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Passenger Receipt, First Cabin, James E. Birch, California Stage Co. Founder [158894]

Currency:USD Category:Artifacts / Shipwreck Artifacts Start Price:1,000.00 USD Estimated At:2,000.00 - 0.00 USD
Passenger Receipt, First Cabin, James E. Birch, California Stage Co. Founder [158894]
SOLD
8,000.00USD+ (1,600.00) buyer's premium + applicable fees & taxes.
This item SOLD at 2022 Dec 03 @ 10:37UTC-8 : PST/AKDT
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Another of the very important people onboard the S.S. Central America were James E. Birch and his wife. His first cabin ticket was #34 in line. Birch perished at sea because he refused to wear a life preserver, claiming that they didn't work, and you'd die from the cold anyway. He lit a cigar in one of the last moments he was seen by other passengers. Somehow, he may have anticipated a problem, because he sent about $60,000 in gold bars in his wife's name to New York on the Illinois prior to the S.S. Central America's departure.

Birch was another of the master thinkers in the early years of the California Gold Rush. Though he was only 29 years of age, he has his start as a stage driver and owner in Sacramento in 1849 with partner Frank Stevens. While back east, he claimed to have been a stage driver, in which case he would have been a "student" of the Wells, Fargo, and Holliday expresses while they were in their infancy, continually expanding routes and services. (See Holabird; American Express and Wells Fargo Express, American Business Response to the California Gold Rush, 2021). Birch got his start running a line from Sacramento to Mormon Island, a hugely rich placer deposit along the Sacramento River near Folsom. He had an "old Rancho wagon drawn by four Mexican broncos." He charged $32 or two ounces of gold dust. By February of 1850 he expanded his line to Sutter's Mill at Coloma. A year later, he had lines running all through the central mother lode country.

Along the way, Birch learned how to get help from the newspaper. He offered them to ride along. On March 9, 1850, the Sacramento Placer Times stated: "We made an experimental trip in one of Mr. Birch's stages a few days ago, which proved highly satisfactory. The horses had never been harnessed but once or twice before, yet they dashed through the soughs and gulches in a remarkably knowing style. These California horses seem to know about as much as most folks. The party returned highly delighted with the hour's ride, and fully satisfied that Birch's Line was the line to get to the Mines in a hurry" (Winther, Via Western Stage and Express, 1945, p7)

Birch continued to grow the company, and on January 1, 1854, he merged with Stevens, Green, Hall, and Crandall, who all had other stage lines throughout California and Oregon and became the California Stage Company. They were immediately a major force in the stage business, and Birch was president with Stevens, VP. During this period of the early 1850s, Wells, Fargo & Co. and Adams & Co. had been the major express companies, each with an East coast foundation and decades of experience. But California was a new territory, ripe for expansion. Adams Express had preceded Wells Fargo, who came in 1852. The California Stage Company under Birch, competed with these two giants, as well as with many other smaller express companies. Little is known of the acquisition phase of Wells Fargo in its early days. WF bought the Gregory and other express companies, but how far did they go in negotiations with Birch's California Express?

As Birch expanded, making his "brand" more economic and profitable, the complex financial world of some key California Gold Rush businesses began to crumble. Bankers Page, Bacon & Co., who tried desperately to compete with other bankers, failed in early 1856, setting off major economic alarm bells. Then Adams & Co. Express failed. The failure of two of the largest banking and express firms touched off a financial panic. But Birch's California Express stood on solid financial ground and made it through the tumultuous tidal wave of financial instability gripping the region. In June of 1857, Birch resigned as President of the California Stage Company. He had begun another line covering the southern routes from San Antonio to San Diego. He had his sights set on big things, and in August 1857 left on the S.S. Central America headed to Washington D.C. to try to secure major mail contracts. While Birch died at sea, his company continued under other management. His vision had been a strong one that withstood the death of its founder. Many interviews with S.S. Central America survivors discuss Mr. Birch. See Klare and Bowers

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Provenance: SS Central America Collection