Now this, this really is something completely different for me. I have to admit I was dubious at first, but this book is incredibly charming, endearing and in these Lockdown times it’s exactly what I needed.
Now we all have those eureka moments, those moments where we come to a realisation about our goals and aspirations, a sudden lightning bolt of inspiration and drive to do something a little different. Well Mr W. Reginald Bray did exactly that, although his inspiration came from a very unusual place, a copy of the British Post Office Guide.
Reginald Bray, who at 19 years of age in 1898, spent a sixpence at the Post Office to buy the large quarterly reference book, (Unfortunately it isn’t made clear for what purpose Bray was making this most inspired purchase) from which he learned of various postal regulations, and concocted a series of outlandish ways to test them out and to push them to their limits. Some of which, for the 1890’s, were very outlandish indeed.
Thus began a lifetime of this curious hobby, which branched into collecting autographs of famous and noteworthy persons by mail, which in the end resulted in a recorded 30,000 requests for autographs during his lifetime.
He did in fact keep very detailed accounts of what he sent out and how, along with notes on what he got back. It is this that makes up the contents of this book, as well as photographs and scans of those curios that have not been lost to time. John Tingey, the author of this magnificent glimpse into the mind of the eccentric Englishman, is a philatelist, (stamp collector) who came across a few postcards which bore the mark of our Mr Bray. Following some further research, he discovered that the items Mr Bray had collected, and the meticulous records of his postal experiments, were sold off by his family after his death in 1939. This then sparked a treasure hunt for Tingey to hunt down and properly archive Brays exploits into this astounding tribute to his lifetime hobby.
The startling contrast to me is how otherwise unremarkable Bray was, he lived a quiet life as an accountant by day, but on an evening cooked up new methods to see how far postal officials would go to follow their own rules. For example, he addressed a postcard clearly and legibly, but in mirror writing, did that meet its intended destination? Yes, yes it did! He also issued letters in crocheted envelopes, hid the address in parts of prose and poems and he even sent messages by balloon and bottle.
After this he moved on from letters to parcels, sending unpackaged foods clearly labeled along with a number of other mundane items. It was after these experiments he decided to move onto live cargo. However, it was not until 1903 when he finally mailed himself using Registered Mail, and the book includes a reproduction of the registry form to show that “Person Cyclist” was successfully delivered to Bray’s father, who signed for the “Letter or Parcel”. He later mailed himself for the third time and received the prestigious nickname “The Human Letter” as a publicity stunt in 1932.
This story really is a testament to British eccentricity. There are many more methods in which he tested the post office, which I have not covered in this post, so grab a copy while you still can, and have a look for yourself, it really is an unusual but incredibly amusing experience. It almost makes you want to go to the post office and see how they react when you request to be posted to your father, not well I imagine.
Until next time read more books!