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International Reply Coupon (wikipedia.org)
57 points by chaoskanzlerin 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 13 comments

I've used International Reply Coupons as a ham. When hams 'work' each other they exchange something called QSL cards that are the size of a post card confirming the conversation. Speak with enough US States or foreign countries you can submit your QSL cards to qualify for awards like Worked All States (WAS) or countries confirmed (DXCC).

When working overseas hams, particularly when they live in the third world it was common to mail them enough IRC's to cover the return postage for them. Now while QSL cards haven't disappeared most of it has moved to the web and digital confirmations.

I sent these out with my international wedding invitations (in Japan it's normal to include a stamped reply postcard). Had to go around several large post offices to get enough (indeed I thought they must've stopped making them and only be selling leftover stock, although the wikipedia page and Japan Post website suggest otherwise).

Felt like a fun old-timey experience, like sending a telegram or postal order. Most of my relatives apparently couldn't work them out though, even though I included detailed instructions.

Similarly, bought one to include with the wedding invitation which we sent to the Pope and got a very nice note back.

Additionally, my best man sent my father-in-law the traditional congratulatory telegram, which they "delivered" by calling him on the phone and reciting it, then mailing the physical telegram.

(apparently I'm old, at least that's what my son who was born in January 2000 keeps saying)

I used them to write to a short wave radio station, so they send a QSL card. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QSL_card

I didn't know anything about international reply coupon until I found out that this is what Charles Ponzi used to build his famous scheme on.

Ah yes, the source of the original Ponzi Scheme, before Ponzi finished scheming.

Quoting for context:

“ In 1920, Charles Ponzi made use of the idea that profit could be made by taking advantage of the differing postal rates in different countries to buy IRCs cheaply in one country and exchange them for stamps of a higher value in another country. His attempts to raise money for this venture became instead the fraudulent Ponzi scheme.[24] In practice, the overhead on buying and selling large numbers of the very low-value IRCs precluded any profitability. The selling price and exchange value in stamps in each country have been adjusted to some extent to remove some of the potential for profit, but ongoing fluctuations in currency value and exchange rates make it impossible to achieve this completely, as long as stamps represent a specific currency value, instead of acting as vouchers granting specific postal services, devoid of currency nomination.[25]”

I am told this is how bilat gaming in the POTS telephone days worked: you found an economy which had a deficit in billing settlement with a US phone net, and exploited it with call initiation and call termination through a PBX to make coin off the ex-pats calling home, with the phone company happy to soak the time on a long held international call to get back to parity in the bilat settlement.

There were said to be queues outside the offices of shops, bodega in NY for the community in question all day and all night.

Plain English translation?

People gamed MaBell to take advantage of currency exchange rates while offering a long distance service that was very popular with people from that specific country

Not really currency rates. More the private settlement between national carriers which were a bilateral peering agreement, not unlike current peering/settlement between ISPs: neither party wants to give money but loves receiving money and in many respects, I am told the USG asked the bells to use this as a way to shovel money into developing economies worldwide: Unlike every other economy, the US had no single nationalised Public Telephone Company or PTT, so there was a wierd asymmetry around this process, US foreign policy, aide money.

By turning a blind eye to some rather odd call source and call sink behaviours, a lot of cash went from the US into the national telcos overseas. Where it went after that isn't entirely clear.

Is it possible for consumers to still buy these from overseas? My country seems to have stopped selling them, but I'd love to mail one to a faraway friend.

Yes, several postal operators still sell IRCs and ship them abroad.

e.g. Post Luxembourg sells them for 2.20€ with free international shipping: https://www.postphilately.lu/en-US/products/collectionneurs/...

France's La Poste sells them for slightly cheaper but has a fairly high minimum for free shipping (75€ if i remember correctly?): https://www.laposte.fr/pp/coupon-reponse-international-abidj...

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