This article was originally published in the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society publication,
The Chronicle, No. 218, Vol. 60, No. 2 (May 2008), pages 117-128.
Stamp Shortages In The Cariboo Gold Country:
Mail From Williams Creek Via San Francisco, 1864-1868
Williams Creek, British Columbia
The Cariboo gold mining region lies 200 miles northeast of New Westminster, the former capital of British Columbia (BC) and today a suburb of Vancouver. The region itself stretches another 350 miles in a northeasterly direction from Lillooet to Williams Creek (near what is now Barkerville). This remote region of BC was opened by gold miners in 1859. By 1862, major gold strikes had been made along Williams Creek in the northern-most part of the Cariboo region.
Because of limited access to the region, however, the Williams Creek post office was not established until June 1864. It received a supply of British Columbia and Vancouver Island (BC&VI) 1860 dull rose 2½d stamps (Scott 2), a straight-line “PAID” marking, and a numeral “10” canceling device. Since there were no datestamps with the name of the post office prepared, mail can only be identified by the numeral “10” cancels, or from known correspondences. The Williams Creek “PAID” marking is distinctive, but very hard to distinguish from those distributed to other BC post offices.
By mid-1864, gold yields began to decline in the Cariboo, and by June 1865 the Cariboo gold rush was effectively over. A census of surviving covers from Williams Creek to foreign destinations via San Francisco did not uncover any examples after March 1868.
Summarized as Table 2 near the conclusion of this article, this census of 39 covers from the 1864-1868 period is a comprehensive listing drawn from literature, auction lot descriptions and examination of collections. The census includes letters handled by the BC post office, but not those carried by private express companies. While the census is large enough to draw definitive conclusions, it does underscore the rarity of surviving covers. The combination of the important 1928 reference book by Alfred Deaville(1) and this census allows the postal historian to reconstruct how the Williams Creek post office handled mails to foreign destinations during this period.
A postal patron would pay for BC domestic postage and US postage in cash at the Williams Creek post office. The US postage was necessary because virtually all mail from BC to foreign destinations during this period passed through San Francisco and the US postal system. No other routes across the North American continent were available at this time.
The Williams Creek post office would mark the letters with its straight-line “PAID” marking, and then add the BC domestic postage to the letter in stamps, except when postage stamp supplies were depleted. Williams Creek typically marked the amount of US postage paid in red manuscript on the front of the envelope. It would then bag the letters in a prepaid mail sack, probably with a way bill indicating the amount of US postage paid, and forward the bag to New Westminster. After a 12-15 day trip, the bag would be opened at New Westminster, which would apply the necessary US postage in US postage stamps. The mail would then be re-bagged and consigned via Victoria, Vancouver Island (VI) to the care of the British consul at San Francisco. The consul then placed the letters in the US postal system for onward delivery.
|Early June 1864||Red manuscript “Paid”|
|Mid-June 1864||Pair of BC&VI 2½d stamps|
|July 1864 to March 1865||Strip of 3 BC&VI 2½d stamps|
|April 1865||Numeral “10” cancel as a provisional frank|
|July 1865 to October 1865||Strip of 3 BC&VI 2½d stamps|
|October 1865 to Sept. 1866||Strip of 3 BC 3d stamps (1st printing)|
|October 1866 to March 1867||Strip of 3 BC&VI 2½d stamps (1st re-issue)|
|April 1867||Straight-line “PAID” as a provisional frank|
|May 1867 to February 1868||VI 5¢ stamp and pair of VI 10¢ stamps, or|
|May 1867 to August 1867||Strip of 4 BC&VI 2½d stamps (2nd re-issue), or|
|August 1867 to March 1868||Strip of 4 BC 3d stamps (2nd printing), or|
|March 1868||VI 5¢ stamp and strip of 3 VI 10¢ stamps|
Table 1. Williams Creek, 1864-1868: Timeline and franking types.
As explained more fully below, Williams Creek’s 1864-68 postal history shows a complicated sequence of franking types created by changing rates and periodic stamp shortages. Table 1 summarizes the various franking periods.
1864 BC Postal Ordinance
The May 2, 1864 BC postal ordinance set the domestic rate on mail between the Cariboo region and New Westminster at 6d per half-ounce, effective June 20.(2) An additional 3d per half-ounce (for a total of 9d) was charged on mail leaving New Westminster for foreign destinations. To fulfill the new rates, the BC&VI 2½d stamps were sold provisionally for 3d each in BC, starting in June 1864.(3) BC converted to decimal currency on January 1, 1866, at which time the 9d Cariboo foreign mail rate became 18¾¢ per half-ounce, and the BC&VI 2½d stamps were sold provisionally for 6¼¢ each.(4)
The First Mails from Williams Creek
Just as the Williams Creek post office opened, it received word of the May 2, 1864 BC Postal Ordinance. The first mails from Williams Creek were processed in early June 1864, evidently before any postal materials and devices had been received. Figure 1 illustrates an example from this period.
The cover in Figure 1 was marked “Williams Creek Office” and “Paid” (covered by the 3¢ stamp) in red manuscript. Only two letters with these markings are known. Since there were no BC postage stamps available at that time, the amount of BC domestic postage paid is not shown on the envelope. Three cents in cash was also paid at Williams Creek for the US domestic postage, so a red manuscript “3c” was marked on the letter. In late June, the letter passed through New Westminster, where a US 1861 3¢ rose stamp (Scott 65) was added. It arrived in San Francisco on July 12, 1864.
The cover census indicates that Williams Creek received its postal supplies about a week later. Figure 2 shows an example of the earliest mail with the new postal markings and stamps. The census lists three letters from this mail, which carried the earliest known mixed frankings from Williams Creek.
The Figure 2 cover is from the Simmons correspondence to Aylmer, Canada West (Ontario), the largest group of surviving letters from Williams Creek. The cover was franked by a pair of BC&VI 2½d stamps, which were canceled with the Williams Creek numeral “10” cancel. Evidently, Williams Creek misinterpreted the 1864 ordinance: It added only 6d postage to New Westminster. Fifteen cents in cash was also paid at Williams Creek for the US transcontinental postage to Canada, so a red manuscript “15c” and black straightline “PAID” were marked on the letter. The cover arrived at New Westminster in early July, where a US 1861 10¢ green stamp (Scott 68) was added.
The US rate to Canada had been reduced from 15¢ to 10¢ in July, but Williams Creek had not received notice of the new rate when this letter was posted. Aware of the change, New Westminster added only the necessary amount of US postage. Ironically, the 5¢ excess US postage paid at Williams Creek was almost equal to the deficient BC domestic postage (3d or 6¢). Perhaps that is why New Westminster sent the mail onward with no additional assessment. The letter passed through San Francisco on July 19, 1864, and was forwarded overland via Chicago to Aylmer.
Starting in July 1864, the census shows that foreign letters from Williams Creek were properly franked with 9d domestic postage plus the appropriate US postage. Figure 3 shows an example sent from Williams Creek to San Francisco in late July 1864.
The cover in Figure 3 was franked by a vertical strip of three BC&VI 2½d stamps, which were canceled with the numeral “10” cancels. Three cents in cash was also paid at Williams Creek for the US domestic postage, so a red manuscript “3c” and black straightline “PAID” were marked on the letter. On August 13, the letter arrived at New Westminster, where a US 1861 3¢ stamp was added. The cover then arrived in San Francisco on August 23, 1864, where it was rated for an additional 7¢ in postage due. In August, the San Francisco post office decided to apply the July 1, 1864 10¢ non-contract steamship rate to mail from BC&VI, and added the “FOREIGN” handstamp to indicate the reason for the additional postage due.(5)
Williams Creek, like the rest of BC, periodically ran short of BC&VI postage stamps. In April 1865, during such a shortage, Williams Creek used the numeral “10” cancel as a provisional frank, as shown in Figure 4. This cover comes from the other major surviving Williams Creek correspondence, the Murphy correspondence to Stamford, Canada West.
Posted in April 1865, this letter was paid 9d at Williams Creek, which used its numeral “10” frank to indicate that the BC domestic postage had been paid. Five pence (equivalent to 10¢) US postage was also prepaid, as indicated by the red manuscript “5d”. On April 29, the letter arrived in New Westminster, where the US 1861 10¢ stamp was added. The cover then traveled to San Francisco, where it was postmarked May 9, and finally arrived in Stamford, Canada West, on June 2, 1865.
By July 1865, Williams Creek had received a new supply of BC&VI 2½d stamps from New Westminster. Figure 5 illustrates this use. This cover was franked by a strip of three BC&VI 2½d stamps, which were being provisionally sold for 3d each, and which were canceled by numeral “10” cancels. One shilling (equivalent to 24¢) in cash was also paid for the US postage from San Francisco to England, so Williams Creek marked the letter with the red manuscript “1/-” at upper left. At Williams Creek, the cover was also marked “PAID.” A US 1861 24¢ red lilac stamp (Scott 70) was added in New Westminster, and the letter was forwarded to San Francisco, where it was postmarked July 31, 1865. It then traveled overland to New York, where it caught the Cunard steamer Persia departing on September 6. The letter finally arrived in Liverpool September 16.
To alleviate the stamp shortage, BC ordered 111,360 newly-designed 3d blue stamps (Scott 7), which arrived in New Westminster on September 27, 1865.(6) Accordingly, the BC&VI 2½d stamps were withdrawn from circulation on November 1, 1865.(7) The census indicates that the new BC 3d stamps were first used at Williams Creek in October 1865, and that use of the BC&VI 2½d stamps was discontinued as of that date. Figure 6 shows a September 1866 example of the new 3d stamps used on a letter to Canada West.
The letter in Figure 6 was franked by a strip of three BC 1865 3d stamps, which were being provisionally sold for 6¼¢ each. Ten cents in cash was also paid at Williams Creek for the US postage to Canada, per the “PAID” marking. Williams Creek canceled the stamps with the numeral “10” cancel, but did not add its customary manuscript “10” marking indicating the amount of US postage paid. Nonetheless, a US 1861 10¢ stamp was added when the letter arrived at New Westminster on September 14, most likely because the prepaid US postage was recorded on the way bill. The letter was postmarked at San Francisco on September 19.
The first printing of BC 1865 3d stamps began to run out in September, 1866.(8) The census indicates that Figure 6 represents the last use of BC 3d stamps in Williams Creek until after the second printing was issued in New Westminster on July 19, 1867.(9)
To deal with this shortage, the BC&VI 1860 2½d stamps were re-issued in BC, and a supply was apparently sent to Williams Creek. Figure 7 shows the only known example of this second issuance of BC&VI stamps, which lasted for only six or seven months.
The sender paid 28¾¢ in cash (18¾¢ BC postage plus 10¢ United States postage) at the Williams Creek post office, which added the strip of three BC&VI 2½d stamps (then being sold provisionally for 6¼¢ each), and canceled the stamps with its numeral “10”. It also marked the letter “PAID”, and added a manuscript “10”at top center, indicating that 10 cents US postage had been paid for the trip from San Francisco to Canada West. On February 25, 1867, the cover passed through New Westminster, which added the US 1861 10¢ stamp, and sent it on to San Francisco, where the 10¢ stamp was cancelled and the cover was postmarked on March 4. Thence overland via Chicago to Aylmer, arriving April 5.
On April 2, 1867, the United Postal Ordinance came into effect in the united colonies of BC and VI, establishing a 25¢ per ½ ounce rate for foreign mail from Williams Creek.(10) At the start of this period, it appears that Williams Creek was did not know how to reflect the new BC postal rates on its mail. Accordingly, as shown in Figure 8, the straight-line “PAID” marking was used as a provisional frank for the month of April 1867.
The letter in Figure 8 is from a known Williams Creek correspondence, and the “PAID” marking corresponds to late examples from Williams Creek. The sender paid 25¢ BC postage plus 15¢ US postage (the transcontinental rate to Prince Edward Island) in cash. It passed through New Westminster on April 27, where the US 3¢ and 10¢ 1861 and the US 1863 2¢ Black Jack (Scott 73) stamps were added. The cover transited San Francisco May 4 and arrived in Charlottetown on June 5.
On April 8, 1867, Vancouver Island (VI) transferred its remaining stocks of 74,000 VI 1865 5¢ rose stamps (Scott 5) and 110,000 VI 1865 10¢ blue stamps (6) to New Westminster.(11) The census shows that the VI stamps came into use at Williams Creek in May 1867. Figure 9 illustrates an example of VI 1865 stamps used on a June 1867 letter from the Simmons correspondence to Aylmer.
The cover in Figure 9 was franked by a VI 1865 5¢ stamp and a pair of VI 1865 10¢ stamps to make up the 25¢ rate from the Cariboo. Ten cents in cash was also paid at Williams Creek for the US postage to Canada. Williams Creek cancelled the VI stamps with its distinctive numeral “10” cancel, but by now had discontinued the practice of adding a manuscript notation indicating the prepaid US postage. The letter arrived at New Westminster on July 10, where a US 10¢ 1861 stamp was added, and was then forwarded to San Francisco, where it was postmarked July 19. It arrived in Aylmer August 14.
The BC&VI 2½d stamps were also re-issued on April 11, 1867 to pay the new 25¢ rate in strips of four (four times 6¼¢). These workhorse stamps were finally withdrawn from circulation for the last time on July 16, 1867.(12) Figure 10 illustrates the only known example of this second re-issuance from Williams Creek. The letter in Figure 10 was franked by a strip of four BC&VI 2½d stamps, which were being provisionally sold for 6¼¢ each, and were cancelled by the numeral “10” cancel. The July 16 withdrawal notice for these stamps had not yet reached Williams Creek, so they were still valid for postage. Ten cents in cash was also paid at Williams Creek for the US postage to Canada. A US 1861 10¢ stamp was added when the letter arrived at New Westminster on August 17. The letter passed through San Francisco on August 26, and was forwarded overland to Lisbon Falls, Maine.
|ORIGIN DATE||FRANK/FRANKING||U.S. FRANKING||S. F. PMK||DESTINATION||REFERENCE|
|Jun-64||red ms “Paid”||1861 5c, 10c||JUN 30||Stamford, CW||ex-Haas|
|Jun-64||red ms “Paid”||1861 3c||JUL 12||San Francisco||Figure 1|
|Jun-64||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI pair, PAID||1861 10c||JUL 19||Aylmer, CW||Figure 2|
|Jun-64||PAID (stamps missing?)||1861 10c||JUL 19||Stamford, CW||RAS 12/95 #1756|
|Jun-64||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI x 2, PAID||1861 10c||JUL 19||?||Fox 2/53 #20|
|Aug-64||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3, PAID||1861 3c||AUG 23||San Francisco||Figure 3|
|Aug-64||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3, PAID||10c missing||SEP 3||Aylmer, CW||RL 2/63 #44|
|Aug-64||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3, PAID||10c missing||SEP 3||Stamford, CW||Gold Fever, pg 117|
|Dec-64||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||none||Alymer, CW||Private collection|
|Mar-65||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||APR 3||Ellesmere, CW||HRH 5/04 #183|
|Apr-65||numeral 10, PAID||1861 24c||MAY 9||Liverpool, GB||Wellburn #1063|
|Apr-65||numeral 10, PAID||1861 10c||MAY 9||Stamford, CW||Figure 4|
|Jul-65||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3, PAID||1861 24c||JUL 31||Liverpool, GB||Figure 5|
|Aug-65||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||AUG 23||Stamford, CW||Bennett 4/04 #278|
|Aug-65||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||AUG 29||New York, NY||HRH 5/04 #186|
|Oct-65||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3||24c missing||NOV 1||London, GB||Firby 10/03 #680|
|Oct-65||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||1861 24c||NOV ?||London, GB||Knapp 5/41 #1844|
|Dec-65||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||JAN 1||Aylmer, CW||HRH SF 6/80 #2160|
|Dec-65||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||JAN 19||San Francisco||Rumsey 12/02 #1308|
|Dec-65||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||’61 2c, 3c, 10c||JAN 24||Pictou, NS||Wellburn #1246|
|8-Jan-66||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||FEB 17||Aylmer, CW||HRH 5/04 #213|
|May-66||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||10c missing||MAY 21||Aylmer, CW||HRH 5/04 #207|
|May-66||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||21 MAY||Toronto, CW||Private collection|
|13-Jun-66||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||18’61 12c pair||JUL 2||Liverpool, GB||Private collection|
|12-Aug-66||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||SEP 1||Aylmer, CW||HRH 5/04 #214|
|Sep-66||’65 BC 3d strip of 3||1861 10c||SEP 19||Aylmer, CW||RAS 5/02 #2110|
|Sep-66||’65 BC 3d strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||SEP 19||Maple, CW||Figure 6|
|Feb-67||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 3, PAID||1861 10c||MAR 4||Aylmer, CW||Figure 7|
|Apr-67||PAID||’61 2c, 3c, 10c||MAY 4||Char’twn, PEI||Figure 8|
|May-67||’65 5c VI, 10c VI pair||1861 10c||JUN 13||Campo Seco, CA||Shreve 6/97 #608|
|6-Jun-67||’65 5c VI, 10c VI pair||1861 10c||JUL 1||Aylmer, CW||Wellburn #1200|
|Jul-67||’65 5c VI, 10c VI pair||1861 10c||JUL 19||Aylmer, CW||Figure 9|
|Aug-67||’65 5c VI, 10c VI pair||24c missing||AUG 26||Dingwall, Sctlnd||HRH 4/62 #39|
|Aug-67||’60 2 1/2d BC&VI strip of 4||1861 10c||AUG 26||Lisbon Falls, ME||Figure 10|
|Aug-67||’65 5c VI, 10c VI pair||1861 5c, 10c||SEP 1||Eversley, CW||HRH 5/04 #203|
|Sep-67||’65 5c VI, 10c VI pair||1861 5c, 10c||SEP 30||Chartwn, PEI||Sotheby 10/79 #175|
|Feb-68||’65 BC 3d strip of 4||(closed mail)||none||Wimbledon, GB||Figure 11|
|Mar-68||’65 5c VI, 10c VI strip of 3||1861 10c||MAR 30||Campo Seco, CA||Figure 12|
|Mar-68||’65 5c VI, 10c VI strip of 3||10c missing||MAR 30||Lisbon Falls, ME||Firby 1/00 #210|
Table 2. Census of covers from Williams Creek, BC, via San Francisco, 1864-1868
The second printing of BC 3d stamps was issued in New Westminster on July 19, 1867, and reached Williams Creek in August. Just over a million of these deep blue stamps were printed, although only 210,000 were actually issued.(13)
The January 1, 1868 United States-Great Britain postal treaty included a closed-mail, fully-paid rate of 25¢ per half-ounce from BC to Great Britain. This rate was implemented in New Westminster on January 17, 1868,(14) but not until February in Williams Creek. Figure 11 shows a February 1868 example of the closed mail rate paid by a strip of four of the second printing of BC 3d stamps, sold provisionally at 6¼¢ each and canceled by the numeral “10” of Williams Creek. No US postage or postal markings appear on the cover, since this was a fully-paid rate, and mail was carried in closed sacks through the US. After transiting New Westminster, the letter arrived in London on April 13.
BC interpreted the January 1868 treaty as allowing the full prepayment of postage on letters to the US and British North America. This misconception was corrected by a US notice to New Westminster on February 21, 1868,(15) but that correction did not reach Williams Creek until March 1868. Figure 12 shows an example of attempted full prepayment from Williams Creek in March 1868. This cover was franked by a VI 1865 5¢ stamp and three VI 1865 10¢ stamps in an effort to make up the 25¢ rate from the Cariboo to New Westminster plus 10¢ for the US postage to California. Williams Creek cancelled the VI stamps with its numeral “10”, and sent the letter on to New Westminster, where a US 1861 10¢ stamp was added in accordance with the corrected instructions from the US. It was then forwarded to San Francisco on March 30, and arrived the next day in Campo Seco, California. Per the census, this is the latest use from Williams Creek to a foreign destination via San Francisco.
Postal history is the study of postal rates, routes, frankings and markings from a particular historical period. The best postal history sources are official postal regulations and documentation, such as instructions to postmasters or post office communications. However, the official record is often incomplete, so a census of covers relevant to the period can fill in the gaps by showing patterns of postal usage. As shown in this article, the postal history of Williams Creek, BC can be reconstructed using a combination of official records and a comprehensive census of surviving covers.
Dale Forster and Richard Frajola were very helpful in their critical editorial review of this article. Thanks are also due to “Fraser Thompson” and Michael Perlman for illustrations from their fine collections.
- Alfred Stanley Deaville, The Colonial Postal Systems and Postage Stamps of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1849-1871, Quarterman Publications reprint of Charles F. Banfield: Victoria, B.C. (1928).
- Steven C. Walske, “Postal Rates on Mail from British Columbia and Vancouver Island via San Francisco, 1858-70,” Chronicle 212 (November 2006), pg. 291.
- Deaville, pg. 115.
- The conversion rate was set at 25¢ per shilling.
- For more information, see Dale Forster and Fred Gregory, “The San Francisco FOREIGN Handstamp of 1864,” The Collectors Club Philatelist, Volume 85, Number 3 (May-June 2006), pp. 141-154.
- Deaville, pg. 127.
- Robson Lowe, Encyclopedia of British Empire Stamps, Volume V, North America, London, England (1973), pg. 577.
- Deaville, pg. 128.
- Lowe, pg. 579.
- Walske, pg. 291.
- Deaville, pg. 129.
- Deaville, pg. 129.
- Lowe, pg. 579.
- Deaville, pg. 130.
- Deaville, pg. 130.