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California History: Why a cover is worth a thousand words

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From one small piece of Postal History comes a large amount of California history. The piece in question is a February 23rd 1868 envelope mailed from Los Angeles to the State Treasurer in Sacramento, delivered by the storied Wells Fargo & Company.

The recipient of the mail is a man who as much as anyone personifies the history of California.  Antonio Francisco Coronel, born in Mexico City in 1817, came to California in 1834 at the age of 17.

In 1821 as Mexico (including California) gained independence from Spain, the new nation of Mexico granted large tracts of land to the original “Californios”.  Coronel was granted lands in Los Angeles around what is today 7th and Alamedia in South-Central. On his land grant Coronel planted one of California’s first orange groves, so important to the agricultural and commercial future of Southern California.

In 1847 Coronel joined the Mexican Army forces lead by General Andreas Pico to battle against the United States’ annexation of California The U.S. forces were lead by Generals Fremont and Stockton.

In 1848 news of GOLD! in what became the Mother Lode of California hit Los Angeles. much earlier than the news hit the rest of the country, as would be expected in the world before Twitter. On March 2 Coronel left Los Angeles with a group of about 30, including servants. They rode to San Jose and then into the foothills of the Sierras where small fortunes were made In August Coronel began to dig. The first day he got 45 ounces of gold. The next he got 38 ounces. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Successful agriculturalist, landed gentry and a gold rush fortune to boot, Coronel gained United States Citizenship and became a major contributor to the development of his State of California. He was elected Country Assessor in 1850. In 1853 he was elected Mayor of Los Angeles, helping to initiate public education in his city.

In 1868 Coronel was elected State Treasurer. To his office in Sacrament, Wells Fargo & Co. delivered the envelope shown above.

Mail deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service were still uncertain and slow in 1868. But letters were allowed to be carried outside the mails as long as they were contained in a government envelope with the proper postage. So Post Office Embossed Envelopes, known as Postal Stationery to collectors, were used to verify that the appropriate postage has been paid.

Wells Fargo became the most reliable and rapid means for the transportation of mail between Los Angeles and northern California. This service was provided by coastal steamer or the ‘daily’ stagecoach. There were no postal markings applied to tell us which means was used for a particular letter. But Wells Fargo printed their indicia on the envelope to indicate that they had collected their fee for the service provided, in addition to the postage.

Thus, from one envelope delivered by Wells Fargo & Co. in 1868 we get a history lesson spanning California from Spanish to Mexican to American rule, battles and gold, civic and agricultural progress, and a gem to the eye of a collector.