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Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Newly acquired letter seeks Auglaize County formation

By Janie Southard

Rachel Barber, administrator of the Auglaize County Historical Society, carefull. . .

WAPAKONETA - The county historical society recently purchased a 1846 stampless letter that accompanied a petition "praying for the erection of the new county of Auglaize."
"About six weeks ago I got an e-mail telling me there was a 1846 stampless letter on eBay about the forming of Auglaize County," said Rachel Barber, administrator for the Auglaize County Historical Society. "There are occasionally items available about the county, atlases, post cards and locally made items. But this was singular. Obviously a one of a kind."
Stampless letters were the folded paper sheets on which the actual letter was written. The first postage stamps in the U.S. were issued in 1847. Before that all mail was sent without stamps. The rate, based on mileage, the date and the origin of the letter was handwritten on the folded front. (There were no envelopes used until after stamps were available.)
Never an eBay shopper, Barber enlisted the assistance of society member John Zwez to do the bidding. When he got on eBay the price of the letter, written more than 150 years ago by Wapakoneta resident Robert Skinner to state Representative P.J. Hines, was $132.50. The attached petition was signed by citizens of Shelby County voicing their approval of establishing Auglaize.
By this time county history buffs Dan Bennett, Greg Myers and Karen and Lawrence Dietz also heard of the letter and offered matching money.
Barber said the letter is remarkable not only for its insight to the forming of the county, but also it gives a glimpse of the politics of getting an issue passed in state legislature.
For starters it appears Skinner was unhappy with the tie-vote in the House of Representatives and expressed how "truly sorry" he was that "Mr. Edgerton did not vote for the bill or leave the Senate when the vote ... was taken;" and later, "it is a hard matter to quietly bear ..."
To Hines, Skinner wrote: "You got the unanimous support of Allen (county), because we believed that you would cheerfully support our new county measure ... You were elected to have erected, if in your power, the proposed new county of Auglaize." He went on to say it was expected that Hines' attention to the project would be given as early as possible.
Also he gave notice that he and some others would be visiting Columbus soon. "We want to know who our true friends are," he wrote.
The large county area of the time was called Mercer County and encompassed both what is now Mercer and Auglaize counties, with St. Marys as the county seat.
The establishment of Auglaize County finally passed in state legislature in 1848 after several votes. Unfortunately Skinner died of cholera during a visit to Dayton and never saw the founding of the new county.
Barber said the eBay bid for Skinner's letter climbed slowly until a half hour before the auction close.
"Suddenly it really started moving up ... Ten seconds before 7:30 (the end of the auction), John put our bid in," she said, adding the society won the bid at $380 plus shipping.
"Of course our plan was always to donate the letter to the historical society," she commented. "We have so few archival records of the actual founding of the county, and, of course, this one is particularly interesting because it reflects such political maneuvering."
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