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Antiques Considered - March 31, 2010

A lady in the lower Northern Neck sent this picture of her letterbox, with the interesting information that it had belonged to her husband’s ancestor, who had taken it with him while on service during the War Between the States.  The box is walnut, and it retains the original paper lining, as well as the lock, but the key is missing.
This box is a fine example of nineteenth-century craftsmanship.  The tone of the wood is good, indicating that its finish is original, and the presence of the original paper lining is quite impressive.  Many times people thought they were improving such pieces by re-lining them.  Happily, in this case that never happened.
As to the oral tradition that it went through the War with the ancestor, the age and appearance of the box conform perfectly.  The problem in attributing such provenance comes with the lack of documentation.  Clearly, the tradition must be accurate, but without documentary evidence, rather than word-of-mouth passage, that aspect of its value cannot be substantiated.  

Inasmuch as the family never would sell the letterbox, the lack of documentation is not a significant factor in its value.  I know a family in New England who are related to a Civil War General, and they have his campaign desk in their home.  When they inquired from museums if they could donate the piece to be on display, the curators told them they would not be able to accept it without primary documentation, rather than oral tradition, as to its provenance.
This letterbox dates from the mid-nineteenth century, and is worth $250.  Should someone in the family come up with letters from the Confederate soldier referring to it, or mention of it in old wills, the aspect of provenance would play a larger role in determining its value.
Happy Antiquing!
Lisa and Henry Hull operate Commonwealth Antiques and Appraisals, Inc. at 5150 Jessie DuPont Hwy. 22570. (P. O. 35). Wicomico Church, VA 22570. Write to them there or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with pictures and descriptions of items.

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