Ordinarily, any form of acceptance must be communicated expressly to an offeror ; however, it was found that where a letter of acceptance is posted, an offer is accepted "in course of post". The case involved two parties in the sale of wool. On 2 September, the defendants wrote to the plaintiffs offering to sell them certain fleeces of wool and requiring an answer in the course of post. The defendants misdirected the letter so that the plaintiffs did not receive it until 5 September. Meanwhile , on 8 September, the defendants, not having received an answer by 7 September as they had expected, sold the wool to someone else. The defendants argued that there could not be a binding contract until the answer was actually received, and until then they were free to sell the wool to another buyer.
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This contract law case established the postal rule. If two parties have agreed to communicate by post, then acceptance of an offer becomes effective when the offeree posts a correctly addressed and stamped letter, even the if the post is delayed in reaching the offeror.
Lindsell, the defendant, wrote a letter on 2 September, offering to sell some wool to Adams, the claimant, and asked for a reply " in the course of post ", but the letter was delayed and did not arrive until 5 September. Adams replied on the same day as receiving the offer but this letter was also delayed in the post. Seven days had passed between the sending of the offer and the receipt of the reply.
The defendant was unaware of the delay and expected a reply by 7 September. Five days after sending the offer, Lindsell sold the wool to a third party on 8 September, under the assumption that Adams were not interested in it. When the expected wool was not delivered, Adams sued for breach of contract. Lindsell argued that the contract could not have formed until they had received the acceptance letter, and they could dispose of the wool before then. The contract was formed at the moment the letter of acceptance was posted, irrespective of how long it took to reach its destination.
Law J stated that there was a "fictional meeting of minds" at the post box, which preceded the sale of the wool to the third party. Adams v Lindsell. This is a Wikiversity Law Report.
Held The contract was formed at the moment the letter of acceptance was posted, irrespective of how long it took to reach its destination.
Adams v Lindsell  EWHC KB J59
Wikiversity Law Reports/Adams v Lindsell