Alvin Adams started a company originally in Boston in May 1840 as a local mail service carrying small parcels, bank drafts and other valuables between Boston, Worcester, Norwich, New London and New York City, using steamboats and railways. During the California goldrush a closely affiliated company was started by Daniel Hall Haskell in November 1849, who had left New York and became a resident partner of the firm in San Francisco. The Adams & Co. Express was founded and mainly focused on forwarding gold dust to New York, but it also handled letters.
Bill Hornadge in his Local Stamps of Australia (1982) speaks of the California partner as D.H. Maskell, and one of his senior associates in California was George Mowton, who arrived in Melbourne early in 1853 to establish an Australian branch of the organisation. He was accompanied by Freeman Cobb who had been employed in the American operation since 1849. Cobb parted company with Mowton in 1853 to establish a parcel service to Sandridge (Port Melbourne) and he with 3 other partners established the famous firm of Cobb & Co. which quickly eclipsed Adams & Co. becoming the premier Australian coaching firm of the 19th century. By March 1855 Cobb & Co. had acquired Adams & Co., although the latter’s name was still used in newspaper adverts, and up to 1862 it traded under the heading of Brokers, Agents & Commission Agents, Shipping and Lightering.
Adams & Co. is not known to have issued any adhesive local stamps, but it did use a rubber stamp applied to letters carried by the firm. It was a four line hand-stamp in red (Figure 2).
Two additional covers were found on the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, the first sent from the Adams & Co. Express, 16 Wall Street, New York (as shown by the shield in red) to Mr. Robert R. Carrington, Purser Steamer “New Orleans”, Care Mr Geo Mowton Esq, Adams & Co., Melbourne, Australia, the same George Mowton who started the firm in Melbourne (Figure 3).
The next cover was a stampless early local Colonial cover from the Melbourne firm postmarked with a MELBOURNE/ [CROWN]/ OC*3/ 1853/ VICTORIA cancel addressed to Mr. Robt R. Currington, care Mess Shippurd & Alger, Sydney, NSW, rated with a black manuscript ‘4'. The flap shows that it was received in Sydney on NO 6, and it had an ornate blue shield with the following text: ADAMS & Co/ AMERICAN & EUROPEAN/ EXPRESS/ MELBOURNE/ N.S.W. (Figure 4).
Although Cobb & Co. became an Australian icon (and Cobb found a place in the Australian Dictionary of Biography), the American founder Freeman Cobb (1830-1878) only spent 3 years and one month in Australia, the coach firm being carried on by his partners. On 14 August 1924 the last Cobb & Co. coach made its final run on the Surat-Yuleba route in south-west Queensland.
Addendum: Additional information has come to light on Figure 4. An important and very early Victorian express cover possibly carried by Adams & Co from the goldfields and placed into the postal system on arrival at Melbourne. There is a Sydney arrival backstamp of NO 6/1853. The company was established about May 1853 and was terminated in mid-1855 as a result of the Post Office flexing its monopolistic muscle.