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MailTribune.com
  • 'Dear Family ... '

    Letters seem even more valuable today
  • Grandma Helen penned handwritten reports about the price of eggs and other staples in Sierra Vista, and what a fright they were. Grandpa Joe printed "ZOOM!" on the envelope next to the ZIP code.
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  • Grandma Helen penned handwritten reports about the price of eggs and other staples in Sierra Vista, and what a fright they were. Grandpa Joe printed "ZOOM!" on the envelope next to the ZIP code.
    I unfolded the pages of their letter and read. Her crusty voice came through as I worked to decipher some illegible words. It mattered that the rabbits had fared well and their pole beans had flourished because — packed amid the cramped lettering — she had visited us.
    Once upon a time, handwritten letters were common, but a treat just the same. I loved getting them. I loved writing them, too.
    I wrote my grandparents in Washington about life in the desert while battling through my turbulent teens. Hours passed as I escaped to the Northwest woods via my letters and foretold of my return.
    When they wrote back, I gauged the heft of the envelope in my hands and anticipated. After removing the trifold message, I read it more than once, then I tucked it away in a dresser drawer.
    There was no email, texting or Skype. Mom limited our long-distance phone calls with the egg timer because of cost. Now that some of the letter writers are gone, their correspondences have become written family history — and treasure.
    My grandma, Goby, took to printing once her hands became less sure. Even so, her recipe cards stand out from the others. I see a card labeled "Cinnamon Rolls," and aside from hers being the only cinnamon roll recipe worth having, I know it is hers.
    It's the same with Mom's and Aunt Georgia's. They reflect a personality because of the individual way these beloved women wielded a pen. Reading over the ingredients brings them into the kitchen with me.
    Taking time to write a poem, family news or even a recipe to a friend lends value to the relationship. A letter in a mailbox is a welcome gift of love, and a plain, old ballpoint will say it as eloquently as a fancy pearl Pelikan fountain pen. Handwritten letters help to humanize our interactions and say things we wouldn't normally say in passing — special thoughts.
    If the brisk collector market for fountain pens is an indicator, letter writing is still a favorite pastime for many. Prices are all over the map, and age isn't necessarily a factor.
    One 1970s vintage Parker brought $180. If the pen is "new old stock" — never used but manufactured years ago — it helps the value.
    As with all collectibles, condition bears greatly on worth. A rare Waterman (Lewis Waterman patented the first nonleaking fountain pen in 1884) "Patrician" in black and pearl recently went for $400 while a Montblanc from the fabulous '50s fetched $140.
    I also found a smattering of handwritten letters for sale. A grouping of six love letters from the 1930s or World War II correspondence brought about $15. My guess is these will become dearer.
    Handwritten letters attest that some good things of bygone days don't have to disappear. We have choices. A sentiment handwritten for a loved one today may mean more in years to come.
    Freelance writer Peggy Dover writes about antiques and the human stories behind them. She lives in Eagle Point. Email her at pcdover@hotmail.com.
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