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A Prize Agent, A Naturalist, and A Navy Captain: A Penny Black Story from 1840

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

This folded letter from 1840 Great Britain that I acquired in early 2022 for $250.00 was so interesting that I wrote a full-length that was published in the 3rd Quarter 2023 edition of Kelleher's Stamp Collector's Quarterly. You can read that article here.

Here's an overview:

The item is a folder letter from 1840 Great Britain stamped with a Penny Black (Scott Great Britain #1), the first-ever adhesive postage stamp. It was sent from Swansea on August 4, 1840, and arrived in London on August 6, 1840.

The recipient was John Hinxman (1784-1847), a Prize or Navy Agent (an attorney who acted as a financial agent for naval officers, especially in the distribution of prize money), entrepreneur and art collector/patron.

I tracked down a direct descendant of John Hinxman: Richard Hinxman of Wiltshire, England, who has been doing extensive research on the Hinxman family since 1970. He was thrilled to hear from me, and we set to work on the contents of the letter.

The sender was Lewis Weston Dillwyn (1778-1855) of Swansea, a British porcelain manufacturer, naturalist, and Whig member of Parliament. Lewis Weston Dillwyn’s father was born in Philadelphia and was a leading member of the Quaker abolitionist movement. He moved to Britain in 1777 at the worst period of the Revolutionary War in Philadelphia. Lewis Weston Dillwyn owned Sketty Hall in Swansea, which stands to this day and is used to host social and business functions.

The letter concerned the passing of “our late Friend” but no name was provided. Could Richard Hinxman and I figure out who that person was? Well, we found Lewis Weston Dillwyn’s journals and determined “our late Friend” was Captain Frederick Hickey (1775-1840). Hickey commanded several ships during his Royal Navy career, including during the War of 1812 when he captured several valuable American ships and commanded the HMS Lawrence on Lake Ontario during the war’s final year. While returning from Canada after the war, he was apprehended in America to stand trial for causing damage to an American schooner in 1810 with his ship the HMS Atalante. The saga of the wreck of Atalante in 1813 is a whole other story described in the full-length article.

The letter also mentions two other individuals - Frederick William Charles Hickey, the son of Captain Hickey who also was in the Royal Navy and died in Jamaica in 1843, and Thomas Eden, one of the executors of Captain Hickey’s estate.

I hope you enjoy the full-length article. It was fun researching and writing it. My sincere thanks to Richard Hinxman for all his help and input.

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Unfolded letter

Figure 3 - Text of letter

Download PDF • 1.75MB


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