have resolved that from now I will practice 'safety first', preach 'safety first' and do all in my power to save life or prevent any injury to my fellow men." CCC and the resolve also appear above a 1926-12 Good Luck block that warns against breaking the chain. A 1930 letter has retained CCC but dropped all other mention of safety. This one concludes with a trailing X to Y list of names beginning with Bernard Shaw, Henry Ford and Colonel Lindbergh.
2. Chain Letters from France.
The following handwritten letter, titled "The Fortune Chain", was mailed in Okeechobee, Florida in 1931.
When a chain letter asks you to "continue" it, it is probably a translated French letter, for many of them ask you to "Continuez la chaine". Other text in this letter is obviously cognate to either of two French language letters that circulated in Geneva, Switzerland in 1928. These were published by W. Deonna in a folklore journal that same year, and both the French text and an English translation by Prof. Sarah E. Winter are provided in the archive. [1928a, 1928b]. The Swiss letters do not have a list of names, like the Fortune letter above, but this could have been edited off by Deonna. Note that all (except possibly the first) names on the above letter are of married women. The concluding testimonial, about Pola Negri, is likely an American invention and appears on all four of the Fortune chain letters in the archive. Pola Negri was a Polish born film actress well known for her liaisons with Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino, the Italian heart-throb who died young in 1926.
The Fortune Chain.
Jean Fulcher to Mrs Stewart Stanley
Mrs Stewart Stanley to Mrs Wm Conley
Mrs Wm Conley to Mrs E. F. Coverly
Mrs E. J. Coverly to Mrs L. W. Estes
Mrs L. W. Estes to Mrs R. W. Howell
Mrs R. W. Howell to Mrs J. H. Estlinger
Mrs J. H. Estlinger to Mrs C. B. Flanders
Mrs C. O. Flanders to Mrs J. S. Haddock
Mrs J. S. Haddock to Mrs J. L. Hall
Mrs J. L. Hall to Mrs H. L. Hazellies
Mrs H. L. Hazellies to Mrs C. A. Hilliard
Mrs C. A. Hilliard to Mrs E. N. Hilliard
Mrs E. N. Hilliard to Mrs Walter Brantley.
Good luck and good health. Continue this chain and send nine copies to nine of your intelligent friends to whom you wish happiness. This chain was started in Flanders by a General in the American artillery and must go around the world 3 times.
Forward it if possible within twenty four hours of its acceptance.
Do not break this chain it might give you bad luck. During the nine following days after you have sent the copies a happy event will take place and fill you with joy. The predictions are always true. If you take this as a joke and do not send the copies correctly bad luck may befall you.
Mrs Barnes of Victoria won the big prize in lottery of 20,000 golden liars on the Ninth day.
Mr. Wilcox's home was destroyed on the eight day owing to not taking serious notice of the chain.
Mrs Hux lost her only son three days after receiving this chain without forwarding copies.
Mrs May and Sacha Genty won $250,000.
Pola Negri owes her fortune to having carried out instructions in a most conscientious way.
3. The Luck of St. Thomas
The following luck chain letter was published in an Iowa newspaper in 1949: "The luck of St. Thomas has been sent you -- it has been around the world four times. Copy the letter and forward it to five other people. Do not keep the letter in your possession. It must leave your home within 24 hours after receiving it. You will have good luck four days after receiving the letter."
Sick Girl Performs Miracles
The following luck chain letter was published in an Ottawa, Canada newspaper on Jan. 21, 1970: "This is a chain letter from Landers. Someone sent me this and now I am sending it to you. Do the same for people you know. This letter comes from a little, sick girl in Landers. Whoever breaks the chain will have neither luck nor happiness. This has already happened. The sick girl performs miracles unexpectedly. Happiness will befall you in 48 hours. This letter must not be destroyed or lost. Copy it seven times and send it to seven people. Don't put a stamp on it. Observe what happens to you in 48 hours."
5. "Every one will get thousands of copies."
A composed chain letter from December, 1975 declares: "... the ironclad science of Mathematics demonstrates conclusively that on the last Good Thursday before Christmas 1976 ... 882, 922,240,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 copies of this letter will be in the mails. .
7. Chain Letters from Mexico.
English translations of Mexican letters circulate in the U.S. in low volume. A 1984 example from Oxnard, California has a brief Tagalog addition at the end, and a comment on this in English. The letter has a quota of twenty-four copies, a deadline of nine days, and a thirteen day waiting period. A recent related letter has two blocks of Tagalog and much transformation of the testimonials .
An English only example , from North Carolina,
a separate tradition.
It states: "This
chain would be sent
with five cents which will
be donated to the church."
There was a nickel taped
head up on the letter. This
request was also present
in an untranslated Spanish language letter
mailed from Pasadena .
A dime was taped
on this letter. This
sending forward of money seems
to be unique with Mexican
luck chain letters and is
a striking contrast to U.S.
mainline letters since 1939 which instruct
"Do not send money." This
command functioned to differentiate
luck chain letters from
the money chain letters that
flooded the mails in 1935 (> Section 4-2).
forwarding of a small
coin may date from the 1930's
also, and may be a different
solution to the same discard
problem that English language
luck chain letters faced. Hopefully
older Mexican chain letters
will be recovered that can
explain the origin of this feature.
8. The Media Chain Letter
Beginning in 1989, a quota five luck chain letter much like the then long extinct "Luck by Mail" type was revived by providing a pretext for a status display. I describe this widely reported "Media Chain Letter" in Section 4-4.
I have four English language examples of a classroom note typically passed between young teenage girls. The following was intercepted from a 13 year old girl by a teacher in California in 1995.
10. Medium Jumpers
< Start of above section
< Start of Chain Letter
Evolution - Contents
Modeling chain letter circulation and its changes requires terminology be defined with care. I will refer to a chain letter variation, say V, and a given time t. Here V may be a single chain letter or a group of related letters. First I specialize the use of the term "propagation" so it measures the replicative success or failure of a chain letter.
The "propagation" of variation V at time t is the total number of receipts of V in the month following t.
The circulation at time t of a chain letter variation V is the number of V received after time t whose parent was received prior to t.The parent of a chain letter L is the letter used to produce L by copying. It is extremely rare that a chain letter does not have a single parent letter. Many luck chain letters explicitly encourage one to pass on to another the same physical letter received. If this is done it simplifies definitions to consider the received letter as the parent of itself. The circulation at a given time t is simply the number of letters in transition from one person to another, which is those letters in the mail or otherwise awaiting receipt.
A chain letter may be copied over and over, and if the time between these events were always the same (the generation time, or period), we would have a periodic replicator. Such regularity does not occur for chain letters, but for estimation purposes we presume it does with generation time equal to the arithmetic average of elapsed times from receipt to receipt.Surprisingly, a good estimate of this average is available for the abundant "DL" type luck chain letters. There are a few of these which bear a long list of dates received. Apparently these developed after a single date was placed at the end of a copy and a recipient behaved the same without removing the prior date. The list of dates suggested to downline recipients to add the date also, probably most not realizing there was no such instruction in the letter. In one example there are 72 dates from Aug. 7, 1979 to Dec. 23, 1980 [Bloomington]. This gives an average interval from receipt to receipt of 7.0 days. A 1982 example has 34 dates with an average interval of 7.8 days [Wenatchee]. Probably some senders did not add a date, so the average generation time for these two letters was likely somewhat less than one week. Mainline luck chain letters since 1970 have specified that the letter "must leave your hands in 96 hours." Adding three days in the mail gives 7 days total from receipt to receipt, supporting the validity of the listed dates.
During exponential growth the increase in a population is proportional to the number of individuals in that population. If p = p(t) designates the population at time t, this condition is dp/dt = kp, k a constant called the growth constant. Solving this differential equation gives
where the constant po = p(0) is the population at time t = 0 (the "initial value" of p). For chain letters it is useful to define time t in days. The word "growth" here can be misleading. The population p is decreasing if k < 0, stable if k = 0, and increasing if k > 0.(1) p(t) = po ekt
As the name I have chosen suggests, this is a measure of change in the population, but it is not the same as the "growth constant" k of exponential growth. But suppose the population p(t) is experiencing exponential growth. We can then calculate r(t) using (1) to get(2) r(t) = p(t + D) / p(t)
(3) p(t) = port/D
where, as before, po is the starting population
letters. The population is increasing only
if r > 1. If it desired to know approximately
how long it will take for an exponential
replicator to reach a fixed population p when its
D rate of growth r is known, solving equation (3) for
(4) t = D ln (p/po) / ln r
Example: A variation is launched
at t = 0 days with po = 100 copies
and after one month (D = 30) it is determined that
(receipts for the past week) has doubled
to 200 letters. Presuming exponential
growth, this gives the constant monthly growth
rate r = 2. After t days there will be
an active population
of p(t) = 100*2t/30 of
these letters. To estimate how long it will
take to reach an active population p of one million,
use equation (4) to find
t = 30 * ln (10000) / ln (2) = 399 days.