Rare pony express envelope that was bound for Vt. gallops toward auction block

Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 4:54 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A rare piece of American history with ties to Vermont will go on the auction block in New York City later this month. It’s a pony express envelope that was bound for a recipient in the Green Mountain State. The pony express mail service used horse-mounted relay riders to deliver things all over the country. It only lasted for about 18 months, so pony express envelopes are already rare, but only one was ever sent to Vermont. Now, collectors will bid on that iconic piece of American history.

“The pony express is one of these great sort of icons, one of these great moments in American history that we all learn about growing up in school. There have been movies made about it, it’s got this great sort of pop cultural place in our collective history,” said Charles Epting, the president of H.R. Harmer.

H.R. Harmer is the auction company handling the sale of this rare piece of America’s past. It’s part of a collection of rare, valuable and historic American mail owned by the late German billionaire Erivan Haub.

“The role that it plays in history classes and cinema and everything, you would think that pony express mail is a dime a dozen. But again, it’s only about 250 envelopes that survive today, just one of which of those 250 is addressed to the state of Vermont,” Epting said.

This pony express envelope is postmarked Oct. 5, 1861, and addressed to John H. Lyon in Colchester, Vermont.

“He was the son of a very prominent farmer in the area,” Epting said.

With the help of the Colchester Historical Society, WCAX News learned that Lyon served in the 13th Vermont Regiment, Company D during the Civil War, incorporated a local butter and cheese factory, and later became postmaster. But none of that explains why someone shelled out $1-- which is roughly $35 nowadays-- to send Lyon this letter.

“You can only imagine that there would have been important news in the letter for somebody to have valued its speed that much,” Epting said.

Pony express mail, in its 18 months of existence, was typically used only by prominent members of society. This letter was sent at the tail end of that era, just weeks before the pony express went dormant. And what’s more, the origin of the letter only adds to the mystery.

“This was sent from Mount Ohpir, California, which is now a ghost town in northern California. It was one of these gold mining boom towns in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” Epting explained.

Epting and his team have yet to find a connection between the California town and Vermont at all, let alone to John H. Lyon, who died in 1918. And as well-preserved as the historic envelope is, we’ll likely never have those answers.

“Ultimately, without the letter inside, we may never know who was sending mail, again, at a great expense,” Epting said.

The starting price on the envelope is $2,500, though it’s expected to go for much more than that. The auction is on June 21.