In the summer of 1860, the famed Pony Express mail service experienced a summer of Indian attacks in and around Nevada that were usually attributed to the warring Peyote nation. A letter left San Francisco en route to New York on July 21, 1860, with the Pony Express. On the journey east, the rider was attacked, killed and most likely scalped by Indians, says Daniel Piazza, assistant curator of philately at the National Postal Museum. The horse, however, survived and ran away carrying the mochila, or pouch of letters. Two year later, the batch of mail was found and delivered.
On this particular envelope, an inscription reads: "recovered from a mail stolen by the Indians in 1860." This artifact along with other postal gems were given to the museum on a long-term loan arrangement last week by William H. Gross, founder of the investment firm PIMCO. This is the largest gift in the museum's history and includes $8 million in cash to construct a new street-level gallery at the museum's current location.
The Pony Express letter is the one of only two known artifacts from this specific shipment and represents a fascinating, albeit brief, chapter in postal history. The postage cost $5.10. The Pony Express charged a $5 fee for each half an ounce and 10 cents for entry into the U.S. Postal Service at St. Joseph. Today, that letter would have cost more than $200, which is why, Piazza says, using mail for personal correspondence didn't gain popularity until the Civil War.
The gift also includes a reconstructed block of four inverted Jenny stamps, one of the most famous and most rare stamps in U.S. History, and an envelope that has a pair of the first U.S. stamps from 1847: a 5-cent Benjamin Franklin and a 10-cent George Washington stamp. The postage is dated the day after the stamps were issued and is the earliest known use of them. The inverted Jenny stamp was originally printed in 1918 with the image of an airplane printed upside-down. Only 100 were printed, and only a few were ever found.
These items are currently on display at the museum through the month of October. They will then be returned to Gross and loaned back to the museum when the new gallery opens.