An Adventure in the Antiquities Trade
by Jeff Hecht
The flimsy blue paper was faded, its edges rough where a dull paper cutter had slit the seals. I had carefully unfolded it and slid it into a plastic sheet protector before Mr. James arrived to examine it. I served him English Afternoon tea and settled him in a gently aged leather armchair in the office of my antique document shop before I placed the letter before him.
He held it as delicately as an injured bird. "This is very old," he said, turning it over and looking at the stamp pasted on the old Aerogramme. "The postmark is smudged, but the year looks like 1989. I see no date on the letter. Where did you find it?"
"At an estate sale just across the river in New Jersey. The house had been in the family of a minor writer, who had left it to his granddaughter. She had lived there 60 years, preserving his papers. When I saw this, I thought of your interest in antique international business correspondence and purchased it at once. Most of the other papers were quite routine." The copies of tax returns from the 1970s with hand-written numbers on original Internal Revenue forms had brought a tidy sum from an accountant, but most of the rest had been rubbish. No one collects paper utility bills unless they were to Paris Hilton.
"This reminds me of my grandfather," Mr. James said. "When he started his business he typed all his letters on an old Royal manual typewriter." He held the letter up to the light and pointed. "You can see the holes punched by the period and comma keys, and the uneven impressions of the other keys. People using manual typewriters struck each key with different force, and it shows in the impressions."
I looked and nodded in agreement. "Correspondence was much more interesting before e-mail," I said. Mr. James was the sort of collector who delights dealers because they have very particular tastes and the money to indulge them. "It's sad that today's electronic business documents utterly lack character."