Item #010189 1845 & 1849 – Two letters sent by a commission agent in England to his associates in New Bedford discussing prices of whale products and, more importantly, the potential market for harpoon guns. Lemuel Goddard to Jireh Swift, Frederick Slocum Allen.
1845 & 1849 – Two letters sent by a commission agent in England to his associates in New Bedford discussing prices of whale products and, more importantly, the potential market for harpoon guns
1845 & 1849 – Two letters sent by a commission agent in England to his associates in New Bedford discussing prices of whale products and, more importantly, the potential market for harpoon guns
1845 & 1849 – Two letters sent by a commission agent in England to his associates in New Bedford discussing prices of whale products and, more importantly, the potential market for harpoon guns
1845 & 1849 – Two letters sent by a commission agent in England to his associates in New Bedford discussing prices of whale products and, more importantly, the potential market for harpoon guns
1845 & 1849 – Two letters sent by a commission agent in England to his associates in New Bedford discussing prices of whale products and, more importantly, the potential market for harpoon guns
1845 & 1849 – Two letters sent by a commission agent in England to his associates in New Bedford discussing prices of whale products and, more importantly, the potential market for harpoon guns

1845 & 1849 – Two letters sent by a commission agent in England to his associates in New Bedford discussing prices of whale products and, more importantly, the potential market for harpoon guns

London to New Bedford, Massachusetts: 1845 and 1849. Unbound.

The 1845 stampless folded letter, measuring 17” x 10½“ unfolded, is datelined “London 19 May 1845” and was sent by Lemuel Goddard to “Messrs [Jireh] Swift & [Frederick Slocum] Allen / New Bedford” Massachusetts. The letter also includes the text from an earlier letter message that had been sent on May 3rd. Both provided pricing information for whale oil, Sperm whale oil, and whale bone. The letter was apparently favor-carried to Boston as it bears no English or U.S. Post Office markings. At Boston, the carrier deposited it with an independent mail service, Hale & Company, for delivery to New Bedford. It bears two red handstamps that were applied in Boston. One, an oval, reads “Forwarded / By / Hale & Co. / from / Boston”. The other, a rectangle, reads “Collect / Six Cents”. Both are identified in the American Stampless Cover Catalog, Vol. II, p. 17. In nice shape with some insect/rodent predation that affects a few words of text.

The 1849 stampless letter is both historically and philatelically important. It measures 16” x 10” unfolded and was also sent by Goddard to Allen and Swift in New Bedford. It is datelined 9 November 1849 and its black cross “L.S.” postmark indicates it was mailed from the Lombard Street branch of the London post office on the same day. As the letter was sent under the provisions of the recently ratified Anglo-American Postal Treaty, the front cover bears two bold “24” handstamps indicating the postage due cost to be collected from its recipient. The 19-cent handstamp is an “accountancy” mark indicating the amount of that payment the U.S. would reimburse Great Britain. In nice shape. It reads in part:

“I am very happy to learn you had at last succeeded in finding a ship that would suit Capt. Tatch . . . the Paulina…will be just the vessel, tho I know some of your folks don’t like Barques. In this country, we think them preferable. . .. I wish the Paulina and Capt. Tatch . . . every success and hope she will prove a fortunate ship. By the Zurgari that sailed for Boston this week, I sent Capt. Delano one of Greener’s celebrated guns that so much has been said about, with a set of Harpoons…would it not be as well to let Capt. Tatch take it out with him and test them. The testimonial from all the English Capts. are amazingly strong and no ship now sails without 2 or 3 of them on board. You saw the account of Enderby’s failure, it will not affect the Whaling Co. . .. Sperm Oil is prime at 82 to 83 Pounds…I am getting my name a little posted up with East India and China . . . and don’t mean to let Barings have all these nice cumshaws. They have just recd. a cargo of Whale Oil from Manilla which will be sold by auction on Wednesday. . .. Whalebone 185 Pounds and sales making at this price. . ..”

. Very good. Item #010189

Prior to 1849, payment for the delivery of letters between the United States and Britain could only be made up to the first port of the destination country. Once there, the recipient had to pay any additional costs for delivery to have the letter forwarded to the post office nearest them. The Anglo-American Postal Treaty of 1848 (which went into effect in February 1849) changed that, and through a meticulously complex “accountancy” system allowed payments for the entire journey to be made at one time. Initially, all treaty mail was routed through only four designated “offices of exchange:” London, Liverpool, New York, and Boston. Fees were standardized and accounted for in U.S. cents (3-cents for inland British postage, 16-cents for ocean postage, and 5-cents for inland U.S. postage). Which nation received payment for each segment of the journey was based on whether the transport ship was an American or British packet and whether the letter was sent prepaid or postage due.

Frederick S. Allen and his brother-in-law, Jireh Swift, were major suppliers of ropes, iron ware, and foodstuffs needed to outfit whaling vessels. They began operations at New Bedford in 1842. They also acted as agents for whaling vessels from 1844 to 1887, providing near full-service operations that included supplies, equipment, crew accounts, and sales of whale oil, sperm oil and whale bone for individual voyages. As petroleum products replaced whale oil, Swift & Allen’s business shrank accordingly, and it ceased operation in 1891.

Captain Tatch and the Paulina departed the following December on a three-year voyage to the Indian Ocean, but it isn’t known if it took any Greener harpoon guns along.

Earlier in 1849, Charles Enderby, the head of a prominent British whaling concern attempted to establish a whaling settlement at New Zealand’s Auckland islands. Misled by an 1830s report regarding the islands’ “salubrious” nature, when Enderby arrived with three ships of settlers, he instead found only one island that was barely habitable. None-the-less, Enderby continued with his plan, however by the end of the year, it was clear the attempt would end in failure. Although the settlement lingered on for three years, it was completely abandoned in 1852.

Although there had been experiments with flintlock harpoon guns since the 1730s, it wasn’t until 1815 when George Wallis, Jr. of England developed the first commercially successful gun that protected the powder used in its flintlock mechanism from the ocean’s spray. These guns were never used by American whalers until William Greener, a renowned Birmingham gunsmith, created an improved version that used slow-burning powder that seldom misfired, had twice the range of a Waller gun, and was far more accurate. The first American advertisement for Greener guns did not appear until Swift and Allen placed it in New Bedford’s Whalemen's Shipping List on February 5, 1850, no doubt spurred by this letter from Goddard that they received three months prior. It read, “Harpoon Gun Greene's [sic] celebrated English harpoon gun, said to be capable of throwing a harpoon forty yards with effect, received for exhibition and sale by Swift & Allen.”

Sales did not take off, however, until the List published a follow-on article, no doubt influenced by Swift & Allen,

“We do not remember that we have particularly mentioned the Whaling Gun invented by Mr William Greener, the eminent Gun maker of London. These have been for a long time in use in the British Whaling service, and have been there considered as valuable instruments. We have now the pleasure of adding the testimony of one four own captains in their favor. A letter from Capt Worth of the Ansel Gibbs of Fairhaven states that he had purchased one of Greener's Whaling Guns. . .. Capt Worth had taken one whale with the instrument which he would not otherwise have captured. This whale was struck at a distance of eight fathoms by a harpoon discharged from Greener's Gun. He is strongly of opinion that if he had possessed himself of it earlier he should have been the gainer by two hundred bbls. of sperm oil.”

Eventually, Greener guns became widely used in American whaleships, especially in calmer Pacific waters and are credited with sustaining the whale oil industry until the late 1800s.

(For more information, see Jones’s “The Anglo-American Postal Treaty” in November 2018 issue of Gibbons Stamp Monthly, London’s Postal History. . . . by Sharpe, et. al., “The Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito Collection of U.S. Independent Mails” at Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc. Sale #1124 on 4 May 2016, “Enderby Settlement” at the New Zealand Department of Conservation website, “Swivel Guns and Swivel Gun Harpoons” at whalesite.org, and “Whaling owner's flags . . .” at the Flags of the World website.)

This is, almost certainly, the letter that spurred Swift & Allen to take the risk of purchasing British harpoon guns which became indispensable equipment on American whaleships and allowed American whaling to continue to prosper until it was overtaken by the petroleum industry.

Unique. Nothing similar is for sale in the trade or shown to be in institutional collections by OCLC. Rare Auction Hub shows that these letters previously appeared in a 2013 auction where their importance was not fully realized.

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Price: $1,500.00