New Haven Bee Hive Enigma
By: Bernard Biales, Calvet M. Hahn

Apr 1 , 2002

The New Haven newspapers are rare- the ones at the Boston Public Library didn’t help much. I turned to the Antiquarian Society in Worcester, started by the revolutionary postmaster Isaiah Thomas. They have the Herald for June 1839. These very friendly folk presented me with a huge volume of original papers for examination. As I worked my way through June I noted an agricultural society meeting announcement, but this went nowhere. Then there was mention of the upcoming Ladies Fair. The editor was promoting this charitable function with repeated mentions. It was a fund-raiser for the new site for the Orphan’s Asylum. Then on June 27, 1839:

“We would observe however that the Ladies have accomplished more than all their Lords have done in the mail line. They have got up an effectual opposition to the “old Bolivar” and established an independent post office. Our old Postmaster may say ‘And Othello’s occupation is gone.’ And Amos Kendall is under embargo for three days at least. The liberality of the post-mistresses too is shown in that there is no prying or peeking unlawfully into the written contents – only the regular postage is demanded and good current bond bills are received. No Specie Circular this year – NB”

What an exciting discovery. And indeed, the mystery of the beehive was essentially solved. But to find papers for 1838 and 1840 I was going to have to go to Connecticut. In the mean time I tried to learn about the orphans’ asylum. But most orphanages have mostly been closed due to the modern trend to foster care. Yale did help with a snippet on Rev. Day. He came from Pittsfield (home of a famous early fair) and received a BA in 1836 and a Doctorate of Divinity in 1840. He died in 1902. This leaves a gap of three decades between his death and the purchase of his correspondence by the Collector’s Shop. One of the many ironies of the search for the secret of the beehive is that the very suggestive Burying Ground cover was likely with that correspondence in the 1930s. The connection appears not to have been made.

As time passed, I needed to arouse myself from self satisfied sloth and decided to offer a cryptically titled talk to the Connecticut Postal History Society to unveil the secret of the beehive. In preparation, I made a trip to New Haven where the historical society provided access to the papers for the missing period for a nominal payment. The 1838 papers confirmed the orphan’ fair for that year and the public library filled in background on the orphanage. The 1840 papers showed that I had been wrong all along. A Ladies Fair was indeed held in June of 1840, but it was not related to the orphanage or the fact that medieval fair locations were on burying grounds. Rather, it was a fund-raiser to fix up the Cemetery.

When viewed in the light of new information, we have a good idea of what both groups of fair letters were about. They were made up, probably by students, and sold at the fair. Day’s docketing is later than the date of the letter’s in two cases, suggesting that they may have been made up in advance. The humorous and fantastic themes were invented for the fun of the fair.

Warmsley said that Fay was obsessed with the beehive and admitted he was also – on the opposite of the fence. There are many ironies to his obsession. One was his cryptic comment that the secret of the beehive was to be found six feet under. It turned out a burying ground cover was the key to the secret. He searched the Herald for explanation of strange content, and missed the answer that was there. He collected Sanitary Fair covers, the offspring of the earlier charity fair covers such as the beehive covers.

Warmsley never tried to cash in on the cover that he was convinced was bad. After his death it sold for nearly ten times his cost. I became the owner but would rather he have lived to hear my talk, which was given shortly after his death. Wrong headed as his work was, it helped in being an available source of information, some of which appears in this leave behind.

Of course, I am engaging in a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking, so will add an irony of my own. The ship marking does coexist with the 12½¢ rate on steamboat covers, though from an earlier period.

The understanding of the beehive leads to a broader understanding of some early charity covers. Among these is one with the New Haven ship and the normal town mark-there is no year and the associated fair is as yet unidentified. Another New Haven fair type cover shows a 25¢ rate. Don Thompson has a fair cover from Foxborough, Massachusetts that shows postal markings. Some Civil war sanitary fair covers show borrowed postal or possible postal markings. Other fair covers include the unique Chelsea Fair, Orphan Fair and Presbyterian Fair covers. A recently discovered Massachusetts town oval has an absurd genealogical letter relating two families through a cat entering a door in the 1600s. It may represent a fair or a school type pseudo postmark – the two categories can overlap.