October 1, 2016
The Value of Old Paper – Junk in the Trunk
Since we are large buyers of old paper, ephemera and manuscripts, we always caution sellers not to throw ANYTHING out. It is incredible the number of times I am called to an estate or library to appraise or evaluate books, and after an hour of finding little of interest or value on the shelves, I discover in a drawer, attic, or overlooked closet, papers that contain something remarkable or valuable.
Ephemera is loosely defined as “items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.” It includes a large variety of old paper, scrapbooks, trade-cards, broadsides, newspapers, and pretty much anything printed. Sometimes these fragile – ephemeral- pieces of paper survive in very few if any copies and they are often cultural windows into the period in which they were printed. In today’s market such ephemera has become very fashionable to collect – largely for its rarity. Everyone wants something interesting and fresh that does not pop up with regularity in commerce or at auction.
About 15 years ago, as an example, I found a thin tissue paper laid in the pages of an old Irish book. The paper contained the lyrics of the “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, the now famous “Star Spangled Banner,” written in 1814, by the young lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships. It turned out to be an unrecorded and contemporary broadside of the poem and of considerable scholarly and monetary value.
As another example, sitting on the pile of old papers in the photo below is an interesting 1807 broadside that was printed in New Hampshire. Simply signed by the anonymous ‘Americanus’, it concerns raising taxes to pay for the cost of the Louisiana purchase- a subject which appeals to scholars interested in the history of economics as well (no doubt) to real estate brokers impressed with (if not envious of) the greatest real estate deal in history. As a rare broadside, it is worth up to $750 to the right buyer.
So, don’t throw any old paper out! Sift through those trunks! Empty those drawers and shoeboxes. There are lots of undiscovered treasures out there- it’s not just junk in a trunk.
[BROADSIDE] [AMERICANA] [DIRECT TAX] Author: Americanus [United States] : [publisher not identified], [New Hampshire, c. 1807] Moderately foxed, margins slightly chipped & frayed, several insignificant separations along folds. Uncut. VERY RARE. Top with “In such a country, so happily circumstanced,” [etc.—quotation from Washington’s Farewell Address]. 1 p. 45.2 x 28 cm. “Concerns the cost of the Louisiana purchase, with a table showing the proportionate cost per county of the $15 million bill, and describing how the Embargo Act makes it difficult if not impossible to pay France without a special tax. The writer, ”Americanus,” also warns of the threat of European war.” Ref: Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04073