Census: 19th century postal cards used in Alaska

The U.S. Post Office issued its first postal card in 1873. The earliest-known use of a postal card mailed from Alaska is 1879—just six years later, and 12 years after the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia.


Postal cards mailed from Alaska are rare before the Gold Rush of 1898. The territory was sparsely populated: In 1890 only 32,052 people lived there, down from the 1880 census of 33,426. (In 1880, only two post offices existed: Fort Wrangel and Sitka.) 


In 1998, an Alaska Collectors Club member tallied 530 extant 19th-century Alaska covers, including postal cards. Here's a census of the 48 known postal cards. Thanks to Mike Senta of the Club for his contributions.

Fort Wrangel, July 17, 1879

UX3. The earliest-known card was mailed by the Rev. John Althoff, a Dutch-born, Catholic priest and missionary, to a colleague in the diocese office in Portland, Ore. Written in French, Althoff asks his colleague to send him and a New Jersey friend copies of a Catholic newspaper. The card last sold in a 2014 auction for $1,050 plus commission.


Reverse side unavailable

[Fort Wrangel, Nov. 21, 1880]

UX3. Although the card was cancelled on Nov. 26, 1880, in Port Townsend, Wash., a major port at the time, the message on the back has a Fort Wrangel dateline. The sender asks to be shipped a book and set of "gentleman's gold studs." The card sold in a 2014 auction for $4,250, the attraction being the in-demand "kicking mule" cancel.

Juneau, April 17, 1883 and July 10, 1883

UX7. Addressed to the Portland brewer, Henry Weinhard, these confirm that the bar owner is returning empty beer barrels via steamer.

Sitka, May 19, 1883 and Feb. 24, 1884

UX7. The handwriting is hard to decipher, but the addressee, James Fontaine Maury, is clearly a family member or close friend in whom the sender has relied on to conduct business for him. Maury (1845–1929) was a principal at Maury Brothers, a New York cotton brokerage, and longtime treasurer of the New York Cotton Exchange. His family had been cotton brokers since the Washington administration, and Maury Brothers was the nation's chief cotton exporting firm, according to Maury's obituary in the New York Times. (Thank to Brian Nilsson and Russell Hooper of the Fontaine Maury Society.)