This Week in History: 1858 There’s gold in this collection of early B.C. ephemera

Written by John Mackie

People sometimes wonder why they collect ephemeral items like billheads, maps, broadsides, and timetables – other than loving history. This article gives us some very clear insight into another reason – 45 pieces of ephemera and a million dollars. Keep on collecting!

Brian Grant Duff holds up a unique ‘broadsheet’ from 1858 advertising a ship travelling from Australia to the ‘new gold region’ on ‘Vancouver’s Island.’ FRANCIS GEORGIAN / PNG

In January 1862 somebody in London wrote a letter to James Cooke in the Kootenays.

At the time, few people knew anything about B.C., a four-year-old colony in one of the most remote parts of the British Empire.

So they put all their geographical knowledge into the address, which is long and detailed: “Fort Shepherd, near the mouth of the Pend Orielle River, in Vicinity of Colville Mines on Columbia River, British Columbia, North America.”

Cooke was the post manager at Fort Shepherd, a small Hudson’s Bay Company trading post just south of today’s Trail. You’ve probably never heard of it, because it closed in 1870.

Vintage Billhead Storage


It’s hard to say if Cooke received the letter, but by March 1862 it made it to Port Townsend, Wash., where it was postmarked. Eventually it found its way into the collection of Gerald Wellburn, a legendary collector of B.C. stamps and ephemera.

Wellburn died in 1992, and most of his collection was auctioned off for $1 million. But his family held onto his Fraser gold rush collection, including the Cooke letter. Finally the gold rush collection is being sold as well.

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Bags Unlimited – Timetable/Handbills