Remember that time your great-grandmother showed you a box of old letters from the 1800s?
Well, you might want to dig them out.
If you have any old envelopes that look like the one in the accompanying photo, they could be worth big bucks. This hand-stamped envelope from 1861 is expected to fetch hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars at a New York stamp auction later this month.
One of only 11 known Chattanooga post-marked envelopes of its kind, it reflects a moment in history when the new Confederate states were grappling with postal delivery. Tennessee seceded from the Union on June 8, 1861, the month before this letter was mailed.
Postage stamps, which had become popular nationally in the mid-19th century before the Civil War, were not available here in the early days of the Confederacy, and post offices resorted to selling hand-stamped envelopes, according to Charles Epting, president and CEO of the H.R. Harmer Fine Stamp Auction in New York.
"It kept the mail flowing and kept people happy," Epting said in a telephone interview this week.
Epting said the Chattanooga envelope is part of a large collection of American stamps from the estate of German collector Erivan Haub, who died in 2018, that will be auctioned by his company June 21.
Anyone can bid on items in real time at hrharmer.com, Epting said. The opening bid for the Chattanooga envelope has been set at $300, but the eventual selling price could be "many multiples of that," Epting said.
The Chattanooga hand stamps don't change hands very often, and they are very desirable, he said.
The misspelling of Chattanooga on the tag — with only one "t" — is a mistake by a previous owner (not Haub) and is considered part of the provenance of the piece, according to the auction company.
Haub was a grocery store magnate whose family at one point owned the former A&P Grocery Store chain, among other holdings, Epting said. Haub came to the the United States to work for A&P when he was a young man and developed a keen interest in American history, Epting explained.
A stamp collector — or philatelist — Haub had an extensive collection of 19th-century American stamps, including this stamped envelope dated July 17, 1861, and addressed to a Mrs. Howland in Athens, Tennessee.
As a teenager Haub was captivated by American history — things like "the Pony Express, the Civil War, the Gold Rush," Epting said. "Later in life, when he had the means, stamps were something he started to pursue."
Epting said since Chattanooga is a hotbed of Civil War history, residents here should be on the lookout for valuable correspondence from the period. He said not only are postmarked 1860s envelops valuable, but also the letters inside.
Two stamp collecting groups, the American Philatelic Society and Civil War Philatelic Society, have volunteers who can help people determine if they have historically significant, and/or valuable, postal items, Epting said.