This internet exhibit displays the rates and markings used on transcontinental Pony Express mail. Since the Express operated for only 19 months, not much mail is known; a detailed census of known Pony Express covers includes 180 eastbound and 71 westbound covers. This exhibit shows examples of all four Pony Express rates in both eastbound and westbound directions, all eight types of Pony Express markings, and the U.S. postal markings and rates on Pony Express mail.

Pony Express Rate Periods  Pony Express mail can be divided into four distinct rate periods. 

1.The service began on April 3, 1860 under the management of The Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company (COCPP),  which charged $5 per ½ ounce for the ten-day express between San Francisco, California and St. Joseph, Missouri. 2.

2. Starting July 31, 1860 (westbound) and August 15 (eastbound), COCPP charged $2.50 per ¼ ounce in an effort to increase the volume of mail being carried by the Pony Express.

3. 3.Starting April 1, 1861 (westbound) and April 15 (eastbound), Wells, Fargo & Company took over management of the route, and introduced a $2 per ½ ounce rate.

4. 4.On July 1, 1861, Wells Fargo reduced the rate to $1 per ½ ounce.  The Pony Express was discontinued by notice from Wells Fargo on October 26, 1861. The last westbound pony left St. Joseph on October 24, and the last eastbound pony left San Francisco on October 23.

Pony Express Markings

Eight major types of Pony Express markings were used. These include San Francisco’s “Running Pony” and COCPP markings; Sacramento’s “Pony Express” marking; St. Joseph’s “Running Pony”, COCPP, and “oval in circle” markings; and New York’s two varieties of “California Pony Express” markings. These markings occur variously in black, blue, red or green colors.

U.S. Postal Rates and Markings

1. Most eastbound mail entered the U.S. mails at St. Joseph, and typically shows 10¢ U.S. postage (for over 3,000 miles) and a St. Joseph transit postmark.  In September 1861, the eastern terminus was moved to Atchison, Kansas, the new entry point into the U.S. mails. 

2. 2.Westbound mail was sent under cover to St. Joseph during the first three Pony Express periods. At St. Joseph, it was transferred to the Pony Express, so most westbound mail never directly entered the U.S. postal system.  If sent under cover in the U.S. mails to St. Joseph, 3¢ U.S. postage (for less than 3,000 miles from St. Joseph to California) was required to be paid until February 27, 1861. If carried privately to St. Joseph, 10¢ U.S. postage was required.  During the fourth  period, mail was typically sent in the U.S. mails from the point of origin to St. Joseph, prepaid the 10¢ trans-Rocky Mountains postage rate. 


This is a presentation of the one frame exhibit collection formed by Steven C. Walske that was awarded the "best single frame" exhibit in Sacramento in 2005. It is organized chronologically by Pony Express rate period. It should be noted that the majority of surviving Pony Express letters have undergone varying degrees of restoration. For further information on the Pony Express, see "The Pony Express, A Postal History" by Richard C. Frajola, Steven C. Walske and George J. Kramer published by the Philatelic Foundation in 2005. This book may be purchased from the Philatelic Foundation or here.

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Richard Frajola, May 2006