7th May 2012
Letter from America
Thanks to the internet it has never been easier to locate and and collect fine and unusual items from around the world.
At Grosvenor we are disappointed sometimes to see a fine collection of Monaco, for example, receive less response than a comparable one of Malta. This is because so-called ‘foreign’ countries have traditionally been less popular among British collectors than has our home country or those of the old Empire so, while prices remain low, there is great potential for collectors brave enough to dip their toes in unusual waters.
When the next auction catalogue arrives why not take another look at items and collections from the 'difficult' countries that you would normally pass by ? A country that seems unpopular or underappreciated now will of course have the greatest potential for growth. If you choose wisely, you could find the value of what you buy later carried upward on a rising market.
All we are saying . . . is give Greece a chance.
Not that there is any shortage of collectors of the USA, as I have been reminded this week whilst on another ‘source and advise’ trip to that country. Early American postal items are deservedly popular, providing as they do a 'written record' of the history of a rapidly developing, sometimes entrepreneurial mail system.
In the early 1840s Express Companies were already carrying packages over rail, stage and shipping routes and in late 1843 began contemplating the idea of carrying letters also. The idea behind this was to undercut the extremely high rates charged by the U.S. Post Office as these companies were able to typically charge a fraction of the 'official' price. The independent mails found avid patrons immediately and one such, the company founded by George E. Pomeroy in 1841, went on to establish a virtual monopoly on express business between Buffalo and New York.
Pomeroy's Letter Express advertised a rate of 6 1/4 cents per letter between Buffalo and New York City, one third of the government charge for the same service. In 1844 the company began to print its own stamps that were sold at twenty per dollar with one stamp able to be used to prepay the single rate. Covers bearing these scarce and attractive stamps are known only between June and September of 1844.
One such, lot 1468, close to the end of our June auction, is a long, charming letter sent on August 5th by a young married woman, Mary Stevens, to her mother in Rochester, recounting her travels in the country and the dreaded first meeting with her 'in-laws'.
"Father is active for 76 but is much bent and notwithstanding his great thirst for knowledge, and fondness for reading, is beginning to show an enfeebled mind that brought a shade of sadness over my husband's brow".
The rapidly expanding success of the independent mail companies, which had also begun to work interdependently, bled so much potential revenue from the existing postal system that the postmaster general of the United States took Pomeroy to court. Surprisingly, Pomeroy won the case but finally, by invoking penalty clauses in the mail contracts with the railroads upon which Pomeroy was reliant, the government was able to bring his service to a halt. Other independent mail companies managed to survive only until July 1845 when an Act of Congress imposed heavy fines for the private carriage of mail over 'post roads'.
At the time the very positive benefit was that the activities of the 'Independents' did lead to major postal reforms that both improved services and significantly lowered rates to the American public.
We will leave it to others to draw conclusions on what might be learned from this tale for the future of our postal services today . . .