Was the title of a fascinating book published in 2010, written and illustrated by John Tingey, who started collecting stamps more than fifty years ago when his parents gave him his first stamp album and a 6d packet of stamps bought from a Woolworths store.
So who was this seemingly strange Englishman? W. Reginald Bray (1879-1939) was an ordinary middle-class Englishman living in the then leafy South London suburb of Forest Hill.
However, he developed an extraordinary passion for sending unusual items through the mail. When he was 19, Bray purchased a copy of the Post Office Guide, and began to study the regulations published quarterly by the British postal authorities. He discovered that, incredibly, the smallest item one could post was a bee, and the largest, an elephant.
Fascinated by these regulations, he decided to experiment by sending strange objects through the post unwrapped.
Bizarrely they included a bicycle pump, a turnip, a bowler hat, seaweed, a clothes brush and a rabbit’s skull. He even posted his Irish terrier and later himself, which earned him the name “The Human Letter”.
Bray being delivered by registered post to his home, his father about to sign the receipt.
He also mailed cards to challenging addresses. Some sent in the form of picture puzzles, others sent to ambiguous recipients at hard to reach destinations. His aim was to test the deductive powers of the country’s postmen.
He also amassed what was probably the world’s largest collection of autographs, also via the post. He acquired thousands of autographs during the first four decades of the twentieth century, of politicians, military men, performing artists, aviators, sporting stars, and many others.
His neatly kept register of his autograph requests also documents whether or not he received a reply. While Charlie Chaplin, cricketer W. G. Grace and Laurence Olivier were among the thousands of celebrities who obliged, he was turned down by Winston Churchill, and King George V.
By the time he died in 1939, Bray had sent out more than 30,000 requests, half of which did not return, much to Bray’s chagrin. This included, in 1934, Adolf Hitler, whose office, after receiving several of these postcards, replied with the request that Bray would “refrain from further letters in this regard”.
The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects tells W. Reginald Bray’s remarkable tale and includes delightful illustrations of some of his most amazing postal creations.
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