Feature representation in the form of spatio-spectral decomposition is one of the robust techniques adopted in automatic handwritten character recognition systems. In this regard, we propose a new image representation approach for unconstrained handwritten alphanumeric characters using sparse concept coded Tetrolets. Tetrolets, which does not use fixed dyadic square blocks for spectral decomposition like conventional wavelets, preserve the localized variations in handwritings by adopting tetrominoes those capture the shape geometry. The sparse concept coding of low entropy Tetrolet representation is found to extract the important hidden information (concept) for superior pattern discrimination. Large scale experimentation using ten databases in six different scripts (Bangla, Devanagari, Odia, English, Arabic and Telugu) has been performed. The proposed feature representation along with standard classifiers such as random forest, support vector machine (SVM), nearest neighbor and modified quadratic discriminant function (MQDF) is found to achieve state-of-the-art recognition performance in all the databases, viz. 99.40% (MNIST); 98.72% and 93.24% (IITBBS); 99.38% and 99.22% (ISI Kolkata). The proposed OCR system is shown to perform better than other sparse based techniques such as PCA, SparsePCA and SparseLDA, as well as better than existing transforms (Wavelet, Slantlet and Stockwell).