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Okemos auction features valuable artifacts of Michigan postal history


Before the Weather Channel was a few clicks away on a television or a computer, city residents could check postmarks on their daily mail for weather forecasts. Two of these rare “Lansing Weather” cancellations are among the items to be sold at an auction of rare postmarks, letters and envelopes conducted by Lansing area postal historian Craig Whitford.

The first weather postmark from 1896 claims it will be “Fair Wednesday,” and the second postmark from 1889 claims the weather to be “Fair warmer tonight. Friday Fair.”

It’s not clear whether early settlers were planning their weekend outings from the cancellations, but the two offerings, valued between $75-$100 each, are among the 1,300 lots to be sold from the Michigan Postal History Collection of David M. Ellis.

Ellis, one of the notable postal collectors in the nation, began his collection at age 10. He slowly accumulated “cut squares,” which are 2 or 4-inch-square pieces of an envelope showing the city where mail was postmarked. He later gravitated toward collecting entire envelopes.

Whitford said Ellis especially enjoyed documenting Michigan cities, towns and villages.

“He attempted to collect one postmark from each town and the collection illustrates that,” Whitford said.

Whitford said this is his first postal collection auction where the collector is alive.

“Ellis is interested in sharing his collection,” Whitford said. Adding the collection is worth between $100,000 and $150,000.

There are numerous examples of postmarks from Michigan ghost towns and from towns and villages that had name changes. Most notable is the postmark “Michigan, Michigan,” which is highly sought by collectors since it was the first name for what is now Lansing, Michigan.

Whitford said he has documented only 40 surviving examples of the elusive postmark, which only existed from July 1847 through April 1848 before the Legislature renamed the capital city. He values the postmark between $750 and $1,000.

“They thought it was too confusing and decided to rename it,” he said.

One rare Monroe postcard from 1836, Michigan’s territorial era, is addressed to Toledo when that area was still part of Ohio.

Whitford said postmarks are often a ghost town’s sole remaining artifact — making these rare pieces of postage highly sought after by collectors and history organizations.

Marboro (Marlborough), Michigan is one example of such a postmark. The community was located in Lake County and housed a cement plant, but when it shut down in 1906 the city became a ghost town. Other long-gone cities covered are Disco and Cuba, Michigan.

Also included in the sale are decorative envelopes from the Civil War, Spanish American War and Revolutionary War, along with rare postmarks from boats on the inland waterways.

Whitford said he uncovered some unusual and rare letters sent from Michigan still in the envelopes.

“They are especially interesting in light of how we communicate today,” he said.

One notable item is a rare handwritten letter from chief David Shoppenegons, an Indian chief living in Grayling. Chief Shoppenegons arrived there in the 1870s and worked as fishing guide and trapper.

His letter, apparently written to a friend, comments on fishing the Au Sable, collecting fur pelts, personal health issues and how deep the snow is.

However, there is dispute among professional archivists on whether the letter is in the chief ’s own handwriting. State Archivist Mark Harvey has serious doubts and believes it was dictated. Other sources cite well-known anecdotal and historical evidence that makes his literacy probable.

Whitford said, “I firmly believe it is in his handwriting. Shoppenegons was a pivotal figure in the Grayling area.”

Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University, said, “In looking around, I can’t find another example of his writing any-thing. So whoever doubts the piece has reason to do so. That said, it’s an awfully odd thing to fabricate.”

He admits that “It is possible he dictated it to someone who could write.”

“If you challenge me to prove it, I can’t. Is the glass half full or half empty? I’m going with full,” Boles said.

Whitford values the 1830 letter between $400 and $600.

Boles said Shoppenegons is best known as a legendary fishing guide on the Au Sable.

"Anything about fishing on the Au Sable, the ‘holy water,’ will be of interest historically,” he said.

Other letters cover topics about the state capital being moved to Lansing, a woman asking her suitor when he is going to ask her to marry and a teacher commenting about a “little Indian boy” she has in her classroom.

David M. Ellis Collection

Auction 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 15 Comfort Inn Okemos Conf. Center 2187 Univeristy Park Dr., Okemos Request catalog by email or phone: (517) 505-6962



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