Erie Times-News, Pa., Good Morning column
Dec 29, 2012 (Erie Times-News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
With Abraham Lincoln's popularity soaring in recent weeks, thanks to Steven Spielberg's excellent movie, the value of his letters has reached new heights.
Always in hot demand by collectors, the letters are now so valuable that some greedy people are cutting single words from various sentences and selling them for big bucks.
It reminded me of a story in my mother's family about her grandmother supposedly receiving a letter from Lincoln shortly before his death in 1865.
When we broke up the family homestead in Wisconsin in 1977, we discovered the letter in an old family Bible.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a letter to Lincoln, not from Honest Abe, which meant it had value only as the punch line to a good family legend.
Letters written by celebrities such as John Lennon commanded tens of thousands of dollars at auctions this year. But not every collection turned out to be as valuable as Sotheby's predicted.
You might have heard about the love letters, for example, that the late "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz wrote to a 25-year-old woman named Tracey Claudius in 1970. Schulz, 48 at the time, was married, but judging from the contents of the 44 letters, he was clearly infatuated with Claudius.
According to an Associated Press report by Ula Ilnytzky, Schulz wrote in one of the letters that he had to stop calling Claudius because his long-distance phone calls to her had been discovered by his wife.
"Soon after," Ilnytzky writes, "Schulz created a strip in which Charlie Brown berated Snoopy for his obnoxious behavior when he's 'not allowed to see that girl beagle.'"
In subsequent panels, Charlie Brown warns Snoopy "you'd better start behaving yourself." When Snoopy picks up the phone, Charlie Brown yells, "And stop making those long-distance calls!"
David Michaelis wrote in his 2007 book, "Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography," that the cartoonist proposed to Claudius twice. She turned him down, though, and the relationship ended. Within two years Schulz divorced his wife and married another woman. Sotheby's estimated the value of the letters at $250,000 to $350,000 but, alas, not a single person placed a bid at the Dec. 14 auction. As Charlie Brown would say, "Oh, rats!"
Old love letters often don't stir as much passionate memories as you'd think. I once found a box of letters my father sent to my mother in 1948 and was shocked to see such sickly sweet sentiments.
"That's because your father later confessed that he ran out of things to say to me and simply copied down the sentiments on the greeting cards at the drugstore," Mom said.
I guess we won't be sending those missives to Sotheby's any time soon.
KEVIN CUNEO can be reached at 870-1701. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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