Old desk concealed letter from admired first lady
Estate sales can be the sources of great discoveries – some which only reveal themselves years later, says Ken Hubbard. About 20 years ago, Hubbard bought a $15 desk at an estate sale. His plan was to refinish it, but it took a while for him to get around to the task. When he finally did, he had a surprise – inside the desk was a letter to the previous owner from Eleanor Roosevelt. “I never knew it was there,” he said.
Apparently the desk’s previous owner had written to Roosevelt and sent her a handkerchief. The letter, written on United Nations’ stationery, was an acknowledgment of the gift. “Thank you so much for your birthday wishes and the lovely handkerchief which you included. It was most kind of you to have sent it, and I so much appreciate your thoughtfulness,” it read, and was signed “Very sincerely yours,” and “Eleanor Roosevelt.” It was dated Oct. 21, 1948.
Independent appraiser Brian Thomczek took a look at the letter at a recent appraisal session held at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy. “I’ve seen some Eleanor Roosevelt signatures and, while I’m not an expert, this looks pretty good,” he said. “Her autograph is one of the most sought-after of first ladies.”
The letter is on stationery that reads “U.S. Delegation to the General Assembly of the U.N.” Thomczek says that the dates and the stationery track. According to the national archives (archives.gov), she was appointed to the position by President Truman – the only woman on the committee – and held it until 1953. She was chairman of the Human Rights Commission during the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in December of 1948, soon after the date on Hubbard’s letter. “The dates here seem to track and make sense,” says Thomczek.
His only question was whether or not the letter was actually signed by the former first lady herself, or whether it could have been signed by a secretary, personal assistant or even auto pen, a common practice. “I’m not an expert in autographs, so I can’t answer that question for you with any authority, but it certainly seems as if this would be worth more research,” he told Hubbard. “If it’s proven to be authentic, I’d appraise it at approximately $2,500-$3,000.”
Hubbard said he got rid of the desk some time ago but has kept its unexpected correspondence. “The desk didn’t make the last move but I kept the letter,” he said. “I’ve always wondered about it.”
Thomczek said there are a variety of places that would do further research on the letter should Hubbard decide to dig a little deeper. If he’s interested in selling, he should definitely look into getting it authenticated, he said. Another option is to donate it to a worthy museum.
“If the signature is indeed hers, that makes the letter both collectible and historically significant,” the appraiser told Hubbard. “Collectors and historical institutions love this sort of thing.”
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About This Item
Item: Eleanor Roosevelt letter
Owner: Ken Hubbard
Appraised by: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser
Estimated value: $2,500-$3,000 if authenticated