Here is a neat little steel utility key from the American Railway Express Company. It dates from between the World War I period and 1929 (see background below) . It has a flat bow that changes to a hollow barrel like an "oiler" key, but it is too small to fit a switch lock.
This key is stamped AMRYEX on one side of its flat bow above a serial number PL910. On the opposite side is the Corbin Company's large C logo. The serial number would also have appeared on the padlock it was originally made for. Unfortunately we have the "orphan" key only and no lock for it.
CONDITION is very nice, with a very attractive almost pewter color and glowing patina. To note issues: The EX stamping is finger-worn nearly away but is still legible with a magnifying glass; and the thin top running over the loop hole is just slightly bent. (We did not try to flatten/straighten this - leaving that decision to the collector.)
Although Railway Express Agency relics are fairly common, this one is from a significantly earlier predecessor.
A scarce item and great addition to any collection of express agency memorabilia!
FROM WIKIPEDIA: The first parcel express agency in the United States is generally considered to have been started in 1839 between New York City and Boston, Massachusetts by a courier who carried small parcels, currency and other valuables. Not much later, William G. Fargo, a New York Central Railroad freight clerk at Auburn, NY, and Henry Wells, a leather worker at Batavia, NY, organized Wells Fargo & Co. Over the ensuing years additional parcel carriers emerged.
The express business flourished in the latter half of the 19th century. By 1900 there were four principal parcel express companies, all of which included the rapidly advancing railways as one of their means of transport: Adams Express Company, Southern Express Company, American Express Company, and Wells Fargo. Despite competition from the U. S. Postal Service's parcel post, private railway express business increased steadily through the end of World War I.
During World War I, the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) took over the nation's railroads. The USRA consolidated the four major and three minor express companies into one, the American Railway Express, Inc. In March 1929, the assets and operations of American Railway Express Inc. were transferred to Railway Express Agency (REA). REA was owned by 86 railroads in proportion to the express traffic on their lines - no one railroad or group of railroads had control of the agency. It lasted until 1975, succeeded by the familiar courier services we know and use today.
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