In 1860, an ill-fated Pony Express rider, whose name has been lost to history, was crossing the trackless wastes of Nevada when he vanished, likely killed by Indians. Two years later, in May 1862, the mail pouch from that doomed mission, still containing letters bound for the East, was recovered.
Today, only a few remnants from the contents of that saddlebag survive. Among them is an envelope—a rare artifact of the mid-19th-century’s legendary Pony Express mail service, founded 150 years ago. (The letter that was inside has long since disappeared.) The philatelic treasure will reside on long-term loan at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum (NPM). Recently, the envelope’s owner, William H. Gross, a passionate stamp collector since childhood, donated funds for a new 12,000-square-foot gallery at the museum, scheduled to open in 2012. The envelope will take pride of place in the new exhibition space. “There are only two pieces of what collectors call ‘interrupted mail’ from the Pony Express known to exist, and they were in that rider’s pouch,” says NPM curator Daniel Piazza.