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

Apr 1 , 2002

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Our seminar leader for the April 11th meeting was Bernard Biales who took the subject of the New Haven Beehive Enigma and detailed how the philatelic perceptions shifted from a rare postal marking to a forerunner of the Civil War sanitary fair markings and adhesives. While some might have wanted a direct link setting forth the problem and the solution, Mr. Biales, with my interjections, chose to show the misconceptions, dead ends, and serendipity effects that led to the final resolution of the enigma. Having researched the subject for over 30 years myself, I was well aware of the conflicting views, personal obsessions, financial interests and lack of source material that impeded progress and thus felt it appropriate to show the travails of such research.

I first began to be interested when trying to figure out the rates and routes of the Dunsmoor cover that was datelined Philadelphia but which had a 12½¢ rate, an evident impossibility for the over 180 mile distance. Next was to check for a ship named the ‘Beehive’ in the Lytle-Holdcamper list of steamboats between 1790 and 1868; none was found. It was these two facts that caused the cover to receive a ‘decline’ opinion as to being a postal marking and a bitter denunciation from the original finder, Harry Kieffer.

Contact with Keiffer’s partner, Carroll Alton Means, brought a letter describing his shock and disappointment when he discovered Kieffer painting in the beehive on one of the beehive covers. If not a postal marking what was the beehive? The rate markings on the covers resembled the handwriting of covers I owned that went on the Hudson River steamboats. Too, the Day family was well known in New Haven, but there were others as I found when I purchased a lot of Day correspondence from New York State.

I next tried to see if there was a tie-in with either a New Haven bank or a local society. I tried several times to locate information in the New Haven Historical Society without success and wasn’t willing to spend the hours needed to search the New Haven newspapers. It was at this point Mr. Biales became involved and his story begins.

The New Haven ‘beehive’ enigma story began conventionally enough with these three notices by postal historian Harry Konwiser in his Postal Markings column.

The first of the ‘beehive’ covers to reach public auction was this lot 66 in the famed Knapp sale. Known as the ‘oracle’ cover because of its unusual contents, it is datelined June 25, 1848 and docketed June 28th. Kieffer claimed to have sold it to Knapp for $40; it sold for $46 in the Knapp 1941 sale.


The Knapp ‘oracle’ cover is addressed to Mr. Day at New Haven and is identifiable by the shape of the 12½¢. The contents read as follows:


To the doom’d
When Roses bloom on Heda’s brow,
And violets vein the sunless snow,
When birds of Paradise can bear
Unchille’d Siberia’s desert air;
When man’s weak voice shall charm to sleep
The wild and tempest-shaken deep-
Then thou shall win the seeming good
Thou hast in vain so long pursued

New Haven Oracle

June 26, 1838

Kieffer noted that at the time of the original find, one copy was sold to Chambers, but it was not in the Paige Chambers’ sale nor is it in the Rhode Island Historical Society files, where some Chambers material ended up. A copy was sold to Harry Dunsmoor, allegedly for $40. The good material in the Dunsmoor holding was sold intact to Ed Mayer and was then in the H.R. Harmer sale of the Mayer material as it had not sold intact to Phillip Rust. In the Mayer sale it brought $1700, selling to Judge Fay. At the subsequent Fay sale at Robert A. Siegel it brought $675 from Henry Houser, but it was returned when it did not get a clean certificate as a postal marking. Arthur Warmsley then purchased it from the lawyers for the estate for a rumored $100. After Warmsley’s death, the remnants of his holding were sold at Kukstis where Bernard Biales acquired this cover.

The text of the Dunsmoor cover reads as follows:

“Sir – I am commissioned by Miss F.A.C., of this city to inquire into the reason of your distance to her, after what ( ) last fall have you forgotten your passionate ( )? Do you consider yourself bound both morally and honorably to fulfill you engagement with her? Are you aware that your ( ) has a direct tendency to break her heart. She loves you dearly. Has she given you any cause to neglect her: I feel it to be my dut6, being her relative, to demand your intentions. I am very respectfully,
Geo. A. Drake”

The third cover of the original find was sold to F. A. Eaton for $5 because it was supposedly in a fire and water damaged, so that Kieffer had to retouch it before selling. It was later bought back by Kieffer. It then went to auction in the 1960s and again in the 1970s where it supposedly brought $3,500 from Henry Houser. It later went along with his New Haven material in a Siegel sale to a dealer who resold it to Andrew Levitt for one of his clients.


The New Haven Beehive and the Passion of Arthur Warmsley

© Bernard Biales 2002

In his column for July 11, 1936, Konwiser presented information about covers with beehive markings of New Haven. A later column dated two of these to 1838 and 1839. This marking became the subject of extended speculation and controversy. It sometimes sold or almost sold for fabulous prices. Its status has been resolved only in recent years and has lead to a deeper understanding of early charity covers and their use, in some cases, of post office markings.

The initial find consisted of three or possibly four covers found in a correspondence purchased from Reverdy Whitlock, who kept a bookstore, by the Collector’s Shop in New Haven about 1934. These covers were addressed to Mr. Day / New Haven, Conn. or New Haven. Each has a reddish 26 mm circle at the upper left with sans serif peripheral NEW HAVEN / CONN around the image of a be have on its stand. Each is rated 12½¢. The contents are quite peculiar.

Descriptions of the covers may be found in the accompanying figures.
The covers are the Knapp cover, the Dunsmoor cover (sometimes erroneously attributed to Knapp based on a probable misreading of philatelic docketing now missing), and the Eaton cover with a heavily reinforced marking. Judge Fay passionately defended the Dunsmoor cover in discussions with Arthur Warmsley, who was a great doubter of the beehive. After Fay’s death, the cover was sold to Hauser at $5,250, but returned when it received a Foundation certificate as genuine non-postal use. The lawyer for the estate sold it to Warmsley for a rumored $100 in spite of Lou Robbins’ opinion that it was worth $3,000.

Warmsley remained faithful to the notion that the cover was not good. He wrote a booklet about the time of the Fay sale and several later articles, which have been helpful for this study- in which his negative viewpoint was revealed. Physical testing gave a neutral result that Warmsley interpreted as showing that the cover was faked. Later, when the APS got some fancy equipment, he sent it to them in the hopes of getting a free-bee comparison with the postally used New Haven cover.

They came back with ‘certs’ as genuine and a bill, which Warmsley declined. I have been unable to confirm the existence of a fourth Day correspondence cover, which was purportedly sold to Chambers. Tom Greene tells me Chambers died in 1946 and there is no beehive in the Rhode Island Historical Society. There was also no beehive in the Paige sale of Chamber’s material. Around 1945, Kieffer obtained a further cover. This one is address to a Mr. Tiffany, dated June 25. 1838, and proposes a duel. It first went to Dr. Glenn Jackson. It is also worth mentioning that there is an aberrant cover, which has been condemned. It is attributed to John Fox.

My own totally unwilling involvement came in 1994. I had received the 1983 Fay catalog, in which the beehive cover is prominently featured and had taken only passing notice. In 1994 I was visiting Calvet Hahn shortly after Siegel’s had announce the discovery of new beehive cover. It was suggested that its long residence in a archive (at the University of North Carolina) made it unlikely that it was less than genuine.

Mr. Hahn was very interested and gave me an extensive introduction to the beehive story. At the time of the 1975 sale of the damaged beehive he had been involved in a beehive group with David Jarrett, Lea Leonard and others. (He had also corresponded with Warmsley at the time.) He indicated a main lead was the New Haven bank, which used a beehive as a symbol. I think he was hoping I would look in to the matter-a hint to which I was completely refractory. He pointed to the nonsensical letters and the inappropriate rates. He thought there was some similarity to some Hudson River manuscript markings.

Overall, I had the impression he was dubious about the authenticity of the markings, but nudged a bit in the positive direction by the new find. In the actual auction description, which soon appeared, David Petrocelli suggested that the beehive letters might be schoolwork, much in the manner of the well-known business school covers of the late eighteenth century. Calvet and I had a brief conversation in which we agreed that this was a useful notion.

Fate stepped in. Shortly thereafter, I was at a Kukstis sale and noted a cover with the well-known New Haven ship in a ship illustrated marking of 1816-57, but showing a 12½¢ rate, which wasn’t a ship rate. A ship cover going into New Haven would be rated 6¢. On examining the cover I had a rare moment of philatelic epiphany (keep in mind, epiphanies can be wrong). The contents were zany – reminiscent of the beehives. The docketing included the revelatory phrase “Burying Ground Fair.” Now I had to grapple with the beehive.

My initial research included reading Warmsley’s little book. Of interest was the addressee – Horace Day, presumably the same Mr. Day who received at least three beehive covers. But now I had a first name. Also, the date of June 1840 lay on a line with the June date of 1838 and, perhaps 1839 of the beehive covers. My thought – eventually proved wrong, was that in its third year, the burying ground fair switched to a borrowed post office marking- or the covers were local handled by the Post Office but charged a special charity rate premium (also wrong).

Another erroneous theory was based on a brief study of the history of fairs – which go back to Roman times. In medieval times these economically important gatherings were often held at cemeteries as this inhibited outbreaks of violence. (Supposedly fairs became important in America after 1800, but Franklin’s almanacs mention many fairs.)
Turning to the New Haven directories, which apparently began in 1840, I found Horace Day, a reverend at College along with Gad Day, a joiner. At this point I suspected that he was a young man, possibly a teacher. Laura Hinds, of the North Carolina find, didn’t show up there or in the Census, raising the possibility she was student.

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.