Sold for $2000

The Finest Known
The "Poet of the Stage Line" Overland Stage agent at Virginia City,
future Postmaster of Salt Lake City and Director of Wells, Fargo & Co.

Taken at Montana's first photography studio
only a few months after it opened.

1865 autographed carte de visite portrait of Nat Stein (1834-1919), a remarkably beautiful and stunningly early image made at the first significant photography studio in Montana Territory, the Montana Picture Gallery in Virginia City, only a few months after it opened.

Significance as Western Photographica

The Montana Picture Gallery was first advertised by its founders in the Montana Post newspaper on May 6, 1865:

"Messrs. Pickett and Carter of the Montana Picture Gallery, Jackson street, have on hand some beautiful specimens of the photographic art. The pictures of some of our citizens, and of the ladies of Virginia City, are very correct & artistic. Those wishing to give their friends a true likeness, should give them a call."

Offered here is an unparalleled example of the early work of this landmark Western studio. Although the card mount is unimprinted, the U.S. Internal Revenue tax stamp is signed in ink with the initials of Pickett and Carter.

Identifying the earliest work of the Montana Picture Gallery is of course problematic, but this is arguably the earliest known, and if not that, even more likely to be the earliest beautifully preserved one. The Montana Historical Society does not have one that explicitly predates it, and they were founded in 1865.

Although there are references to the Montana Picture Gallery operating in 1864, I believe that this claim is based on an error made by photohistorian Peter E. Palmquist in Pioneer Photographers of the Far West (2000). His bio for photographer A.C. Carter suggests that Carter operated the Gallery alone in 1864 and that his partnership with Pickett in 1865 was a new arrangement. However, the photograph he used as evidence, from the Montana Historical Society, is in fact not inscribed "1864" but rather "1867." Mr. Palmquist misinterpreted the period ink manuscript inscription. The May 1865 newspaper announcement of the studio marked the true opening of the gallery. This is further supported by the fact that the earliest federal photographer license taken by either Carter or Pickett is also dated May 1865.

Philatelic Significance

Internal Revenue tax stamps were required on all photographs sold between August 1, 1865 and July 30, 1866 a federal tax imposed to finance the Civil War.

Photos sold in the western territories were subjected to the tax as if they were states. Stamp-taxed photographs from Montana Territory are extremely rare.

I have been collecting since 1984 and this is the only one from Montana Territory I have encountered in private hands.

The Montana Historical Society holds several stamp-taxed carte de visite photographs with period ink inscriptions suggesting that they might have been taken in Virginia City, but with no conclusive evidence such as an imprinted studio backmark or, as is the case with the CDV I am offering, a signed stamp that proves a Montana studio origin.

I exhibited this photograph for 25 years as part of my award-winning The Civil War Sun Picture Tax philatelic exhibit.

Who Was Nat Stein?

Nat Stein (also known as "Nathan Stein") began his career as a pony express rider on March 1, 1861, at St. Joseph, Missouri, where he was employed by the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company, first going on the line to Denver.

When the line changed hands and passed into the control of Benjamin Holladay, Stein was placed in charge of the agency at Denver, and, early in 1863, was transferred to the Salt Lake City office.

In May 1864, Holladay secured the first government contract for mail service in Montana, and he sent Nat Stein to take charge of the office at Virginia City, where he represented the stage line in all its branches, including the banking department.

By February 1866, the Holladay Overland would be taken over by Wells, Fargo & Company Express. This marked the beginning of Stein's association with that fabled express and banking firm he would eventually serve on the Wells Fargo board of directors 35 years later.

Stein was very well known and popular along all the stagecoach routes, known for his genial nature and sociability. He also become known as a literary character called by many "The Poet of the Stage Line." He frequently wrote verses for the amusement of the boys, the most famous of these being "The Song of the Overland Stage-Driver" which was printed in the Montana Post on April 8, 1865 and for some time afterward was sung by the "stage boys" on the routes.

It seems that he left Virginia City only weeks after this photo was made, journeying back east to his hometown of Philadelphia but he soon returned to the west.

Stein was appointed by president Andrew Johnson to be the first post-Civil War postmaster of Salt Lake City, Utah in April 1866 only 7 months after this photo was taken. Stein replaced T.B.H. Stenhouse, a Mormon pioneer and elder who edited the Salt Lake Telegraph newspaper. Stenhouse would become a vocal opponent of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1873, he published a scathing anti-Mormon expose titled The Rocky Mountain Saints and was excommunicated.

In accepting the Utah postmaster appointment, Stein resigned as chairman of the Montana Union Territorial Committee.

Stein served only one year as postmaster. He remained in Utah, living in Salt Lake City and later in Corinne, the so-called "Gentile Capitol of Utah" and working for the First National Bank of Utah. He continued his literary efforts, contributing lampoons of Brigham Young to the satirical Salt Lake paper Diogenes, and many odes and poems to the local Corinne papers.

During this period, his twin brother, Aaron Stein, was employed at Wells, Fargo & Co.'s Overland Express Co. in Salt Lake City.

Both of them would eventually wind up in San Francisco and serve on the Board of Directors of Wells Fargo as officers Aaron Stein in 1894-95 & 1900, and Nathan in 1901-02.

Nathan Stein died on July 15, 1919 in San Francisco, and was remembered in newspaper obituaries as an old-time "Overlander" and Fargo man, as well as for his verses about pony express riders and western stage driver. He was laid to rest alongside his twin brother Aaron, who had died 19 years earlier. Wells Fargo paid for their monument. He was survived by his wife of 40 years, Horatia Cornelia (Shea) Richardson.

Condition: Unbelievably flawless.