In addition to promoting the art of calligraphy, the Graceful Envelope Contest celebrates the role of letters in binding people together. The contest was created in 1995 by the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum, which administered it until delegating responsibility to the Washington Calligraphers Guild in 2001. We are proud to administer the contest and thank our contest coordinator Erin Cassidy.
2024 theme: Mapping the World's Cities
The world’s great cities have distinctive landmarks, cultures, histories, cuisines, or geography that are said to put each town “on the map.” There is even a tradition of depicting such characteristics on actual maps. Your challenge is to pick a city and consider what contributes to its unique character. For example, what makes New York bustling, Paris romantic, Tokyo energetic, and Sydney beautiful? Then—using artistry, lettering and the integration of postage stamps—create some sort of map on your Graceful Envelope that captures the spirit of the city of your choice. Artistically address your envelope to:
The Graceful Envelope Contest, P.O. Box 3688, Merrifield, VA 22116.
How to Enter
Each entry must be a stamped envelope, either manufactured or handmade, delivered through the U.S. Postal Service. The envelope will not be opened.
Entries may not be enclosed in a separate envelope or in any protective covering (unless multiple entries are coming from one class).
Postage of 63 cents applies to standard #10 business envelopes as well as envelopes not exceeding 7x9 inches. Square envelopes are permitted but that shape requires $1.03 postage.
Mail your envelope/entry to:
The Graceful Envelope
P.O. Box 3688
Merrifield, VA 22116
On the BACK of the envelope, print your name, address and email, clearly labeled "FROM." Students must indicate their GRADE (international students: please provide your age). Students may use their teacher's email rather than their own.
If your entry is returned to sender, contact Erin Cassidy, contest coordinator. All mail is sorted by machines, which can sometimes misread calligraphy.
Criteria for Judging
Creative interpretation of the contest theme to transform an ordinary envelope into a work of art.
Quality of calligraphy or artistic lettering used to address the envelope. Computer-generated or -enhanced lettering is not permitted.
Effective use of color and design employing standard media such as paint, ink, markers and pencil. Not permitted: stickers or manufactured rubber stamps (hand-cut stamps are permitted).
Entrants are encouraged to integrate postage stamp(s) into the design.
See below for the advice of past judges.
Scripsits featuring the GEC
The Fall 2019 Scripsit (WCG's journal) celebrated the Graceful Envelope Contest’s 25th year with a selection of winning envelopes from all 25 years. In 48 full-color pages, the issue showcased 270 Graceful Envelopes by 147 lettering artists, with extra space devoted to 2015-19 contest winners.
The Fall 2014 Scripsit reproduced 141 selected winning envelopes from 2009 through 2014.
Spring 2009 Scripsit featured full-color reproductions of 64 selected envelopes from the 2006-2008 Graceful Envelope contests.
Fall 2005 Scripsit reproduced 65 selected envelopes from the 2003, 2004 and 2005 Graceful Envelope contests.
December 2002 Scripsit featured full-color reproductions of 60 of the winning envelopes from 1995 through 2002.
The Call for Entries and theme are announced in the fall.
Entries must be postmarked no later than March 18, 2024. The contest will not acknowledge receipt of entries.
Judging will take place in Summer 2024 by three professionals from the calligraphic and arts communities. Only the front of the envelope will be judged (blind judging); the name, address and email of the entrant must be written clearly on the back. (If a class project, teachers should put their address and email on the back of each student's envelope.)
Winners will receive certificates and their names and entries will be posted online. No ptizes will be awarded. Please note: Entries not selected by the judges will not be notified, displayed or returned.
All winning envelopes can be viewed online at www.calligraphersguild.org. Adult winning envelopes will be displayed at Penny Post, a stationery and lettering arts shop in Old Town Alexandria, VA. Winners may also be published or exhibited elsewhere.
If you have any questions about entering or if your entry is returned to you, contact Erin Cassidy, contest coordinator.
To help the envelope reach its destination, make certain the zip code (22116) is easily readable.
First-class postage is 63 cents for envelopes weighing up to one ounce. Postage for square, oversized or unusual envelopes starts at 88 cents. You can use stamps issued in any year. NOTE: If you reside outside the US, use your country's postage in the denomination required for mail going to the States.
Two of the 2011 contest jurors provided insight into the judging process:
For the Graceful Envelope Contest, I look at a compelling design that grabs my attention and that conveys the theme, either directly or indirectly if it is cleverly done. The lettering needs to be well-executed and congruent to the overall design. Also, the use of the stamp needs to be well-considered, since it is part of the envelope, and therefore is part of the design. Envelopes that are expertly painted and/or drawn but contain lettering that seems like an afterthought would not be considered a winner. Expert lettering that does not produce a pleasing overall design that adheres to the theme would not be considered a winner. But an envelope with a design portraying the theme in a unique way, setting it apart from the pack, with lettering that works well with the design and a stamp that looks like it belongs, would definitely be in the running. Overall, I don't believe it is the best calligrapher that will always win, nor the best draftsman or painter—it is the artist who is able to use both effectively to execute the theme in the most compelling way. —Shane Perry
I see each envelope as a miniature narrative of three parts: Solid lettering; innovative design or illustration; and selection of stamp relating to theme and its incorporation into the overall composition (though it isn’t imperative to use the stamp in this fashion, it can make a much more dynamic presentation). The very best envelopes bring all of these elements together and relate to each other. Great lettering and weak design or vice versa bring down the impact of the whole. It is really a synergy of the parts reflecting the theme. My advice to entrants is to think outside the box regarding the theme of that year—reject the most obvious ideas, especially the corny ones! Really let yourself go in thinking of different approaches to the subject. I entered the competition five or six times early on and found it a very interesting and challenging exercise. Just looking at the innovation of winning envelopes from previous years stimulates creativity. —Peggy Schiefelbein
Graceful Envelope Contest History
The Graceful Envelope Contest began almost by accident in 1995, when the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum decided to mount an informal display of expert calligraphy to accompany one of its workshops. Hundreds of calligraphers responded to the museum’s invitation to mail in envelopes artfully addressed to “The Graceful Envelope.” The result was an annual contest and exhibition celebrating hand lettering, design and the art of written correspondence. In 2001 the museum turned the competition over to the Washington Calligraphers Guild under the direction of Pat Blair. From 2003-2018 the National Association of Letter Carriers helped to administer it and exhibit the winners, led by contest coordinator Lorraine Swerdloff. Erin Cassidy took over in 2019.
Past Themes & Winning Envelopes
Design an envelope that captures the attention of an actor, artist, athlete, politician, singer, writer or other public figure, living or dead. Winners were selected based on hand lettering, creative interpretation of the theme and effective use of color and design, including incorporation of postage stamp(s).
Jurors: Suzanne Cunningham, a professional calligrapher with over 27 years of experience; Lindsey Bugbee, the calligrapher behind The Postman’s Knock, a resource for pointed pen; and Patrick Dea of Edelweiss Post, celebrating and promoting "real mail."
People’s Choice winner, chosen by Penny Post patrons: Karen Burgess
Artists were challenged to capture on an envelope the magic of beginning to read (or write) a personal letter. Winners were selected based on hand lettering, creative interpretation of the theme and effective use of color and design, including incorporation of postage stamp(s).
Entries were juried by Becky Larimer, White House calligrapher, and Jennifer Nicholson, State Department Presidential Commissions.
People’s Choice winner, chosen by Penny Post patrons: Christy Robb
The theme "Double Vision" was inspired by the year 2020, because only once a century does the year double up. But the Covid-19 pandemic halted WCG's normal contest schedule and the deadline was extended to March 2021.
Artists were challenged to capture on an envelope whatever they see in their personal Double Vision.
Adult entries were juried by current and retired White House Chief Calligraphers Lee Ann Clark and Pat Blair and professional calligrapher/illustrator Lubna Zahid. The three Student divisions were judged by professional calligraphers and art educators Susan Easton, Nahid Tootoonchi and Rebecca Solow.
People’s Choice winner, chosen by Penny Post patrons: Dorota Dylska
Put Your Stamp On It
The 2019 theme, "Put Your Stamp On It," celebrates 25 years of the Graceful Envelope Contest and 125 years of US commemorative stamps.
Artists were challenged to create an envelope commemorating anything of their choosing--to Put Their Stamp On It. Winners were selected based on hand lettering, creative interpretation of the theme and effective use of color and design, including incorporation of postage stamp(s).
Adult entries were juried by retired White House Chief Calligrapher Pat Blair and professional calligraphers Sammy Little and Erin Cassidy. The three Student divisions were judged by professional calligraphers and art educators Kacie-Linn Engle, Susan Easton and Nahid Tootoonchi.
Whatever the Weather
The 2018 theme, "Whatever the Weather," challenged artists to summon a brainstorm to capture what’s outside their window—or outside the box—to design a winning envelope and address it artistically. Winners were chosen based on hand lettering, creative interpretation of the theme and effective use of color and design, including incorporation of postage stamp(s). The 24th annual Graceful Envelope Contest was juried by professional calligraphers Gilda Penn and Felecia McBride, and National Association of Letter Carriers graphic artist Michael Shea.