Search


Site Map

Contact


National Postal Museum

Smithsonian National Postal Museum


skip navigation

About the Museum
Exhibits
The Collection
For Educators
Stamp Collecting
Research
Getting Involved
Activity Zone
Museum Library





About the Museum




Object of the Month






 
1906 San Francisco Earthquake Cover
 
1906 San Francisco Earthquake cover
1906 San Francisco Earthquake cover

Above: 1906 San Francisco Earthquake cover

This San Francisco Earthquake cover (an envelope that has been sent through the post is called a cover by stamp collectors) was postmarked at 5 a.m. on April 18, 1906, and was franked by a horizontal pair of one cent Franklin stamps of the 1902-1903 regular issue series. The time shown on the postmark is significant because the earthquake was recorded as starting at 5:13 a.m. on April 18, 1906. Because of the timing and the condition of the cover it may be assumed that it was being processed in the post office during the earthquake and has become perhaps the earliest San Francisco earthquake cover known.

Mail that was in the post office during the earthquake and survived was later moved to one of San Francesco’s piers for safekeeping and evacuation by boat at the earliest possible opportunity. This cover eventually transited Long Island City, New York on April 25, 1906 and reached the destination post office, Englewood, New Jersey, also on that date.

Letter written on the 17th by Bella Alten to Evelyn Phillips
Letter written on the 17th by Bella Alten to Evelyn Phillips

Above: Letter written on the 17th by Bella Alten to Evelyn Phillips

The cover contained a letter written on the 17th of April by Metropolitan Opera star Bella Alten to a young lady in New Jersey using stationery from the Palace Hotel where she, Enrico Caruso, and most of the opera company stayed. The Palace Hotel built in 1875 was famous in its own right and became the hotel of choice for many of the rich and famous of the time including traveling royalty. As with most of this part of San Francisco, fire completely destroyed the Palace.

Fire-gutted Palace Hotel
Fire-gutted Palace Hotel

Above: Fire-gutted Palace Hotel

What makes this cover even more interesting is its association with some of the most well-known entertainers of the time, the artists of the Metropolitan Opera Company. The Company was in San Francisco for a series of performances at the Grand Opera House. The evening of the 17th was the opening night of the Company’s San Francisco engagement. Enrico Caruso sang the part of Don José in Bizet’s Carmen at the Mission Opera House. On the 18th, the company was scheduled to give a matinee performance of the Marriage of Figaro. Soprano Bella Alten was to perform the role for which she was famous, Cherubino.

Playbill for the Metropolitan Opera Company matinee on April 18
Playbill for the Metropolitan Opera Company matinee on April 18, courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera Company Archives

Above: Playbill for the Metropolitan Opera Company matinee on April 18, courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera Company Archives
Photograph of Bella Alten
Photograph of Bella Alten, courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera Company Archives

Above: Photograph of Bella Alten, courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera Company Archives

This matinee never was performed. The earthquake and ensuing fire destroyed the Grand Opera House as well as the sets, costumes and instruments of the opera company.

Post card showing ruined Grand Opera, card postmarked in Oakland on May 12, 1906
Post card showing ruined Grand Opera, card postmarked in Oakland on May 12, 1906

Above: Post card showing ruined Grand Opera, card postmarked in Oakland on May 12, 1906

There is another San Francisco earthquake cover in the museum collection that was featured as an Object of the Month for October, 2011. Processed by the post office at 9 a.m. on April 24, 1906 the morning after the earthquake rescue phase was declared over and the restoration phase began. It is one of the earliest covers to be sent through the city’s reconstituted postal system.

# # #

References:

Randy Stehle. "Auxiliary Markings - "BURNED OUT" in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire,” La Posta 20, Dec-Jan, 1989-1990: 7-11.

Randy Stehle. "1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire - Recent Discoveries, Part 1." La Posta 32, 2001 Jun-Jul 2001: 47-51.

Arthur G. Fisk, Postmaster. “1906 Post Office Report,” San Francisco: April 26, 1906.

Sydney Tyler and Ralph Stockman Tarr. “San Francisco’s great disaster”, P. W. Ziegler and Co.  Philadelphia, 1906. F869.S3T9 1906

Enrico Caruso and the 1906 Earthquake, The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco

Written by Marvin Murray
Assistant Curator of Philately
Smithsonian National Postal Museum
April 2014

 


bracket

Object of the Month Archive:
 • Account Book
 • Airmail Beacon
 • Airmail Poster
 • 1918 Airmail Envelope
 • Airmail Flag
 • 1934 Airmail Scandal
 • Amelia Earhart Mail
 • Antarctic Post Office
 • Audio Correspondence
 • Automated Post Office
 • Bag Prototype
 • Balloon Jupiter Flight
 • Bamboo Mailer
 • Battle of Gettysburg
 • Black Hardings
 • Bonbobi Mailbox
 • B. T. Washington
 • Bradley Postal Map
 • Butterfield Book
 • Cancelling Machine
 • Chicago Fire
 • Chicago World's Fair
 • Claven's Uniform
 • Clum Locket
 • Coconut
 • Collect on Delivery
 • Collection Starters
 • Concord Joint Issue
 • Concord Mail Coach
 • Confederate Lost Plate
 • CSS Florida
 • Dead Letter Album
 • de Havilland DH-4
 • Detonator
 • Dillsburg Post Office
 • Dispatch Board
 • Distribution Case
 • Dog Sled
 • Doremus Box
 • 2008 Duck Stamp
 • Earthquake Mail
 • Egg Crate
 • FDR
 • First Air Mail
 • First U.S. Stamp
 • Gas Coupons
 • Hincks Collection
 • Hindenburg Mail
 • Hindenburg Crash Mail
 • Hockey Jerseys
 • Hope Diamond
 • HPO Bus
 • Hudson-Fulton Material
 • Huntís Remedy
 • Jamestown
 • Lady McCloud
 • Laundry Box
 • Leavitt Models
 • Lipsner Letter
 • Long Life Vehicle
 • Low Die Proof
 • Mail Order
 • Medal of Honor
 • Mr. ZIP
 • Nautilus Handstamp
 • North Pole Mail Sack
 • NPM Block of Four
 • Overland Mail Stamp
 • Owney
 • Parcel Post Cups
 • Parcel Post Map
 • Peace Corps Stamp
 • Pearl Harbor Mail
 • Perforation Machine
 • Perforation Paddle
 • Pneumatic Mail
 • Pony Express Mochila
 • P.O. in a Jar
 • Postal Savings
 • R2-D2 Mailbox
 • Railway Mail Crane
 • Regulus Mail
 • RFD Carriage Heater
 • RFD Cashbox
 • Save-a-Stamp
 • Schermack Machine
 • Screen Wagon
 • Skyhook Container
 • Snowbird
 • Sorting Unit
 • Speed Mail
 • Special Passport
 • Spider Press
 • Sun Yat-sen Stamps
 • Tally Sheet Cover
 • Telstar Covers
 • Terre Haute Model
 • Titanic Postcards
 • Transorma Machine
 • USS Kanawha
 • USS Oklahoma
 • Valley Forge Letter
 • V–Mail Ads
 • V–Mail Letter Sheets
 • V–Mail Service
 • Wanamaker Portrait
 • Weather Reports
 • Wiseman Cooke
 • Woodward Book
 • World Cup Cover
 • ZIP Code Comic

bracket













Back to Top