My dad used to tell my little sister and me stories about a magic box that could fly us anywhere in the world. In my head it was a fusion of Return to Oz’s flying moose couch and the Phantom Tollbooth and likely accounted for my childhood obsession with boxes. Simple packages that arrived in the mail became a magic thread to someone else across the world that I could yank on. I’d imagine a bell, ringing somewhere on the other side.
Alternately, I would also hide under boxes and scare the freaking daylights out of my unsuspecting parents. All of these qualities probably contributed to why I found this story so appealing.
W. Reginald Bray was a lighthearted British stamp collector who decided to really test the English postal system. After carefully reading the British Post Office Guide, he started mailing as many weird things around the world as he could, stretching the boundaries of the mail service.
Bray mailed, among other things, a bowler hat, a rabbit skull (the address spelled out on the nasal bone, and the stamps pasted to the back), seaweed, a turnip, an Irish Terrier and, eventually in 1900… himself. He’d also send things addressed to creatures living in caves, or address things by latitude and longitude (or by code!)
Now he’s the subject of the recently released book, “The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects,” by John Tingey. As the New Yorker described him:
“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.”
Of course. What else would you expect from someone who sent messages out in bottles across the sea… asking for the autographs of famous people.