Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1857. Unbound. This four-page lettersheet measures 19” x 11.5” unfolded. It contains a one-page manuscript letter written by J. Edgar Thomson, the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, at Philadelphia to William Ferguson, the British agent for the Illinois Central Railroad in New York City. It also includes a one-page shareholders’ circular explaining why no dividends would be paid that year. The lettersheet is franked with a dull red 3-cent Washington stamp (Scott #26) canceled with a circular Philadelphia postmark. In nice shape with some minor edgewear and pinholes at intersecting mailing folds. A transcript of the manuscript letter will be provided.
The map, titled Pennsylvania Rail Road and its Connections, shows the railroad system extending from New York in the east to Council Bluffs, Iowa and St. Joseph, Missouri in the west, and from Madison, Wisconsin in the North and continuing past Danville, Kentucky in the south.
The printed circular provides Thomson’s explanation as to why no dividends would be paid during 1857 which are tied to cut-throat competition with other east-west railroads, numerous “unremunerative tariffs,” and a “fixed State ‘duty upon tonnage.’” It also mentions an attempt to collectively control rates through an agreement with the New York Central, the New York and Erie, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads as well as its recent purchase of Pennsylvania’s Mainline of Public Works. His manuscript letter to Ferguson provides amplification as well raises a concern that the Crimean War might affect the money market.
It reads in part:
“We have received some letters from our English Shareholders who protest against our paying any dividends while we have a floating debt. This is now the prevailing sentiment here, but I advocate the policy of a limitation of the debt, say not to exceed two or three percent upon capital stock of the company paid in – and with that views I intend to apply to the next Legislature to amend our Charter so that limit shall not be exceeded hereafter. I have always been opposed to a considerable floating debt, but the peculiar state of the money market since the Commencement of the Russian war. . .. It serves the company you report now. . .. I will meet you in New York on Tuesday morning. . ..”. Very good. Item #010103
Thomson was the railroad’s first chief engineer and became its third president in 1852. Under his guidance, the railroad became the largest in the world with 6000 miles of track and famous for generating steady dividends for investors through high quality construction, continuous technological improvements, and innovative management techniques. The Rare Book Hub and other auction databases suggest that Thomson autographed letters and documents are uncommon.
This lettersheet is especially scarce. It is unlisted in Milgram’s American Illustrated Letter Stationery 1819-1899, examples have never appeared at auction, and OCLC reports only two institutions hold examples (neither used, much less signed by Thomson)..