Design Color Codex

Letterbox Red

Image for Letterbox Red

Image courtesy of the author

The COLOR CODEX series — to which SEMIOVOX has invited our semiotician colleagues from around the world to contribute — explores the unexpected associations evoked for each of us by specific colors found in the material world.


I wrote a letter to my mother / And on the way I dropped it / Someone came and picked it up / And put it in his pocket…

None of the birthday parties of my childhood would have been complete without playing the “Sent a Letter” game, which involved singing a song about letter-writing and mailing. For those of us who grew up in India during the 20th century, letter writing remained important into adulthood too — so the India Post’s red-painted letterboxes, for me, were emotionally omnipresent.

Our urban landscape, in those days and still today, is dotted with barrel-shaped letterboxes found in well-trafficked public locations, where people can drop their letters or postcards off to be collected and delivered by the government-operated postal system. Green boxes are meant for collection of local mail, while red boxes are for mail that is not local. Every time I’d pass a red letterbox it would invite me to keep in touch with distant family and friends. In the pre-email, pre-mobile era, the red letterbox was our sole connection; we trusted the red letterbox, implicitly, to keep us in touch.

In particular, the red letterbox evokes memories of my summer holidays, when we’d leave our friends in Delhi behind and go to visit my grandparents. In town, I’d chat with my friends every day by telephone — but long-distance trunk calls were too expensive. So all our sharing, talking, discussing, exchanging notes, gossiping… during those long months of summer, it could only happen through letter writing. Not only writing the letter itself, but sealing the envelope, pasting on a stamp, then walking down the road to the faithful red letterbox became a sacrosanct ritual. The letterbox was a partner in that ritual — one that I could always trust, because it never let me down.

I’ve written so many stories, thoughts, and emotions in letters that I’ve then dropped into a red letterbox. Its color, therefore, for me has come to symbolize more than merely “mail.” it symbolizes the power of my voice, and my yearning for those who live far away. The red of the letterbox is in perfect sync with the red symbol of a loving heart.


COLOR CODEX: Malex Salamanques Amiel (England) on ELECTRIC DREAMS BLUE | Maciej Biedziński (Poland) on SKIN-DEEP ORANGE | Whitney Dunlap-Fowler (USA) on RESURRECTION CANARY BLUE | Josh Glenn (USA) on TOLKIEN GREEN | Aiyana Gunjan (India) on LETTERBOX RED | Iván Islas (Mexico) on MITLA YELLOW | Sarah Johnson (Canada) on ARMY GREEN | Lucia Laurent-Neva (England) on TEAL BLUE VOYAGER | Rachel Lawes (England) on DEVIL GREEN | Charles Leech (Canada) on STORMTROOPER WHITE | Ramona Lyons (USA) on GOTH PURPLE | Sónia Marques (Portugal) on RUNAWAY BURRO | Max Matus (Mexico) on CALIFORNIAN BLUE | Clio Meurer (Brazil) on PARIS WINTER SKY | Serdar Patkin (England) on AMBIENT AMBER | Maria Papanthymou (Greece) on AGALMATOLITE WHITE | Vijay Parthasarathy (USA) on ALPHONSO MANGO | Greg Rowland (England) on LAUNDROMAT FUTURA | Hamsini Shivakumar (India) on KANAKAMBARAM ORANGE | Ximena Tobi (Argentina) on VILLA MISERIA BRICK | & 4 others.

Also see these series: COVID CODES | SEMIO OBJECTS | MAKING SENSE WITH… | COLOR CODEX

Tags: Material Color