Covers are envelopes used to deliver letters. The term “cover” is primarily used by collectors of historical paper, such as documents, stamps, and the like. Ryan Baum is one such collector, whose interest in the item prompts questions of history: What was the communication this cover was moving along? Who were the parties involved, and what were the circumstances behind the transaction?
Covers provide clues for historians researching the past. Each one has separate parts that tell a story behind the historical moment. This cover is a good example:
The communication to Daniel Towle, letter and cover, are in the Ernest A. Wiltsee Collection in Wells Fargo’s Corporate Archives.
Towle traveled to California in February 1850, to make a fortune in gold that he hoped to bring home to his family in Maine. He started his gold rush sojourn in Sacramento, and moved several times in pursuit of a good prospect. In an era of relatively slow communication, especially over long distances, frequent moves to outlying locations happened faster than communication, making it a challenge to get letters from back east to pioneers in the gold fields.
On July 28, 1852, this cover went by ship from Avon, Maine to San Francisco, then up river by steamboat to Sacramento—Towle’s previous residence and the one known to the sender.
We assume Towle left word that items to him in Sacramento needed to be forwarded to his new location. An Express company “frank” or name indicated which express company carried the cover. Local agents stamped the cover before sending it on the next stage of its trip. So from Sacramento, on September 18, 1852, Wells Fargo Express forwarded the letter to its office in Ophir.
Wells Fargo arranged for delivery of the letter in Taylor’s Ravine. (“10 miles below Auburn, Cal.”) The forward cost a buck. (About $20 dollars today.)
Many letters in those days were moved by both the US postal service and by independent express companies, depending on areas served. The US stamp went in the upper right hand corner, but his letter does not have a stamp. Instead it has a note showing that the local Postmaster (“P.M.”) waived postage and sent the piece “Free.”
In Avon, Postmaster E. M. Towle was actually Electra M. Towle, Daniel’s wife! Daniel had been postmaster for Avon before leaving for California, in addition to farming. When he left for California, Electra took over as Postmaster, and as manager of farm and family.
This letter was received in autumn of1852, and by the following spring, Daniel was back home in Maine.