Custer's last stamp... Cover that never reached Little Bighorn soldier is for sale

Spink Shreves is all set to hold a spectacular sale later this month: its August 2011 Collector's Series Sale. These sales are always greatly anticipated for the depth and variety on offer.

One source for material is The Estate of Raymond L. "Pat" Buse, Jr which is a voluminous collection containing mint never hinged stamps of the world. Then there is the Christopher C Smith Collection of Classic India.

We'll be bringing you some more details from the catalogue soon, but in the meantime, here are two nuggets of American history nestled in the early stages of the auction:

Firstly, there is a Thomas Jefferson cover featuring a 'free' frank marked by him as President on the folded cover addressed in his hand to Mr. James Dinsmore at Monticello, near Milton.

There is a red "Washn. City/June 26" datestamp and matching straightline 'FREE' handstamp, with just a few light scattered toned spots well away from the signature. It is very fine, and the most desirable form of the Thomas Jefferson frank.

More exciting still, from nearly a century on, is an undelivered letter sent to a soldier unable to receive it because he had lost his life at the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand.

John Hiley cover battle Little Bighorn Custer
The returned cover which never made it to Hiley

Manuscript notation in red tells the intended reader "John S. Hiley was Killed in Battle on Little Big Horn River M.T. June 25 76" and matching text "Dead letter Office" all appears on the reverse of the cover from England.

The cover is franked by a left wing margin single of the 1873 3d Rose, Plate 19, tied by "Margate/Jy 30, 76" duplex postmark.

It is addressed to "John S. Hiley, 'E Troop' 7 Cavalry, Fort Abe Lincoln, Dakotah, United States of America" and in another hand "Bighorn Expedition," then marked "Dead" and in red "Dead" and "over,".

A faint red circular date stamp also ties the stamp. On the reverse there is a partial "Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dak/Oct 8" postmark and a blue triangular "Dead Letter Office/U.S.A./Oct 13, 76" handstamp, which is very fine.

John Hiley cover back battle Little Bighorn Custer
The cover's reverse carries a blunt and tragic message

It is a fabulous and historical cover addressed to a member of General Custer's 7th Cavalry while on the Little Bighorn Expedition against the Sioux Nation. Custer, regarded as a Civil War hero was killed, and the later retaliation crushed the Sioux.

Hiley had a history of his own. Born John Stuart Stuart-Forbes on May 28, 1849, he left England at 22, possibly fleeing a gambling debt, and adopted his brother-in-law's surname. He was reportedly found just a few feet from Custer's body.

The cover is expected to sell for $15,000-20,000 in Spink Shreves' auction which takes place on August 19-20 in New York.


Join our readers in over 200 countries around the world - sign up for your free weekly Collectibles Newsletter today or download our free Collectors News app for your iPhone



Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock