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EXTREMELY FINE. THE FINEST OF THREE RECORDED COVERS SURVIVING FROM THE FIRST DAY OF THE PONY EXPRESS. AN IMPORTANT AND WELL-PRESERVED ARTIFACT OF THE LEGENDARY PONY EXPRESS.
The widely-publicized launch of the Pony Express occurred simultaneously in San Francisco and St. Joseph, Missouri, on Tuesday, April 3. With a large crowd gathered at the offices of the Alta Telegraph Company at the corner of Montgomery and Merchant Streets in San Francisco, the mail bag was ceremoniously given to a rider (believed to be James Randall), who galloped away toward the docks. This was essentially for show, because the mail had to be carried by steamer to Sacramento before it started the 1,840-mile journey by horse. Although the Antelope was regularly used for carrying the express mail between San Francisco and Sacramento, that vessel was under repair when the first Pony trip took place, and the steamer New World was used instead. The trip up river in a hard rain took ten hours to reach Sacramento, arriving at 2:40 a.m. on April 4. The first actual Pony rider was William Hamilton, who rode out of Sacramento with the mail at 2:45 a.m. The last rider reached St. Joseph in the late afternoon of April 13, exactly ten days after departure. Historians are uncertain whether Johnny Frye or William Richardson carried the first Pony mail into St. Joseph.
The Alta California reported that the April 3 Pony Express mail contained 56 letters from San Francisco, to which 13 letters were added at Sacramento, one letter more at Placerville and an additional 15 pieces in the form of telegrams and newspaper reports, for a total of 85 pieces. It is not known how many letters were delivered or picked up along the way.
There are two known covers surviving from this eastbound First Trip mail: the cover offered here and another addressed to A. A. Low & Brothers in New York City (ex Dale-Lichtenstein, now in the Walske collection). The “APR 3” date in the Running Pony oval on the Latham cover offered here is more clearly struck than the strike on the Low & Brothers cover. In addition to the two eastbound covers, there is a westbound First Trip cover addressed to Frederick Billings--the attorney of Billings, Montana, fame--which has a clear strike of the St. Joseph non-pictorial oval datestamp. The two-line frank on this 10c entire is recorded on three 3c and six 10c entires.
The cover offered here is addressed to Senator Milton S. Latham, who went to California in 1850 and was elected to Congress on the 1852 Democratic ticket. After his term expired, he declined to run for re-election and served as collector for the port of San Francisco. In 1859 he was elected governor, but he resigned five days after taking office to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Senator David C. Broderick was killed in a duel. Latham was a friend of William H. Russell, the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Co. president. Latham was a strong supporter of COC&PP in their effort to secure the contract for the Central Route. He was among the few individuals later permitted to send Pony Express letters free of charge.
This cover is recorded in the Nathan-Boggs and Frajola-Kramer-Walske books. We do not have any details of its sale history prior to its last appearance in our sale of the Hall collection in 2000 (Sale 830, lot 797), where it realized $180,000 hammer. Since our sale of the Hall collection, the Low & Brothers cover realized $260,000 hammer and the Billings cover realized the same hammer price in the May 13, 2004, H. R. Harmer sale of the Dale-Lichtenstein collection.
FKW Census E2. Trip ET-1. Ex Hall.