1861 Pony Express cover sells for $885,000 in April 30 H.R. Harmer Erivan sale

May 16, 2024, 11 AM
This 1861 Wells, Fargo & Co. Pony Express cover sold for $885,000 during H.R. Harmer’s April 30 auction of the 10th and final part of the Erivan collection of United States and Confederate States postal history.

By Charles Snee

A fabulous 1861 Pony Express cover in H.R. Harmer’s April 30 auction of the 10th and final part of the massive Erivan collection of United States and Confederate States postal history realized $885,000. That impressive sum includes the 18 percent buyer’s premium that H.R. Harmer adds to all sold lots.

The Wells, Fargo & Co. cover is franked with a $1 red Pony Express stamp (Scott 143L3) used in combination with an 1855 10¢ green Nesbitt stamped envelope (U15), two 1859 10¢ Washington stamps (35) and two 1857 3¢ dull red Washington stamps (26).

According to H.R. Harmer, the 10¢ envelope, two 10¢ stamps and two 3¢ stamps combined to overpay by 1¢ the 35¢ Prussian closed mail rate.

The $1 Pony Express and 3¢ Washington stamps are tied by a faint strike of a Sept. 7 (1861) oval blue Running Pony handstamp at upper left, which was applied in San Francisco. In addition, the four Washington stamps are canceled with New York Foreign Mail Office grid markings.

This Wells, Fargo Pony Express cover was mailed to the addressee in Maggia, Ticino, Switzerland. Postmarks on the back (not shown) indicate that the cover transited through New York City on Sept. 25 and Basel, Switzerland, on Oct. 9 before arriving in Lucerne on Oct. 10.

According to H.R. Harmer, “The exhaustive Frajola – Kramer – Walske Census records six covers to destinations outside of the United States, with one example recorded to each of England, France, Germany, Prince Edward Island, Scotland, and Switzerland.”

After transport on the eastbound Pony Express, the letter “was carried from New York via British Packet, then onwards through Aachen and conveyed via Prussian Closed Mail, traveling south from Basel to its eventual recipient, Pietro Martinelli in Maggia,” H.R. Harmer said.

“At this time Australia and the United States, particularly California, became popular destinations for Swiss immigrants from the Maggia Valley,” H.R. Harmer said. “A period of economic hardship in the region combined with the promise of riches that could be had from gold rushes in both countries encouraged many to leave the Ticino area to seek their fortune abroad.”

In their preface to the sale catalog, Chris Green and Dieter Michelson noted that some of the Erivan collection’s most coveted rarities were up for bids, “many of which have not been seen on the market in decades.”

“These iconic pieces, reflecting a range of collecting interests including Carriers and Locals, the Pony Express, Confederate States, Hawaii, and more, are offered here alongside missed opportunities from prior sales and a powerful selection of balance lots,” Green and Michelson said.

All told, the lots sold during the auction realized a total (with the 18 percent buyer’s premium) of $3,065,935.

Additional information about the auction, including a list of prices realized, is available online at or by writing to H.R. Harmer, 630 Fifth Ave., Suite 2607, New York, NY 10111.

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