The earliest known picture postcard was received in 1840 in Fulham, London, by the composer and writer Theodore Hook (1788-1841). Known for his practical jokes, Hook sent the card to himself, either as an experiment or to poke fun at postal workers. The card features a hand-drawn caricature of postal clerks holding large pens. They are seated around an inkwell labelled “Official” with the words “Penny” and “Penates” on either side. Penates, or 'Di Penates', were household deities in Ancient Roman religion responsible for guarding the storeroom. Hook’s illustration suggests the post workers either looked after their pennies or the Penny Black stamps.

In 2001, a collector discovered the 'Penny Penates' postcard and the British Philatelic Association confirmed it is the oldest documented postcard in the world. It is also the oldest card sent with a Penny Black stamp, which was only used between May 1840 and February 1841. In 2002, 'Penny Penates' made history again, becoming the most ever paid-for postcard at auction, selling at £31,750 to a collector in Latvia.

Theodore Edward Hook was an English man of letters and composer, who briefly served as a civil servant in Mauritius. As a practical joker, he is best known for the Berners Street hoax in 1809, in which he bet he could transform any house in London into the most talked-about address in a week. He achieved this by sending out thousands of letters requesting deliveries, visitors, and assistance to 54 Berners Street.

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