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Stampless "Steam Boat" Letter to New York State Comptroller from the Future Bank of America, 1836

The steamboat was the invention of Robert Fulton, an American engineer. In 1807, his steamboat, the North River Steamboat or the Clermont, traveled the Hudson River from New York City to Albany and back - a distance of some 300 miles - in 62 hours, for an average speed of just under 5 miles per hour. His invention revolutionized travel in America, including the transportation of mail (i).


This folded letter (Figure 1) made the very same trip up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany in July 1836. It's a stampless envelope (adhesive postage stamps were not introduced in the US until later in the 1840s), but you can make out in manuscript the 12-1/2 cent rate that it cost to send this letter the 150 miles that it traveled. The American Philatelic Society's website has an interesting short story on the history for such an unusual rate that you can read at this link.


You can also see the red "Steam Boat" postmark on this folded letter. The US Postal Service has an entire section of its website dedicated to postal history and that includes a nice write-up on the role of steamboats. I don't what steamboat this letter traveled on, but it might have been the Rochester, a drawing of which from 1836 is shown in Figure 2.


The recipient of this folder letter was the Honorable Azariah Cutting Flagg (Figure 3), who in 1836 was the New York State Comptroller. Born in Vermont in 1790, Azariah had a varied career. He served as a militia officer during the War of 1812, was a newspaper printer and editor, served in the New York State Assembly, was elected not only Comptroller of the State of New York but Secretary of State, and also worked as a railroad officer and director. Azariah passed away in 1873 in New York City at age 82. He was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.


Merchants Exchange Bank of New York sent this letter to Azariah. I don't have the contents but based on the notation in the upper-right corner of Figure 1, this folded letter contained some sort of report for 1836. The timeline of Merchants Exchange Bank is interesting:


The bank was incorporated by the New York State legislature in 1829 and commenced operations in 1831 (ii).


It converted to a national bank in 1865. Many state banks made this conversion as a result of the passage of the National Currency Act in 1863.


In 1914, due to a change in ownership, the bank was renamed "Atlantic National Bank." It maintained its business banking focus, however (iii).


Then in 1922, Atlantic National Bank was merged into an institution by the name of Bank of America, also headquartered in New York City. Bank of America was founded in 1812 as the successor of the first Bank of the United States (iv).


Bank of America was subsequently sold to Amadeo Peter Giannini in 1928. A.P. Giannini was a giant in the banking industry. He founded the Bank of Italy in San Francisco in 1904, and by 1928, Bank of Italy was the third largest bank in the United States, and A.P. Giannini was its chairman (v).


In 1930, A.P. Giannini renamed "Bank of Italy" the "Bank of America." At the time of his death in 1948, Bank of America was the largest bank in the world (vi).


Bank of America, headquartered now in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the second largest bank in the United States and ranks among the top 10 largest banks in the world.


This item was acquired at Vance Auctions on January 25, 2023, for $C80, or about $59.


Figure 1 - Unfolded letter.

Figure 2 - The Steamboat Rochester, 1836. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Figure 3 - Azariah C. Flagg.


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