The Historic Pony Express Detailed on Several Pre-War Cards
Early trading cards depict the origins of the express mail carrier from the 1800s
Before the U.S. Postal Service’s roots were established in 1775, several entities tried their hand at delivering mail in the country. One of the more famous ones was the Pony Express.
Most people have heard of the Pony Express but many might be surprised to know how short-lived of a venture it was, lasting only about a year and a half. Using multiple riders with stations set up along routes to provide fresh horses, it was deemed the fastest mail delivery service. But attacks from Native Americans on riders and stations combined with a lack of financial resources contributed to the short life of the entity.
Despite that very short lifespan, the Pony Express name and tale lives on more than 150 years later and the outfit is featured in some pre-war card sets. Operating from 1860-1861, there aren’t any mainstream sets that included the Pony Express when it existed simply because, at the time, trading cards in general were just mostly getting started. But some later sets did document the venture and here’s a look at some of those cards.
1889 Duke Postage Stamps Cards (N85)
As I outlined here, these unique cards featured real life authentic postage stamps affixed to trading cards. They are certainly one of the more interesting types of 19th century tobacco issues.
But beyond that distinction, the set featuring modes of mail is interesting for two reasons. First, they have potentially the earliest depiction of collecting tobacco cards in the set with two cards devoted to that activity. Second, there is a card of the famed Pony Express.
Those cards are generally among the more sought after and while you will find many cards from the set on eBay, I had a difficult time tracking down a Pony Express card.
Each Pony Express card, if it is still fully intact, will have retained the postage stamp, as this one shown here does. The stamps will vary from card to card. However the image of a Pony Express rider is the same on all of the cards. While there are earlier Pony Express collectibles, I am not sure if there is an earlier tobacco card (or even trading card, other than perhaps an advertising trade card) that depicts the entity.
1933 Goudey Indian Gum (R73)
In 1933, Goudey produced one of the most iconic baseball card sets of all time. But that year, they also began creation on what has become a highly collected non-sports set, too – a 216-card set featuring Native Americans for their Goudey Indian Gum product.
Categorized as R73, the set would span several years in the 1930s with new cards constantly being added to it.
The set focuses on Native Americans. However, one card depicts the Pony Express, considering, of course, the entity’s strife with that group of people. The front of the card shows this conflict with a Pony Express rider brandishing a pistol and two Native Americans behind a rock.
Interestingly enough, the writeup for the Pony Express on the back sort of misses the mark. Instead of detailing the conflict with the entity and Native Americans, it instead is a mere description of the Pony Express in general. That might be fine if in another set but makes little sense in a set that focused on Native Americans.
1933/1937 Gum, Inc. Wild West Series (R172)
While the card/set above was produced by Goudey, this card was issued by one of their chief competitors, Gum, Inc.
Gum, Inc. did not directly compete with Goudey in terms of baseball cards until 1939 when they produced the three popular Play Ball sets. But they did produce several non-sports sets, including their Wild West Series.
I have seen these cards listed as both 1933 and 1937. And, frankly, I know so little about non-sports issues that I am not sure if that is a difference of opinion or if the sets were actually produced in each of those years. But regardless, the 1930s set that focused on life in the Wild West included a Pony Express card shown here.
As pictured, the card features a Pony Express rider trying to fend off Native Americans in pursuit.
1930s Western Series (R130)
The final card I wanted to include is one from a set simply called the Western Series. These cards are commonly dated simply as a 1930s set but some sources state they are specifically from 1932-33.
While these are classified as candy cards, technically it is a strip card issue and the distributor, like most of those are, is unknown.
This set has all kinds of pictures depicting life in the west. One of them, shown here, is a card for the Pony Express, featuring a rider on a horse. Unlike other strip cards, though, backs of these have a description instead of merely being blank.
Of the cards shown here, this is one of the tougher ones.