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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.
The online Paper Chain Letter Archive contains the text and documentation of over 900 chain letters.
Most of these texts have been transcribed from collected physical letters, but many come from published sources including daily newspapers present in online searchable archives.
In addition to this relentless probing of the human psyche, chain letters have an internal and irreversible history marked by fortuitous changes that emerged from the deadly competition between variations.
Chain letters have evolved free to make any promise, free to issue any threat, and free from institutional control.
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. Any chain letters sent should be dateable, as by a postmarked envelope.
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.
Most successful variations first appear as deliberate innovations; but often the reason an innovation had an advantage over competing letters was likely not anticipated.
We have since performed an automated image check-up for everyone and have removed all the corrupted entries.