Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Putting a Price on the Value of a Letter

I just read how valuable JFK's letters to the family of a crew member's family are to today's collectors, and it got me wondering. Will a president's e-mails be just as valuable some day? Will anyone care, unless a scandal is involved? Will anyone value the letters I have written? Oh, wow. What about those old love letters? Some are the equivalent of a modern nude selfie! Or not. But the secrets I shared with my sisters can get me in hot water some day. Why was I the only one to put incriminating details in writing? Now you know why I've never risked becoming famous! I have secrets. Nude photos even. My reputation would never survive being vetted.

Do you ever wonder if the letters you write might make history some day, or be valuable? I wonder if Robert Kennedy imagined that his letters to a classmate would someday warrant as much attention as they do now? His letters were written to Peter MacLellan between 1941 and 1945. Someone paid $31,250 for them! Jack's sold for a mere $20,000. Hmm.

I paid less than $20 for a leather bound book, The Union, that includes letters from a soldier, written during the Civil War, titled "The Civil War Letters of Alfred Edward Waldo." His correspondence covers the years from 1862 through 1864. The last letters were penned by someone on staff at the Armory Square Hospital in Washington, DC, on Alfred's behalf. And here I am, writing about them 150 years later. I am not a Civil War buff. I do enjoy seeing history through letters written--without editing--with candor and honesty, and little concern for how the author might be judged by those who loved him. Alfred put pen to paper, and wrote . . .

"I should like 3 or 4 letters every night." Wishful thinking, huh? He had to have been lonely. (He mentioned Hooker in a letter.) His parents sent him stamps! I Googled the price of a stamp back in 1862, and am willing to bet the folks obliged. Soldiers always crave letters from home in every book or story I have ever read about wars. It just goes to prove that some things never change. But does it take war and being far away from home to get a G.I. to write?

Father & Mother. No "dear?" Probably not, since he included his father in the salutation. When did "Dear" become the standard? And who assumed that every recipient was a dear? Hmm. I wonder who wrote more often. It had to have been his mother, right? Don't you just know she knitted those mittens, too? Well, father could have. Probably should have as well. Alfred received a care package with a shirt, boots, a letter from Martha and a 50 cent stamp. A penny less that we pay for first class! It breaks my heart to read, "I found a lead pencil in my shirt (the one I am now writing with) and a box of pepper. The pencil that I had is most used up and this one came handy and the pepper also for Gus had his in his haversack and I had rather be with out most anything else than pepper." Alfred liked" cayanne tea." His loving mother often sent goodies. 

Stanford Ky
May 31, 1863

Father & Mother,

"I received your letter yesterday morning with the cloves in it." Ground cloves? 

Ha! Those 20 mince pies remind me of the 54 moon pies I boxed and sent to Nephew II! Did I ever tell you what happened? Well, he wasn't given hard labor for what his aunt did. He wasn't laughed out of the Corps. And no one made him eat the lot. Everyone was allowed to eat a moon pie. *grin*

Okay. So, yes, Alfred wrote about the weather. Imagine that! Letters from home and stamps were almost as important as food, boots, shirts, and ammo. Their diet was . . . I think some of the casualties of war stemmed from a poor diet. No army fights well on hard tack and molasses! And, what of the soldiers who could not read or write? I often read a good letter more than once. Maybe they memorized what their fellow soldiers . . . I wonder if it's better or worse today, seeing as how too many in our military do not get mail because writing has fallen before the might of e-mail and FaceTime. I wish I'd saved the letters my father wrote to me from overseas. I wonder if he kept any of mine? 

. . . to be continued

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