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VERY FINE. ONE OF TWO RECORDED COVERS BEARING THE $4.00 BLACK PONY EXPRESS STAMP -- BOTH ORIGINATING IN HAWAII AND CARRIED ON THE SAME PONY TRIP -- AND THE FIRST OF THESE TWO SIGNIFICANT HISTORICAL ARTIFACTS TO BE OFFERED AT PUBLIC AUCTION. THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE HALL COLLECTION AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT COVERS IN UNITED STATES POSTAL HISTORY.
This envelope was used in 1861 to send documents from the United States consul in Honolulu, Hawaii, to John C. Underwood, the fifth auditor of the United States Treasury in Washington D.C. It has a nearly-identical mate, with the same postal markings applied on the same days, and also bearing the $4.00 Black Pony stamp. The only differences between the two covers are the color of the consulate label -- red on this cover and green on the other -- and the notation "By Pony -- Vouchers by regular mail" on the other cover. Based on the notation, it seems that a separate set of vouchers relating to the contents of the Pony Express covers was sent from the consul in Hawaii to Washington by regular government mails.
The first Pony Express stamps were issued in April 1861 after Wells, Fargo & Co. became involved in operating the express over the central route. The stamps bear the Wells, Fargo & Co. name, and they were issued in $2.00 Red and $4.00 Green denominations, to pay the single and double Pony Express rate per half-ounce. When the rates were lowered to $1.00 per half-ounce on July 1, 1861, a new set of stamps was required. The second issue comprises the $1.00 Red, $2.00 Green and $4.00 Black. The $2.00 and $4.00 Second Issue stamps are very rare in used condition -- unused stamps were probably among remainders on hand when the Pony Express was terminated in November 1861. Only three covers are recorded with the $2.00 Green. Of course, there are only two $4.00 Black Pony covers. The $4.00 stamp paid the quadruple Pony Express charge for a letter weighing between 1-1/2 and 2 ounces.
Each of the $4.00 Black Pony covers has the McRuer & Merrill backstamp, which indicates that this private firm was responsible for transmission of both letters from Hawaii to San Francisco. McRuer & Merrill is listed in the 1861 Langley San Francisco city directory (Valentine & Co., publishers) as follows: "McRuer (D.) Co. & Merrill (John C.), auction, shipping, and commission merchants, agents Honolulu packets, 117 and 119 California, dwl 18 Laurel Place." (appreciation to Stanley M. Piller for this citation). It is possible that McRuer & Merrill wrote "$4 Pony" in pencil on each cover and paid for the stamps. The presence of the large Wells, Fargo & Co. double-circle datestamp on each cover is unusual, suggesting that McRuer & Merrill may have brought them to a Wells, Fargo & Co. office or agent, who then turned them over to someone else responsible for preparing Pony Express mail for the trip.
The $4.00 Black Pony cover offered here reached the philatelic market through H. P. Atherton. In a 1932 advertisement, he stated "For Sale -- A perfect $4.00 Black W-F Pony Stamp used on a large Envelope bearing a red seal of The U.S. Consulate at Hawaii, on the reverse. Price on application. H. P. Atherton, 1562 Main St., Springfield, Mass." The "red seal" identifies this cover as the one sold by Atherton, and the Halls' notation on back identifies him as the source in 1932. The other cover -- with the green seal -- was in the Henry Needham collection, which Eugene Costales handled in the late 1940's and early 1950's. John R. Boker Jr. reports that he acquired all of the Needham material with the exception of one item that Costales promised to Alfred F. Lichtenstein -- the $4.00 Black Pony cover -- and that cover remains in the Dale-Lichtenstein family today.
With Philatelic Foundation certificate number 350,000, issued to the Estate of John H. Hall, Jr., on August 15, 2000, stating "It is a genuine usage."