The man who posted himself
September 21, 2010 7:51 AM   Subscribe

He showed that the Royal Mail will deliver things as small as a bee or as large as an elephant; he once posted himself home; and he invented the self-recirculating postcard - it had two sides, each with a different address. W Reginald Bray was a genius at mail art and the self-proclaimed autograph king.

There's a post about him in this blog featuring the local history of Reginald's home suburb of Sydenham. The blog's owner is endearingly obsessed with letter boxes:
Bray was a clerk in the City and each evening, on his return from work, he would write his cards, and post them. There was, and still is, a pillar-box almost directly outside his house in Devonshire Road. It is an octagonal "Penfold" (designed by the architect J W Penfold in 1866, with several variations). There are two Penfolds in Devonshire Road, both listed Grade II. The box outside Bray's house is of the fifth type, and is one of only eight surviving examples. One would like to think that the presence of such an unusual pillar-box outside his house provided the inspiration for Reggie's lifelong passion.
posted by Joe in Australia (13 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
And his spirit of adventure lives on at 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.
posted by Naberius at 8:03 AM on September 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

As any Velvet Underground fan knows, it's a pretty dang risky adventure mailing yourself somewhere. Especially to your girlfriend's house.
posted by NoMich at 8:04 AM on September 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

That he was able to post himself is pretty cool. I'm fairly certain that was prohibited by the USPS after a few notable occurrences of people sending children through the mail.

Also, I really like the "tips" from the Independent article:
Some of Bents' tips: strange, unwrapped objects stand a better chance of being accepted for delivery if you pop them in a postman's sack as he makes a collection on the customers' side of the Post Office counter. Put elastic bands round objects: postmen love elastic bands. [...]
I assume it's because it stops them from rolling or something, but perhaps they just like that springy elastic?
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:10 AM on September 21, 2010

That will be Barclay's Royal Mail any day now....
posted by srboisvert at 8:15 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bah, as we continue the retreat of the state from the thought that it might actively seek to improve the lives of citizens and sell off all of the UK's finest institutions so private companies can put up the prices and cut wages. It genuinely sickens me.
posted by jaduncan at 8:27 AM on September 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite post stories is the man who sent a bank through the USPS one brick at a time.
posted by msbutah at 9:13 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I spent a summer once trying to find the smallest thing I could put a stamp on, that would get successfully delivered. In retrospect, I'm amazed at how long it took me to think to try just mailing out a stamp with an address written on the back. That one got returned to sender, and had been placed in a clear envelope along with a note about proper sizes for future mailings. I bow to the true masters of mail art like this guy.
posted by nomisxid at 9:16 AM on September 21, 2010

The Royal Mail really was an astounding wonder, when you think about it; this is from the year W Reginald Bray was born:
Within the limits of the Eastern Central District there are daily twelve, and within the town limits of the other districts eleven deliveries :—The first, including all Inland, Colonial, and Foreign letters arriving in sufficient time, begins about 7.20 a.m., and, except on Mondays, or on other days when there are large arrivals of letters from abroad, is generally completed, throughout London, by 9 o’clock. In the E.C. district the second delivery begins at about 8.30 a.m., and includes the correspondence received by night mail from Ireland and by the north mails arriving at 6.40 and 8 a.m.; and the third delivery in this district, corresponding with the second delivery in other districts is made at about 10 a.m., and includes the letters collected in London generally at 8.45 a.m and the correspondence by the Scotch mail arriving about 9 a.m. The next nine deliveries are made in every district hourly, and include all letters reaching the General Post Office or the district offices in time for each despatch. The last delivery, extending to all the districts, begins at about 7.45 p.m.

Each delivery within the town limits occupies about an hour.

The provincial day mails are due at various times, and letters arc included in the next delivery after their arrival. The day mails from Ireland, France, and the Continent generally and the letters received from Brighton and other towns which have a late afternoon communication with London, are delivered the same evening in London and in the suburbs within the six-mile circle.

To the SUBURBAN DISTRICTS there are six despatches daily. The first (at 6.30 am.) is to all places within the London district, and includes the correspondence by the night mails from the provinces, and by any colonial or foreign mails arriving in sufficient time. This delivery is generally completed in the nearer suburbs by 9 a.m., and at the more distant between 9 and 10 a.m. The second despatch (9.30 am.) is to the nearer suburban districts only. The third despatch (11.30 a.m.) comprises, with a few exceptions, every part of the London district. Except to isolated places, the fourth despatch (2.30 pm.) is to most of the suburban districts. The fifth despatch (4.30 p.m.) extends to the whole of the suburban districts; and, except in the remoter rural places, the letters are delivered the same evening. The sixth despatch is at 7 p.m. Letters for this despatch, posted at the, town receiving- houses and pillar boxes by 6 p.m. or at the chief office of the district to which they are addressed by 7.30 p.m., are delivered the same evening, except at a few distant places, where the delivery is made early the following morning.

The deliveries in the suburban districts begin from one to two hours after the stated time of despatch, according to the distance from London, the deliveries in rural parts of the remoter suburban districts being necessarily fewer than in the towns and villages.

– Charles Dickens Jr, Dickens' Dictionary of London: An Unconventional Handbook, 1879
That's right – if you were within 6 miles of London, you could send a letter to a friend who was anywhere in that radius, receive a letter back from her, and post her a reply before lunchtime. You could plan a lunch date via posted letter! And if you were within the city limits of London, you could actually send a letter and have it to its destination within an hour. That's really amazing, I think. And if you sent a letter before 7pm – the recipient was guaranteed to get it that night! Even the post to Ireland and surrounding regions seems amazing, given that it still went several times a day.

This was, of course, a time before telephones; and telegraphs, while in service, were not really useful for long, personal, or detailed messages. Still, it seems to me as though this system must have been the best ever devised for convenience and immediacy, short of email and telephony itself. In fact, it's amazing to think of how much the Royal Mail has declined; one wonders at the fact that, with all of our modern assistance and computers to track shipments and coordinate deliveries and all that, we can't seem to match the efficiency of a bunch of letter-carriers on foot, with mail in sacks, that have a careful system.
posted by koeselitz at 10:28 AM on September 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

The USPS once delivered a letter I sent using an eggshell as the envelope. Uncracked!
posted by ahimsakid at 10:57 AM on September 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cool, thanks Joe!
posted by carter at 12:37 PM on September 21, 2010

One of my favorite post stories is the man who sent a bank through the USPS one brick at a time.

'In a clarification of the rule, the postal administration indicated that "it is not the intent of the United States Postal Service that buildings be shipped through the mail." '
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:08 PM on September 21, 2010

An uncle used to send a little pumpkin in the mail every Halloween, address and stamps just put right on there. The day it got there always brought a smile to my face.
posted by inigo2 at 2:55 PM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

its gone to the dogs - these days you can't even post something heavier than 2Kgs through Royal mail though.
posted by mary8nne at 5:22 AM on September 22, 2010

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