Englishman Who Posted Himself: biography of a postal experimenter

A new book called The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects tells the amazing story of W. Reginald Bray, a stamp collector who experimented with mailing odd objects (including himself) through the Royal Mail. Whoever said philately will get you nowhere?

The New Yorker has a small and edifying gallery of his postal experiments.

Perhaps most remarkably, he posted himself, becoming the first man to send a human through the mail in 1900, and then, through registered mail, in 1903. Tingey's book includes a picture of Bray being delivered to his own doorstep--presumably the sort of package likely to please the lady of the house.

And Bray did not stop there. He sent postcards crocheted by his mother. He made out address fields in cryptic verse, or to the inhabitants of empty caves, or describing only the latitude and longitude of the destination, or with a picture of the location to which the article was meant to be delivered (see, in the slideshow below, the postcard made out to "The Resident Nearest This Rock," for example). He threw messages into bottles and solicited the world's largest collection of autographs, including ones from Gary Cooper and Laurence Olivier, Charlie Chaplain and Maurice Chevalier. The image that emerges from this antic and visually arresting volume is of a blithe English rogue, testing the system, stretching its limits--an experimenter, playing the most relentless, and amusing, of pranks.

The Eccentric Englishman (Thanks, Fonsecalloyd, via Submitterator)


  1. It irresistibly reminds me of the Velvet Underground song/story narrated by John Cale, “The Gift”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mI-YiaWDgB4

  2. Amusing how the postal service didn’t get the joke.

    While on the subject, does anyone remember the name of the artist famous for his little bunnies who often used the postal service as a vehicle for his art? They made a documentary about him around eight to ten years ago, I think?

  3. That is so cool. Reminds me of the time I sent a letter to my brother (who was in college) years ago. I couldn’t remember the address, so I just put

    Mower Hall
    Harvard University

    and it reached him.

    1. The Ripley’s Believe It Or Not people have an exhibit of letters from fans that were correctly delivered to them with the slenderest of addresses. One just had a tear, or “Rip:” in the envelope. But I believe this not.

  4. At one point there was a boo-boo in the Canada Post rates, specifically in the subsidies to rural delivery, which meant that in BC it was cheaper to mail individual bricks to your construction project than via any other transport method. I think the practice was stopped by the Letter Carriers Union citing the health risks involved in hauling sacks of bricks around.

  5. The Royal Mail can be pretty damn impressive sometimes:

    My Mother is an industrial mycologist (her site here) and has had a letter for her arrive addressed to:

    The Mushroom Lady


  6. I remember, as a child, playing with the mail. I sent a letter to my friend, but I put his address in the return address part. I put my address in the main part of the envelope. I didn’t use a stamp.

    He received the letter (it was “returned” to him for insufficient postage).

    We thought we were geniuses.

  7. Games Magazine used to select a Envelope of the Month in each issue, which would sometimes have the address written in code.

  8. According to one biographer, a letter from overseas addressed:

    P.T. Barnum

    …was delivered to the recipient.

  9. This reminds me of the time my friend and I had to mail a bunch of envelopes for his uncle and we had a few stamps left over. We got to the post office and decided to write another friend’s address on a board that was about 6″x4″x1/2″. We only had a few stamps, so we put them on and dropped it a blue mailbox. A couple days later my friend said he got a board in the mail and his sister had to pay the mail carrier because of insufficient postage.

  10. And his spirit of adventure lives on at the Journal of Improbable Research which, in 2000, conducted an experiment in which they attempted to mail various bizarre items (subdivided into categories that included “valuable,” “sentimental,” “unwieldy,” “pointless,” “suspicious,” and “disgusting.”

    Of the 28 items mailed, 18 made it to their destination addresses.

  11. A friend of mine got a stained paper plate through the post once. On it was written something like: “Hi John, I was just at a party and thought I’d send you some of the great food. But I bet those greedy buggers at the Post Office eat it first.” And, in smaller letters along the edge, was “we did, it was lovely – thanks!”

  12. The cryptic addresses part reminds me of something (I think) Bill Bryson once related about a letter which was successfully delivered addressed as follows:


    which represented
    John Underhill
    Andover, Mass.

  13. It’s somewhat fun to mail random stuff. In Disneyworld, if you go to the store by the Aladdin ride, they have coconuts you can mail to yourself as a joke (yes, they do arrive).

    And I remember doing the same thing as #13 with the reversing of addresses. And we also thought we were amazing. Ah, youth!

  14. In the English motorsport community there was a rumour that a racing driver got a letter delivered to him with just his name, town, and a description of the cars on his front drive written on it!

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