San Francisco, California: . Envelope or Cover. Manuscript postmark “S.F [San Francisco]/ Dec 1st” with a manuscript “Paid 15c” rate mark. The cover is addressed to Daniel M Rae, Rollo Bay, Prince Edward Island. It bears the famous red “STEAMER / WINFIELD SCOTT” handstamp, the only handstamp used by any ship of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. A blue St. Andrews, New Brunswick receiving mark dated Feb 2, 1854 is on the reverse. “From wreck of” has been handwritten in front of the steamer handstamp, presumably by a postal worker or steamship company employee. The cover is water-stained and toned. It has tears and wrinkles. A former owner has penciled “1853” on the front of the cover. No content, cover only. Good. Item #009494
The SS Winfield Scott was launched in 1850 to carry passengers between New York and New Orleans and later sold to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company to transport gold seekers, mail, and bullion on the Panama to San Francisco route.
On the morning of December 1st (the day this cover was postmarked) the ship left San Francisco with a US$ 2 million shipment of gold in addition to its passengers and crew. Although the Captain knew the California coastal waters well, during an exceptionally heavy fog that evening, the ship ran aground on Middle Anacapa Island about 400 miles from port. While attempting to back away, the stern of the ship also struck the island, destroying its rudder. Unable to maneuver and taking on water, the captain gave the order to abandon the ship, and all of the passengers, all of the bullion, and some of the mail were transferred to a small rock shelf on the island. Much later the following day, the passengers were spotted by the SS California, which returned them, the gold, and the recovered mail to San Francisco. The crew remained behind and continued to recover more mail and salvageable equipment from the ship until they too were later rescued. (See NPS Channel Islands, Shipwrecks: The Winfield Scott, online.)
On December 7, the SS California transported the passengers, bullion, and mail from San Francisco to Panama. After traveling by rail across the isthmus to Aspinwall (now Colon), the SS Illinois carried all on to New York City. This cover, then, made the additional journey to Prince Edward Island.
Three SS Winfield Scott wreck covers have come up for auction in the past decade. In 2015, a Siegel auction catalog reported that only seven were known to exist. This cover makes number eight.
A pristine example sold for $4,000 in the 2015 Siegel auction and a very nice example sold for $2,500 in the 2012 Fajola "Chicago" Collection of Inland Waterway and Packetmarks sale. Those covers were undoubtedly in the first mailbags transported and suffered no damage. In 2014, a cover with dampstains and a repaired hole sold for the equivalent of $2,815 (in today’s dollars) at an Argyll Etkin auction in London. It, like this example, probably did not make it off the ship in the first batch of mail.