Dubois Collection offers ‘the history of British North America’

By Jesse Robitaille

The Dubois Collection of British North America pre-stamp covers and postal markings, covering a formative period from 1694-1861, is set to cross the block this March.

It’s billed as “one of the most important assemblages of British North American pre-stamp covers and postal markings,” according to auctioneers with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, which is managing the roughly 300-lot sale on March 24 in New York.

“It has been years since a comparable collection, in terms of quality, rarity and variety, has appeared at auction,” said Siegel director Charles Shreve.

The Allan Steinhart Collection – the “most voluminous,” according to Shreve – was sold in 2005, and the anonymous owner of the Dubois Collection acquired “many of the most important lots in that auction.” Since then, the Dubois collector also made significant additions from other smaller sales in a collection that was more than 40 years in the making.

“He was a consummate philatelist and gentleman,” said Shreve, who added the collection was consigned by the late collector’s trust company, Meritus Trust, after his death last year. “He assembled his many world-class collections with extraordinary knowledge and impeccable taste.”

Collectors familiar with British North America pre-stamp postal history “will likely recognize who assembled this material,” Shreve added, “and will appreciate his collecting accomplishment.”

Referencing historic collections formed by Steinhart, Vincent Graves Greene, J. Grant Glassco, John Robertson and more, Shreve said the Dubois Collection “shines bright, as it was carefully formed by selecting the finest material from each of its predecessor collections as well as acquiring important items privately through the gravitational pull of wealth, determination and numerous relationships with leading dealers and collectors.”

The Detroit straightline postmark features a Feb. 4 datestamp. The letter is dated Jan. 24, 1792, during Britain’s occupation of Fort Detroit, and was carried by express.

ONLY PRIVATELY OWNED DETROIT STRAIGHTLINE

Expected to be the sale’s top-earning lot, a 1792 folded letter features the only known privately-owned example of the Detroit straightline postmark used during the British occupation.

Described by auctioneers as “one of the paramount items of early cross-border mails,” it was written by Charles Le Pallier, a resident of Michilimackinac, and mailed from Saginaw about 300 kilometres to the south. It’s addressed to his brother-in-law James Morrison in Montreal and was mailed via Detroit, 150 kilometres south of Saginaw. With a dateline of Jan. 24, 1792, the letter also features a Feb. 4 Detroit straightline datestamp and was carried by express, according to auctioneers.

“While part of the United States, Michigan did not become a territory until 1805. After the Revolutionary War, Detroit was maintained by the British as part of Canada. It was not until the Jay Treaty – signed on Nov. 19, 1794, and ratified on Feb. 26, 1796 – that Detroit, along with other territory, was ceded to the United States, and the official border between the U.S. and Canada was established.”

Formerly part of the Steinhart Collection, the 228-year-old letter has a pre-sale estimate of $15,000-$20,000 as Lot 2070.

‘THE HISTORY OF NORTH AMERICA’

The Dubois Collection is more than just a collection of British North America covers, according to its auctioneers. “It is the history of British North America. The covers essentially form a historical textbook of the French and British periods from the 1690s through 1860s, reflecting the events and circumstances that shaped the country we now know as Canada.” The collection details how mail routes were influenced by the discovery and settlement of new lands, colonial and international trade, border disputes plus land and naval warfare. It offers “the intellectually minded postal history collector the opportunity to hold, handle and potentially own a tangible piece of history,” said Charles Shreve, director of Robert A. Siegel International. All items are related to British North America, but the collection will also interest U.S. postal historians, military specialists and collectors of ship and maritime letters as well as Hudson Bay Company and fur-trade mail, Shreve said.

ONLY RECORDED MANUSCRIPT POSTMARK

The only known small Red River manuscript postmark is expected to bring $10,000-$15,000 as Lot 2300 of the upcoming Dubois sale.

Another rarity in British North America postal history, the only recorded example of the small Red River manuscript postmark will cross the block as Lot 2300.

“This is not only the unique small manuscript postmark, but it is also one of only two examples addressed outside of Toronto,” said Shreve.

The blue folded letter, datelined “Red River Settlement April 9th, 1858,” features the “Red River 13 May 1858” manuscript postmark in a circle. It’s addressed to “Patrick’s Channel County of Victoria Island of Cape Briton” in Nova Scotia. It also features a “Paid 10 Cents” manuscript; a “Pembina May 15/50” manuscript postmark; a light strike of a red “U. States” curved handstamp; and transit backstamps from Saint John, N.B., and Pictou, N.S.

“It is the only recorded postmark used in Red River from the period after Postmaster Ross’s death in May 1856 to the start of Canadian postal service at Red River in 1870,” said Shreve, who added the letter contains “interesting contents.”

“Since the arrival of the soldiers here the price of produce is increasing … if you are accustom to reading the newspapers I suppose you have seen the desperate betwixt the Hudson Bay Company and Canada government the expectation of the Red River people is that this place will be united to Canada soon and monopoly of the Hudson Bay Company will soon be finished.”

About a decade later, in 1869, the Hudson Bay Company – under pressure from the British Empire – sold to the young Dominion of Canada an area known as Rupert’s Land, which comprises a quarter of the continent and served as the company’s exclusive commercial domain since 1670.

Also formerly from the Steinhart Collection, the 162-year-old letter is expected to bring $10,000-$15,000.

The finest known Prince Edward Island ‘SHIP LETTER’ cover – one of only three known to exist – has a pre-sale estimate of $5,000-$7,500 as Lot 2281.

FINEST P.E.I. SHIP LETTER MARKING

Lot 2281 offers “the finest and latest of three recorded ‘Prince Edward Island/SHIP LETTER’ covers,” according to auctioneers.

Mailed from London, England, to Miramichi, N.B., the folded letter is datelined Aug. 28, 1843, and was carried privately with a “per Constance” directive at the top and “p Brig Constance to PE Island” on the bottom flap. It also features what auctioneers describe as an “exceptional strike” of the “Prince Edward Island/SHIP LETTER” two-line handstamp, a “Prince Edward Island OC 17 1843” circular datestamp and a red Chatham Oct. 24 transit backstamp.

Illustrated in James Lehr’s 1987 book, The Postage Stamps and Cancellations of Prince Edward Island, 1814-1873, and formerly part of the Glassco and Steinhart collections, this lot carries a pre-sale estimate of $5,000-$7,500.

A 1776 folded letter offering a British captain’s eyewitness account of the Battle of Trois-Rivieres is expected to bring $5,000-$7,500 as Lot 2010.

EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT AT TROIS-RIVIERES

A British captain’s eyewitness account of the Battle of Trois-Rivieres during the American Revolutionary War is also among the sale’s highlights.

Offered as Lot 2010, the 1776 folded letter was mailed from Montreal by Captain John Wight of the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment of Foot to Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s datelined “Montreal 20th June 1776” and was sent to his brother Andrew Wight “to be left at Forrests Coffee House” in Edinburgh. It also features a rare and early use of the “Quebec” double-circle postmark with a separate “22/IY” Bishop mark and a “5/SE” London transit Bishop mark.

“On the 8th of June the Rebels came to attack us at a small town called the Three Rivers, a very small part of the Army had only got landed some Companys of Grenadiers & Light Infantry with a few others of different Corps,” reads Captain Wight’s letter.

“On the first Alarm we was under arms in a twinkling, marched out of town & mett them in the skirts of a wood where during the course of the action a great many was killed. … In short we have now drove them totally out of Canada. I was witness two days ago to St. Johns, as well as all the other forts in this country being in flames which was performed by the Rebels before they evacuated them. I am obliged to write this in a hurry on the top of a casket in the midst of noise and confusion.”

Wight also states he wrote another letter from his journey to Canada but misplaced it in his baggage; however, this letter was later found (and is offered in the March sale as part of Lot 2011).

Lot 2010 has a pre-sale estimate of $5,000-$7,500.

A 1750 folded letter – the earliest known privately held cover from Halifax – has a pre-sale estimate of $4,000-$5,000 as Lot 2206.

EARLIEST COVER FROM HALIFAX

Rounding out the highlights is the earliest recorded cover from Halifax in private hands.

Offered as Lot 2206, the 1750 folded letter was mailed from Halifax by William Vernon to his merchant brother Samuel in Newport, R.I., via Boston. It’s datelined “Halifax 25th Aug. 1750” and was carried privately to Boston, where it was received and forwarded.

“Nova Scotia covers dated in the mid-18th century are extremely rare outside archival holdings,” said Shreve, who added Halifax was established only one year earlier.

“This led to the colonial capital’s relocation from Annapolis Royal to Halifax.”

Formerly part of the Robertson Collection, this lot is expected to bring $4,000-$5,000.

LOT VIEWING & MORE DETAILS

Earlier in the month, from March 6-8, all lots will be available for viewing at Siegel’s booth at the Garfield-Perry March Party Stamp Show in Strongsville, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Pre-sale viewing will also be offered on March 23 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. as well as by appointment; call 212-753-6421 for more information.

The live auction will be held on March 24 at 6 West 48th St., just off Fifth Avenue, in New York City.

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