VERY FINE. A BEAUTIFUL AND RARE AMERICAN PACKET COVER FROM HAWAII TO RUSSIA VIA SAN FRANCISCO, PANAMA, NEW YORK, FRANCE AND GERMANY. THIS COVER WAS SENT BY THE EXPLORER CARL VON DITMAR DURING HIS EXPEDITION TO THE REMOTE KAMCHATKA PENINSULA IN THE EASTERN SIBERIAN MARITIME PROVINCE.
This cover was carried by the American brig Zoe, which departed Honolulu on November 22, 1852, and arrived in San Francisco on December 13. From there it was carried to Panama on the Pacific Mail Steamship Company’s Isthmus, which departed on December 14 and arrived at Panama City before January 1, 1853. It crossed the isthmus and was carried from Aspinwall to New York by the U.S. Mail Steamship Company’s Illinois, which departed on January 2 and arrived on January 13. At New York it was put on the Havre Line’s Humboldt, which departed on January 15 and arrived at Le Havre on January 29. The address lists “St. Petersbourg, Dorpat et Oberpahlen a Addafer” as transit points, which are today in Russia and Estonia.
The total prepaid postage on this cover was 33c, including 5c Hawaiian postage, 26c for the British Open Mail rate to Russia by American Packet (West Coast rate) and 2c ship captain’s fee. Because this was sent direct to France, rather than via England, the required postage was 20c, plus German transit fees that were collected from the recipient. At the Honolulu post office, the “Hawaiian-Islands” datestamp was incorrectly struck first, then corrected by precisely striking the “U.S. Postage Paid” datestamp over the first. To make certain the U.S. Post Office knew that U.S. postage had been paid, the Honolulu office struck the oval “U.S./Postage Paid” handstamp that was usually reserved for newspapers during this period.
We are aware of three covers from Hawaii to Russia. This cover and another from our Golden sale (Siegel Sale 1009, lot 95) are addressed to Madame C(onde) von Ditmar in Addafer. The third cover is addressed to Y. L. Lortsch in Libau (Siegel Sale 1009, lot 96). The manuscript notation “P.P. Hafen” on the back of this cover and the other to Madame von Ditmar are important clues to their origin. “P.P. Hafen” is an abbreviation for Petropavlovsk Hafen (Harbor), located in the Eastern Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea. From 1851 to 1855 this remote volcanic region was explored and mapped by Carl von Ditmar (the subject of his book, Reisen and Aufenthalt in Kamchatka in den Jahren 1851-1855). Von Ditmar wrote the letter once contained in this cover on September 16, 1852 (as per receipt docketing) and sent it to Honolulu, probably on the American brig Emeline, which arrived from Petropavlovsk on November 8, 1852. At Honolulu, someone arranged for it to be prepaid for U.S. mail service. After a journey of four and one-half months, it reached Madame von Ditmar at the beginning of February 1853.
In 1854, the French and British, who were battling Russian forces on the Crimean Peninsula, attacked Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. During the Siege of Petropavlovsk, 988 men with a mere 68 guns managed to defend the outpost against 6 ships with 206 guns and 2,540 French and British soldiers. Despite the heroic defense, Petropavlovsk was abandoned as a strategic liability after the Anglo-French forces withdrew. The next year when a second enemy force came to attack the port, they found it deserted. Frustrated, the ships bombarded the city and withdrew.
Ex Honolulu Advertiser. Illustrated and discussed in Gregory book (pages 315-316)