Civil War “Across the Lines” private express mail envelope with special instructional label
Richmond, Virginia: 26 July 1861. Envelope or Cover. This 5.5" x 3.25" envelope has two Richmond, Virginia postal markings: a circular city postmark dated "Jul 26 1861" and a circular "Paid 10" handstamp. There is also a bold strike of an "Adams Ex. Co. * Louisville, Ky. * Jul 31 1861" circular date stamp. It entered the U.S. mail franked by a 3-cent Dull Red, Type II (Scott #26) postage stamp tied with a blue grid cancel and matching blue double-circle blue postmark that reads "Louisville KY. Aug 1 1861".
A light blue-grey label headed "The Adams Express Company, S. A. Jones, Agent. Louisville, Ky." provides instructions to northern recipients for sending return letters to the South.
The stamp, postal markings, and labels are in nice shape. The envelope has been split and trimmed, probably to facilitate to facilitate display on an album page. There appears to be transparent tissue reinforcement to the reverse of the flap fold.
Dr. James Milgram, the noted postal historian, has suggested this envelope was most likely used to send a Union POW's mail north from a Richmond prison following the Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) which had occurred only a few days before.. Very good. Item #008713
In June of 1861, federal North-South mail routes were suspended, creating opportunities for private express companies to carry letters for higher fees than formerly charged by the post office. Adams Express Company established a Southern Express Company to serve the Confederacy and facilitate the delivery of mail between their offices in Nashville, Tennessee and Louisville Kentucky. It captured almost 80% of the relatively small "across the lines" mail service after the post office abandoned its North-South routes.
Senders paid both US and CSA postage costs plus an express of of 25c per 1/2 ounce. Northbound letters, like this one from Richmond, were to have been enclosed in a plain unstamped envelope addressed to the Northern recipient. They were then delivered to an express office in Nashville, Tennessee. From Nashville, express couriers carried the mail to Louisville where U.S. postage was applied and letters were dispatched through the postal service to their destination.
Express companies only provided this service for less than three months for on 26 August, for as the Louisville Daily Journal reported President Lincoln directed that "Officers and agents of the Post Office Department will . . . lose no time in putting an end to the written intercourse with [the Southern states] by causing the arrest of any express agent or other person who shall after this order, receive letters for transmission to or from said states. . . ." (See the Spiegel catalog of 27 May 2010.)
This is an important documentation of postal communication between North and South during the early months of the Civil War. All "across the lines" express mail is exceptionally scarce, and mail with the blue instructional label is truly rare as only four other examples are known to have survived. (See Knowles at the Frajola website, 2020.) The most recent sale of one of those examples, a repaired cover, was for $4,000 at Rumsey's 2022 Westpex Sale.
Trimmed and opened to facilitate display, so priced accordingly.