1860 Pony Express envelope to Lincoln heads to auction Jan. 26

NEW YORK – On January 26, a philatelic auction gallery in New York will be offering the sixth installment of 10 featuring the “Erivan” Collection of United and Confederate States Postal History. This particular installment is distinguished by its inclusion of a Pony Express envelope addressed to Abraham Lincoln.
The cover is postmarked August 18, 1860, 4 months before Lincoln was elected president. According to the auction house, H.R. Harmer Fine Stamp Auctions, it is the only Pony Express addressed to a U.S. president, and one of only 250 surviving Pony Express covers. It was last purchased by prolific German collector, Erivan Haub. When sold in 1991, its value was said to be $150,000. However, some industry experts believe the cover might sell for significantly more at the auction.
H.R. Harmer CEO, Charles Epting said, “There are only 250 Pony Express covers in existence. For one of those envelopes to be mailed to one of the most important Americans of the 19th century in one the most pivotal times of his life, after his nomination and before his election, is extraordinary. The improbability is considerable and the fact that it has survived this whole time is amazing.”
The election of 1860 was one of the most highly contentious processes in American history. After the highly controversial Republican National Convention in May, Lincoln returned to his home in Springfield Illinois and became quite reclusive, giving very few speeches and writing almost no letters. It is nearly impossible to imagine the future president’s mindset at this time, with both the Republican Party and the United States on the brink of war.
The envelope, which is Pony Express-stamped from San Francisco, does not bear a return address, so it is not possible to determine with any certainty who sent Lincoln the letter. However, a possible candidate is then-future Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field, who wrote in his memoir in 1880: “I could have recounted…the communications had with President Lincoln by relays of riders over the plains.” If the envelope carried a letter from Justice Field, it may have provided Lincoln with news regarding secessionist sentiments in California during the summer of 1860.
Few people realize that the Pony Express was only in operation for a little over 18 months (April 3, 1860-October 31, 1861) and that it was incredibly expensive to send a letter via the service. The letter sent to Lincoln would have cost at least $5, which adjusting for inflation, is $150 in current US dollars. The most up-to-date census includes approximately 250 envelopes that were carried via Pony Express. After more than a century and a half, it is unlikely that many more examples will come to light in the future, a press release from H.R. Harmer states.
“The cover has been well known to experts since it was first sold at auction in the 1940s, and its authenticity has never been questioned. It is pictured in all of the major reference works on the subject, most notably The Pony Express: A Postal History by Richard C. Frajola, George J Kramer and Steven C. Walske. Prior to the auction, H.R. Harmer consulted several of the hobby’s leading collectors and dealers, all of whom showed no hesitation in pronouncing the letter genuine in every regard,” a spokesperson for the auction company told Auction Central News.
Erivan Haub, a German business mogul and philanthropist with a love for the American West, spent decades curating a collection of US Postal History that documents the 19th century and beyond. Haub preserved some of the most precious artifacts from America’s past and this January, the Lincoln Pony Express will be returning home for another chance to make history.
NOTE: This item was sold for $280,000 at the Erivan VI sale in January 2022
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