Proof of McGreely’s Express Legitimacy
by Steve Sims
During the past 25 years the author has gathered all information he could on the legitimacy of use of the McGreely’s Express Stamp listed by Scott as Local #155L1. Much evidence has only been established in the past 15 years. It has never been gathered together in one place before now.
The APS Research Library recently been publishing Rickett’s Guide to Philatelic articles on U.S. Stamps. Under “Alaska,” Rickett’s Guide pointed to an old publication called, “The Weekly Philatelic Era,” Volume 15, Page 388 Summer 1901 where the following letter appeared:
McGreely’s Express Stamps
San Francisco, July 6, 1901.
Editor of Weekly Philatelic Era, Portland, ME.
“My attention has just been called to an article in your valued paper of March 2nd Re: McGreely’s Express stamps.”
“As I was in Dyea, Alaska, at the time these stamps were in use, I think I am in a position to know a little more about them than Mr. W. Howard Zimmer whom I never heard of and I lived in Dyea for a year after McGreely’s Express went out of business. As Alaska’s population is mostly a floating one, it is not strange that Mr. Zimmer should not now be able to find anyone who had never heard of McGreely’s Express. Because he cannot find anyone who never heard of this Express he has no right to say that it never existed. I have no object in disputing his word, except that I am also a philatelist and only wanted the truth published. There is no use in having these false reports published and not correcting them, so I will give you the true history of McGreely’s Express.”
“I arrived in Dyea, Alaska, in January, 1898, at the time Miss Richards was postmistress. Among the first people whom I became aquatinted with was this man McGreely, who had his office at the Palace Hotel. He used to make daily trips to Skagway carrying letters and packages and attending to any other commissions. At that time there was no regular mail service between Dyea and Skagway; the steamers only stopping at Skagway and leaving the Dyea mail there. Sometimes it would stay there for as long as a week until someone would wake up and bring or send it over to Dyea, and any letters dropped in the Dyea Post Office would lay there until someone felt like sending them to Skagway; so I never mailed my letters at Dyea. I gave them to McGreely to mail in Skagway, for which he charged 25c. He used to carry a great many letters to the Skagway Post Office for the Dyea people.”
“After I saw the way things were running I had all my mail addressed to Skagway and McGreely used to call for it for me. At that time he had no stamps. I asked him about it and he said he never thought of it, but would use them if he had them; so I made an agreement with him that I would furnish him the stamps and in return he to attend my mail without charge. The stamps arrived in Dyea sometime in March, 1898, and were used only until April 1st, when Mr. Chum, United States Post Office Inspector, arrived there and established a daily mail service from Dyea to Skagway and return. Of course this settled McGreely’s Express. There was no further use for it, so McGreely went into some other business and later I met him on the way to Dawson City. If necessary I could furnish a number of names of people who lived in Dyea at that time and who patronized McGreely’s Express.”
“I had 2,000 of these stamps printed. There were about 1,000 used. I have about 500 and McGreely has or did have the other 500.”
“Of the thousand stamps used, it is surprising that none of them fell into the hands of collectors. I would like to hear from any collector who has an original envelope with one of these stamps on. If any of the readers of this paper would like to have one of these stamps, I will be pleased to send it on receipt of self-addresses envelope.”
“Trusting I have not occupied too much of your valuable space and thanking you in advance, I am,”
Very Truly yours,
31 Market Street
This letter has not been republished since its dateline of July 6, 1901 appeared in, “The Weekly Philatelic Era” and all authors on McGreely have missed it because Rickett’s Guide was not published until recently.
In Volume 20, No. 6, September 1984 issue of the Alaskan Philatelist, Richard Helbock published letter #26 of the Klondike letters of Charles W. Watts. Letter #26 is date line May 6, 1898 at Lake Bennett and states in pertinent part:
“Day before yesterday I paid 50 cents for two papers you sent me. One was dated March 4, and the other March 11. I also paid the next day for two weekly OREGONIANs 50 cents – one March 25, the other April 4. I sold them a little later for 50 cents. Carriers deliver papers here the next day after arriving in Skagway at 25 cents each. I get them for 20 cents, so I can just make enough to buy all my own papers – CHRONICLE, OREGONIAN and P.I. of Seattle.”
In the Postal History Society of Canada Journal #85 at page 39-40 the following pertinent information is found:
“John P. Clum, a United States Post Office Inspector, was in Alaska and the Yukon in the spring and summer of 1898 looking into the postal requirements of Alaska. On April 26, he advised Inspector Fletcher that a post office had been opened at Sheep Camp, 12 miles north of Dyea on the Chilkoot Trail, with a tri-weekly mail service from Dyea. Clum suggested that it would be advantageous for the Canadian government to open a post office at Lake Bennett; this office should be supplied with mail at the same frequency as Sheep Camp, rather than monthly. In fact, Fletcher had already recommended the opening of a post office at Bennett. As will be described in a later section, the Canadian Post Office Department contracted for the mail from Skagway to Dawson to be carried twice a month starting June 1898.”
“The post office at Bennett has a short but interesting life. Inspector Fletcher applied for a post office at the head of Lake Bennett, where the trails from Dyea and Skagway converge, on December 28, 1897. On February 1, 1898, he repeated his recommendation to the Post Office Department in Ottawa, asking for an office as soon as possible. The post office, called Lake Bennett, was opened on May 1, 1898, with Frank Turner as postmaster. The following letter written on May 22, 1898 to Inspector Fletcher shows that Turner’s job was not easy.”
“Per instructions I opened the P.O. at this point on 1st May, but for the life of me I am in a quandary why such instructions were issued without ample stamps, no mail carrier, no dates to either dispatch or receive mail & consequently I have been the brunt of abuse & contempt of all the camp of some 10,000 people within a radius of 5 miles. The mail that I began to take 1st inst. Is still here & none has been received & Major Steele of the N.W.M. Police has never made an effort to move it (if he was expected to?). Before these irregularities can be rectified the crowd will all be gone. If these things should continue it would set one crazy. In fact I would resign as I would not be bothered with the abuse one gets.”
“To say the least it was a very unwise move to open a P.O. under such imperfect conditions.”
“All the mail that gets dispatched or recd is handled by private carriers who charge 25 cents per letter & do a thriving business just holding the P.O. Dept. up to well merited contempt. (emphasis added)”
“Please let me hear from you in regard to this matter or I should close the P.O.
Yours, Frank Turner, PM
Out of my own pocket I gave N.W.M. Policemen $2 to take registered mail out once - the only mail dispatched.”
“Within a very short time, the NWMP were carrying the mail, but then Lake Bennett ran out of stamps. On June 7, 1898, the Post Office Inspector’s Office in Victoria wrote to The Secretary, Post Office Department, Ottawa, as follows:”
“The Postmaster at Victoria reports that on the 3rd inst. He received two mails from LAKE BENNETT dated the 25th and 28th ultimo. These mails consisted of seven sacks of letters, 1300 of which were without stamps and 120 with United States stamps attached. Cash was received with the mail amounting to $42.50, which was used to pay the unpaid letters, and the balance as far as possible was used to pre-pay those letters to which U.S. stamps had been attached. The remainder were treated as unpaid letters, some 60 of those being handled at this office and the addresses notified.”
“Under date of the 2nd ultimo the Postmaster at Lake Bennett informs me that Major Steele has undertaken to transport “a reasonable quantity of mail to and from Skagway,” so I presume there sould be no further difficulty at that office.”
“The matter of the increased Credit Supply however appears to be urgent.
for the P.O. Inspector
Notation: Double the credit supply (written on the reverse of the letter)”
“There are several other government reports that mention letters from the Yukon or northern B.C. arriving in Victoria without stamps, but few documented examples have survived. A registered letter mailed at Lake Bennett to Michigan on June 7 without stamps is illustrated in BNA Topics, Vol. 52, pp. 59-60. The new supply of stamps from Victoria for Lake Bennett would not have arrived. The cover has three 3c and two 1c Maple Leaf stamps and signs that another 1c stamp has been cut off. These stamps were precancelled with the Victoria, B.C. roller. One of them was applied over part of the Lake Bennett postmark.”
Letters from Lake Bennett
“Kevin O’Reilly has a letter that was written at Lake Bennett by a stampeder to his wife in California. It was written on May 1, 1898 (the day the post office opened) and postmarked Lake Bennett, May 2. It expresses the difficulties in mail service over the winter of 1897-98:”
“I have not heard a word from you since I left Seattle and it makes me feel awful blue. I have written over a dozen letters since then. Of course I know you have written but I cannot understand why I don’t get your letters. However there will be a government post office at Lake Bennett, about 4 miles from where we are camped after today, and I expect I will get your letters then. The post offices at Skagway and Dyea have been managed disgracefully, but, mew postmasters have been pit in charge of both places and they will probably do better at least for a while. Carriers have been reaping a rich harvest bringing any mail in and taking it out at 25 cents a letter. (emphasis added) Sometimes they would have 2000 letters.”
Two covers are known with the McGreely’s Express stamp used on April 30, 1898. They were most recently auctioned by Robert Kaufman of Wayne Township, NJ on November 22, 1985 and are illustrated herin. The cover addressed to Scott Stamp Company is the listing copy.
The recently uncovered research proves newspapers were carried from Skagway via Dyea up the Chilkoot Trail in the spring of 1898 to Lake Bennett and points along the way including Sheep Camp for 25 cents each. All of this evidence verifies the July 6, 1901 letter of S.C. Marcuse, the originator of the McGreely’s Express stamp.
As to the remaindered 500 McGreely stamps Mr. Marcuse references in his 1901 letter, in 1978 I bought 2 sheets of McGreely from well known revenue dealer Eric Jackson in California. He has a few sheets. He apparently acquired them from someone who had access to the Marcuse estate in San Francisco. The sheets were in 5 x 10 layout of 50 with 2 sides or 14 stamps straight edged and no gum.