The Father of Mail Art

Theodore Hook by Eden Upton Eddis

On July 14, 1840, Theodore Hook sent, and received, the first hand-drawn, hand-colored postcard. Mailed to Fulham, in southwest London, with a recently issued Penny Black stamp, the card features caricatures of post office clerks sitting around a giant ink well. It is the first known postcard, and therefore the earliest example of a postcard sent as mail art. (Official postcards were not issued in England until 1870.)


With his card, Hook was mocking all the postal clerks who would handle the object on its way back to his address. The card itself was discovered in 2001 by British postal historian Edward Proud when he was reviewing a stamp collection; he described the card’s discovery as making Hook the postal equivalent of the Earl of Sandwich. In 2002, the postcard sold for a record £31,750 (US $44,300) at the London Stamp Exchange.

Theodore Edward Hook (1788-1841) was a man of letters, a composer, a playboy, and a prankster. He was best known for the Berners Street Hoax of 1810 in which he used the mail to arrange for a flock of tradesmen, plus the Lord Mayor of London, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Chairman of the East India Company and the Duke of Gloucester, to visit “Mrs. Tottenham” at 54 Berners Street. His goal was to win a bet that he could transform any house in London into the city’s most talked-about address within a week.

A legend in his own time, Hook also inspired the characters of Lucian Gay in Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Coningsby and Mr. Wagg in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge praised him as being “as true a genius as Dante.”


One comment

  1. Brian McCue · · Reply

    Nice. Thanks, and Happy New Year, Brian

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