Many Civil War soldiers talked about sending money home. Or receiving packages from home. How did they do it? One method of sending money was through an express agency. An express agency was an organization that delivered large and small packages from one location to another. There were several express agencies that flourished during the Civil War. One of the most prominent was the Adams Express agency, founded by Alvin Adams in Massachusetts in 1854. Another agency that was prominent at the time was American Express. I have an original American Express receipt in my collection, pictured below. Notice that on the receipt two of the partners listed are Henry Wells and William Fargo.
While the tradition of delivering large and small packages continues today, neither of these agencies are in the package delivery business. Both still exist. Adams Express is a close-end equity fund management company. Adams Express changed their name to Adams Funds in 2015. American Express, well, most people are familiar with that organization. And Wells and Fargo went into the banking business.
I had the opportunity to visit Adams Express in Baltimore some years ago, and spent a pleasant hour with their archivist/historian. He shared with me several examples of their various receipts and other paperwork. All of the paperwork he showed me did have one consistency to it – it was all printed in an orange color ink.
The thing I found most interesting was hanging in the lobby. There were examples of money envelopes, a picture of is shown below. Money that was being sent in these envelopes was placed in the envelope and sealed in three places with wax. When the envelope arrived at its destination, the envelope was supposed to be opened on the side to get the money out and to preserve the seals, indicating that the envelope was not tampered with.
This envelope, hanging in the lobby at that time, is framed in such a way so that you can see the envelope has been opened on the side, and the seals remain intact. Note that the border on the envelope doesn’t go all the way around, showing that the envelope was cut open on the side.
The intact seals prove that the envelope was never opened from its original location to its destination. Reproductions of the Adams Express mailers are available from my website.