virus: Seeking chain letters
Sun, 4 Feb 1996 19:51:38 -0800

This is my first post on this mailing list,
and in part constitutes a test. Let me know
if it doesn't work, or if this is an inappropriate
venue for this message.

I have a collection of over 130 dated chain letters,
many taken from publications. The oldest is a charity
appeal from 1889, but most are the "good luck" or
"prayer" type. Dr. Mike Preston, CU
Boulder folklorist, has been a big help in assembling
this collection, as well as other folklorists.
If any readers have any paper chain letters, especially the
"prayer" or "good luck" type that are datable from postmarks,
I would greatly appreciate receiving them, and will send
an SASE. Very useful would be older datable
letters - these are hard to find and I will pay for these.
But contemporary examples are also useful, even multiple
copies of very similar letters.

I also have saved a fair number of Internet frequently forwarded
messages (FFM) and appreciate receiving any of those. If you
would like to receive forwards of FFM that I get let me know.

>From time to time I may "publish" analysis of chain letters here,
or will gladly attempt to answer any questions. The evolution of
chain letters is complex, and there are a few surprises, such as how
rapidly a successful innovation replaces prior forms. For example,
around 1978 someone added: "Remember, don't send money. Please do not ignore
this. It Works!" In a sample of over 70 letters since 1980 this appears
on all examples. Examination of details shows that all these started with
a single letter - the resulting progeny being about a billion letters perhaps.
Other remarkably replicative innovations were the use of new titles around
1982-83 ("Kiss someone you love ....." and "With Love all things are possible")
and the "Retype testimonial" of 1988 ("In 1987 the letter received by a young
woman in California was faded and barely readable ..... retypes .... got
a new car."). Variations that increase in the sample can usually be
related to some replicative advantage, such as the obvious advantage of
the Retype testimonial for legibility. Dan VanArsdale 2/4/96