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The Inventor of the Clay Pigeon, 1887

I acquired this cover (Figure 3) at an auction because of the advertisement. It's a very bold one, depicting an allegoric figure promoting the Aurora Fire Insurance Company of Cincinnati.


The cover as pictured in the auction catalog (Figure 1) didn't show any damage, but when I got it, I discovered the right-hand side of the cover and the stamp had been cut off. On the auction site, it looked like a full cover with an intact stamp. In reality, some previous owner taped another copy of US Scott #210 - a very common 2-cent stamp issued between 1883 and 1887 - on this cover (Figure 2)! They even included a portion of another Aurora Fire Insurance Company cover to complete the illusion! Caveat emptor, indeed.


Aurora Fire Insurance Company, located at 6 W. 4th Street in Cincinnati, was incorporated in 1871, according to the Kings' Pocket-Book of Cincinnati published in 1879. It had about 100 agencies in six states. It advertised frequently in papers such as The Cincinnati Post. One such ad in 1890 stated "German Policies Issued" and boasted that it had paid $700,000 in claims since its inception. Cincinnati had a large German population, so it must have been advantageous to market to that community.


Aurora Fire Insurance ran into hard times in the early 1890s, perhaps because of the general state of the economy. A severe depression hit in 1893, but the economy, especially the real estate sector, was already experiencing softness in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The exact cause of Aurora's demise is unclear, but it happened in late 1891 or sometime in 1892. The Cincinnati Post of December 14, 1891, reported on another insurance company dissolution, and added, "It is now in order to state that a dicker is being made to close out another company, the Aurora Fire Insurance Company, of No. 6 West Fourth Street, whose accounts, if a satisfactory arrangement can be had, will be transferred in due course to one of three foreign companies." That story concluded, "When they get a good ready [sic; perhaps "good offer ready"?] and the bargain is about completed The Post will notify its patrons." Unfortunately, I can't find another mention of the Aurora Fire Insurance Company in The Cincinnati Post or any other Ohio newspaper, but the company does not appear in the Cincinnati city directory after 1892.


The letter writer on February 11, 1887, was Frank Breiling, secretary of Aurora Fire Insurance Company. Born in 1851, he passed away at age 44 in 1895. According to the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette of July 28, 1895, he committed suicide. The Cincinnati Enquirer of July 27, 1895, said the method was a fatal dose of morphine. The Gazette said he "was well known about town. He was for many years the Secretary of the now defunct Aurora Fire Insurance Company. He was then for a number of years identified with the business interests of the local Aetna agency, after which he found employment with the Provident Life and Trust Company...where he was employed when he died." Could he have been a victim of the 1893 financial panic and depression?


The recipient, William Kuehn, lived at the "Cor. Wheeler & Warner St." in Cincinnati per the envelope. The 1880 city directory shows a "Wm. Kuehn" living at the corner of Wheeler & Warner. In the 1900 census, there was a William Kuehn living on Wheeler Street who was born Germany in 1860 and arrived in the US in 1870. His occupation is listed as "Artist." He is listed as such in the 1912 Cincinnati city directory, but I can't find any trace of him after that.


Mr. Breiling wrote to Mr. Kuehn asking if the latter had any information on the "Ligowsky Clay Pigeon Co." (Figure 4) I don't know for what purpose - insurance? investment? - but Mr. Breiling commits to keeping any information provided confidential.


The Ligowsky Clay Pigeon Company may be the most interesting thing about this letter. George Ligowsky is famous in the hobby of trapshooting. He invented the clay target in 1880 and is an inductee in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame. You can read all about him at this write-up.


Born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1857 (per his US passport application), Mr. Ligowsky died at age 34. He passed away in Berlin, Germany in late 1891 where he had been for about a year checking into some of his investments. He apparently had been weakened by tuberculosis and died in Germany following a severe winter and wet summer, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer of November 22, 1891.


Figure 1 - Cover and enclosure as pictured on auction website.

Figure 2 - Pieces taped to cover.

Figure 3 - Cover "As Is."

Figure 4 - Enclosure.

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