Friday, November 5, 2010

What's a Love Letter Worth?

Along with the condition reports and treatment plans, my sister and I received cost estimates for the proposed treatments on a handful of historic photos, some selected artwork, and a love letter.  It looks like a lot of

What’s a love letter from 1949 worth?  If you mean, what can it fetch on eBay, the answer is probably not much.  In the case of the June and Art letters, the paper was cheap in the first place and has deteriorated since.  There was nothing special about the ink either.  There’s no association with famous people.  Just a set of ordinary 1949 love letters.

You can’t calculate the value of a family item in the usual way.  It’s not a question of what it’s made of or how high it could go at auction.  There’s a different calculus involved.  The paper and the ink are tied in with lives that in some way have touched yours, either directly or down through the generations.  There are echoes of passion, work, relaxation, mistakes, regrets, joy, and despair.  We’ll never fathom all the long chains of cause and effect, but this yellowed paper is a reminder that the links between then and now are real.

A frequent question that conservators hear is:  Any idea what it’s worth?  Ethically, the conservator isn’t supposed to respond.  That’s a question for an appraiser, not a conservator.  But when you’re dealing with family items, it’s not really even an appropriate question for an appraiser.

I know my parents treasured these letters.  They kept them safe through the years, knowing they were so much more than just paper and ink bought at a five and dime store.

My sister and I have the condition reports, the treatment plans, and the cost estimates.  Technically the money will be going to stabilize the paper and ink but the real value will be in its preservation of our family story.  It starts looking like a bargain from that perspective.

© 2010 Lee Price

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