In every estate I’ve worked on, I’ve found a brown envelope marked “important papers.” Inside are mortgage documents on homes long sold, expired passports, some blurry photos of two people at a high school dance and, of course, BRIC shares. But I won’t dwell on that!
Where the treasure lies is in the box that the family wants to chuck out. As humans, we have a primal urge to line our nests with paper stuff, in case we need it later. So, here are my thoughts on separating the interesting material from the fish wrap, and your chance to show the family you were right to hang on to it in the first place.
A short list of paper items currently sought by collectors includes advertising brochures, calendars, ink blotters, maps, old letters, scrapbooks, theatre programs, sheet music and posters. Now, insert “not just any” in front of each of these categories. To have collector value, it should predate the mid 1960s, and subject matter, size and condition are important. You may have a Hudson’s Bay Company calendar worth $30 or more, an old Woodward’s brochure ($10), a prewar street map of Duncan ($10) or a Second World War recruitment poster ($100s). It’s not hard to see how a box or two of this equals a wallet full of money.
Look for items associated with well-known names. A theatre program featuring Paul Robeson is worth more than one featuring the Daughters of Leechtown Saucepan Orchestra. Another key point involves genre. Horror movie posters are extremely desirable, especially those from the 1930s. A full-size poster from *The Mummy* (1932) is valued at almost a half million dollars, so don’t thumbtack yours to your bedroom wall. A poster from Marilyn Monroe’s *Some Like It Hot* (1959) brings $6,000; and a Bogart poster from *The African Queen* (1952), about half that. Cinemas used to give these away!
Calendars are true ephemera. They’re used for a year then blue-boxed to begin life anew as a macaroni box. Years ago, you got one free from your gas station, the hardware store or the grocery down the street. Most had artwork at the top, a space for the store’s name, and a date pad where you tore off a sheet every month. The more months left on the pad the better, but if you’ve cut the artwork off, you’ve missed your chance.
I love old family letters. People took time to write about their travels, their health, their kids, the farm and the challenges of life in a new land. While some think these are private and should be burned, I disagree as each letter represents a swatch of our social fabric. Last year, I found a letter from a young man to his sister discussing the trials of running a general store in 1898 Sandon (now a ghost town in the Kootenays). Another letter was from a Welsh miner in Cumberland writing of his loneliness, but encouraged by having steady work in the coalmines. This is B.C. history at its finest.
If you travel by bus, you probably read those little pamphlets called *The Buzzer*. They’ve been around over 90 years, capturing the mood of the populace, celebrating royal visits, providing powersaving tips and slipping in a few jokes. I found 600 old *Buzzers* once and discovered they were worth between a quarter and a couple dollars each. “Reddy Kilowatt,” the electric company mascot, appeared on some of them and his character is popular with the collector crowd.
I must mention the most hilarious piece of literature ever produced by our government and often found in the important papers envelope. For years, every new house had to contain a blue Civil Defense booklet that spelled out measures to be taken in the event of an emergency or a disaster. What made up an emergency wasn’t defined, but presumably might include invasions from outer space and attacks by gangs of disgruntled defeated parliamentary candidates. When a disaster occurred, people were to head home, load up 200 pounds of food, clothing and survival gear (including shovels), then proceed in an orderly fashion up-Island! The booklet fails to say what the population was to actually do up-Island, as its mandate seemed to end at Langford. Try to picture 350,000 overloaded people climbing the Malahat as if it were the Chilkoot Pass in the Yukon gold rush. These little blue booklets are worth a couple of dollars, but are priceless for their unintentional humour.
Never assume your old paper stuff is worthless. There are treasures amid the trash!
Comments and suggestions for future articles are welcome and can be sent to Michael Rice PO Box 86 Saanichton, BC or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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