Eastern Express mail cover. Sent by Alexander Robertson to Colonel Robert W. Allston

Eastern Express mail cover. Sent by Alexander Robertson to Colonel Robert W. Allston

Charleston, South Carolina to New York City and return to Georgetown, South Carolina: 1838. Unbound. Between 1836 and 1839, the post office operated several “Express Mail” routes in the Eastern United States where for triple the regular postage rate, letters were expedited using contactors who carried “the mail by the fastest means of transportation, [usually a combination of railroads and] post riders on horseback who carried nothing but the express mail pouch.” Initially, mail could be sent collect but beginning in November, 1837, all express mail required prepayment. Very good. Item #009119

This small express cover” measures only 9.75” x 7.75” unfolded. It is addressed to Allston (a former Army officer, future South Carolina governor, and one of the richest plantation owners in the state) in care of E. Saffron, Esq. in New York City. It also bears the sender’s name, A. Robertson (Allston’s business agent) and the date “27 Octr 1838.” When Robertson mailed the cover, he annotated it with a black manuscript “1” (indicating it only consisted of one sheet), “Paid”, and “Express mail” markings. This was confirmed by the postmaster who added a red (now faded) manuscript “1” and “75” (the postage rate of express mail carried over 400 miles) in addition to a “PAID” handstamp and circular Oct 27 postmark.

Per the official schedule, the cover would have left Charleston by railroad at 5:30 pm that evening for Branchville and from there it would have been carried by postrider via Columbia and Raleigh to Blakely Depot, North Carolina, where it would have transferred to a train for the 63-mile trip to Petersburg Virginia. From there, it would have again been carried by postriders to New York via Richmond, Washington, and Philadelphia. The journey would have taken four and a half days, which is confired by the 1 November receiving postmark applied at New York.

When the New York postmaster was notified that Allston had returned home, he obliterated the manuscript rate markings, readdressed the cover to Georgetown, South Carolina, and added a new manuscript rate mark. The indistinct marking appears to read “1 ½”, which would make sense as the regular rate to send the cover to Georgetown (which was closer to New York than Charleston) would have been 18 ¾ cents or 1 ½ reales. (See Milgram’s The Express Mail of 1836-1839.)

A small mystery, however, remains. Both the original and return postal rates were for single sheet mail, yet the cover (made from a single sheet) is blank and contains no message. If it had contained a letter, bank draft, or other item, the postage should have cost twice as much. One explanation might be related to the cover’s small size which is only half the size of typical lettersheets used at this time; perhaps a larger lettersheet was originally used, and the letter portion was, for some reason cut away from the cover sheet after its receipt. Of, perhaps, Robertson simply put one over on the postmasters.

Price: $150.00

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