One of Alaska’s most unusual contributions to the history of philately, or postage stamp collecting, was the 1898 25¢ McGreely’s Express local stamp, designed for affixing to letters carried between the coastal towns of Dyea and Skaguay during the Klondike Gold Rush. It is known as a Cinderella stamp, defined as “virtually anything resembling a postage stamp, but not issued for postal purposes by a government postal administration.” Named after the folk-tale Cinderella who was treated as inferior in her family, Cinderella stamps, defined by what they are not, are similarly considered inferior to postage stamps.
The Canadian Aerophilatelist, the newsletter of the Canadian Aerophilatelic Society, included a letter in the March 15, 1991 issue, dated Dec. 4, 1990, from a Mr. Murray Heifetz to Mr. R. Malott, of Nepean, Ontario, describing the history of the stamp:
“Over the past while I have had several enquiries about the McGreely Express label sometimes found on the Klondike Airways covers prepared by Roessler. I thought it might be interesting to tell the story of this label in an issue of our CAS bulletin. The following excerpt is from one of Rosselers Stamp News.
“McGreely’s Express Stamp had a very short life. Seems to us that collectors of US locals should be interested in this. The lot that we turned up consists of about 400 stamps. When these are gone there will be no more available. The die and the stone from which they were printed were destroyed with the San Francisco earthquake - beg pardon, we mean fire. There will never be any reprints. The following is an abstract from a letter from Mr. S. C. Marcuse, 514 Battery St. San Francisco (reprinted from the Philatelic Gazette):
“I was living in Dyea during 1908 and at that time there was no regular mail service, the mail for Dyea being left on the wharf at Skagway, as that was the nearest wharf for Dyea andno steamer would land at Dyea except very small boats. The mail would lie on the Skagway wharf until anyone who felt so disposed would bring it over to Dyea to the post office. On account of the irregularity of the mail leaving and coming at Dyea P. O., a man named McGreely who made daily trips to Skagway and return would mail any letter over there and enquire for mail, and for this service he would charge 25¢ for each letter coming or going.
“After I became acquainted with McGreely, I suggested to him the use of stamps and he agreed to that. If I would furnish him with stamps he would attend to my mail without charge. Therefore I had the stamps printed in San Francisco and they reached Dyea a few days before April 1, 1908. We used only 100 between the date of arrival and April 1 when Mr. Clum, a Post Office inspector, arrived there and established a daily mail service between Dyea and Skagway. Naturally, this put Mr. McGreely out of business.”
The author of the letter above, Seymore C. Marcuse, came to Dyea in January of 1898. He later traveled to Dawson City, noting that he met Mr. McGreely along the way, and by 1901 S. C. Marcuse had returned to San Francisco. He was an avid stamp collector who probably saw the potential value in producing specialty philatelic stamps for sale. In September, 1902, he had some of the McGreely’s Express stamps overprinted and distributed as souvenirs at the first exhibition of the Pacific Philatelic Society in San Francisco, of which he was the Secretary-Treasurer in 1914.
It is curious that McGreely’s Express stamp is illustrated with a dog team, as McGreely made his trips between Skaguay and Dyea in a boat. There is no record of his carrying the mail via dog team.
For more information about the McGreely’s Express stamp:
• Mekeels & Stamps article, Joseph A. Cavagnol
• The Penny Post McGreely’s Express history