March 15 (1849) to Indiana - manuscript town, date and  40, representing the unpaid transcontinental 40 cent single rate.  Letter datelined “St. Frisco, California, December 11, 1848.”  Postmarked for the expected departure of Peruvian bark Callao, (actually departed  March 19).

Only known privately held example of the first eastbound US contract mail from SF via Panama.






May 1 (1849) to Massachusetts - manuscript town, date and  40, representing the unpaid transcontinental 40 cent single rate.  Carried by the PMSS California on May 1 which  arrived in SF February 28 and most of her crew deserted to the gold fields!  It took two months to find a new crew and make necessary ship repairs before she was ready to go into service on the Panama contract route, this sailing was her maiden voyage out of SF.


The earliest contract mail out of the SFPO was postmarked on March 15, 1849 (the anticipated sailing date).  It was supposed to leave on the Pacific Mail Streamship (PMSS) California (which arrived on February 28), however nearly all her crew deserted to the gold fields upon her arrival in San Francisco and given the ship was badly in need of repairs from the long journey, it sat idle in the bay for weeks (the PMSS Oregon and PMSS Panama had yet to arrive).  Ironically, the very first contract mail out of San Francisco actually left on the Peruvian bark Callao on March 19, 1849 and not on a PMSC steamer at all (this was actually a contracted sailing by William VanVorhees the special mail agent who arrived on the California, just not contracted with the PMSC).  A very rare surviving example (the only privately held example known, a second item was recently found in the Oregon Historical Society) from this first sailing is shown above and is also SF MS1 below (reference a Western Cover Society article in the April 1986 Western Express Volume XXXVI, No.2 (page 17) for additional information on this cover).


The San Francisco manuscript 1849 cover dates are March 15, April 9 (the first PMSC contract mail, carried by the Oregon which actually left April 12), April 17 (incoming from Hawaii), May 1 and June 20.  The marking is known in black and red/magenta (June 20 only) ink, with covers including an associated manuscript rate (40 cents for the transcontinental rate, with one example showing 42 cents including ship fee incoming from Hawaii).  Only a small quantity of manuscript covers have been discovered to date, they are all shown in the census table below, they are scarce.  This is somewhat surprising given the three month period of use and what must have been a large backlog of mail at the time.


The last use of the manuscript postmark was June 20, see last entry in the table below for an example.  An interesting note on these covers, each was obviously delivered to the SFPO before the postmark date of June 20, as this is when the straightline cancelling device began being used.  This is proof of the postmaster pre-marking the intended sailing date and not the date of receipt at the PO.



Census of San Francisco Manuscript Covers (1849)
Ref # Rate Date Destination Image
SF MS1  40 March 15  Indiana
SF MS2 (Oregon Historical Society)40March 15OhioMarch 15, 1849 to OH
SF MS3 40 April 9  Connectict
SF MS4  40 April 9  Connectict
SF MS5  40 April 9  Massachusetts
SF MS6  40 April 9  New York
SF MS740April 9MassachusettsApril 9, 1849 to Mass
SF MS8 42 April 17  Massachusetts
SF MS9  40 May 1  Massachusetts
SF MS10  40 June 20  Vermont
SF MS11  40 June 20  New York
SF MS12 40 June 20  New York