The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects
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The first impression of W. Reginald Bray (1879-1939) was one of an ordinary middle-class Englishman quietly living out his time as an accountant in the leafy suburb of Forest Hill, London. A glimpse behind his study door, however, revealed his extraordinary passion for sending unusual items through the mail. In 1898, 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 the smallest item one could post was a bee, and the largest, an elephant. Intrigued,he decided to experiment with sending ordinary and strange objects through the post unwrapped, including a turnip, abowler hat, a bicycle pump, shirt cuffs, seaweed, a clothes brush, even a rabbit's skull. He eventually posted his Irish terrier and himself (not together), earning him the name "The Human Letter." He also mailed cards to challenging addressessome in the form of picture puzzles, others sent to ambiguous recipients at hard to reach destinationsall in the name of testing the deductive powers of the beleaguered postman. Over time hispassion changed from sending curios to amassing the world's largest collection of autographs, also via the post. Starting with key British military officers involved in the Second Boer War, he acquired thousands of autographs during the first four decades of the twentieth centuryof politicians, military men, performing artists, aviators, sporting stars, and many others. By the time he died in 1939, Bray had sent out more than thirty-two thousand postal curios and autograph requests. The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects tells W. Reginald Bray's remarkable tale for the first time and includes delightful illustrations of some of his most amazing postal creations. Readers will never look at the objects they post the same way again.
signature on the same would suffice. I wish you and the German Nation all the best and remain Yours respectfully: W. Reginald Bray Even this rather unsubtle attempt at moral blackmail failed. Bray received the fifth, and final, rejection letter in November 1934 from Hitler’s office. It stated that “our leader” was overworked and asked Bray to refrain from sending any further requests. » [F i g . 1 2 1] Despite his failure with the top man, Bray had more luck with some other high-ranking Nazis,
requests he sent over the years. There are many more out there yet to be discovered. 12 intr o d u cti o n F ig . 2 . The reverse side of the Churchman's cigarette card describes Bray's postal legacy. 13 Chapter 1 The Origins of a Postal Pastime 15 t h e o r i g i n s o f a p o s ta l p a s t i m e It could be argued that the story of Willie Reginald Bray started on April 30, 1879, when Edmund and Mary Bray became the parents of a baby boy. However, perhaps the real beginning came
designed by Sir Joseph Paxton to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. During Bray’s childhood, it served as a venue for concerts, 3 Today, Forest Hill is a populous suburb in South East London, little-changed from the Victorian suburb that Bray’s newlywed parents moved to in about 1878. After the London & Croydon Railway opened in 1839, the second passenger railway to open in the London area, Forest Hill became a commuter suburban area of open countryside, farmland, wooded hills, and lanes and yet
life, great sense of humour, and love of practical jokes. We stored his large autograph collection, wrapped in brown paper and string, in the loft of our house in Surrey. These brown packages took up nearly half the storage space. When my grandmother died, my mother sold the bulk of the archive to a collector who had pestered her for years. Thankfully, she held on to about two hundred autographs of mostly film, theatre, and radio stars. (A huge ballet fan as a child, I became the keeper of
Kingdom, on condition that they are sent in suitable cases, and so packed as to avoid all risk of injury to Officers of the Post Office or to other packets.” With his determination to push the boundaries as far as possible, he must have been delighted to read this particular regulation, outlined in plain language in the Post Office Guide: “a person may also be conducted by Express Messenger to any address on payment of the mileage charge.” Mothers, he suspected, could particularly benefit from