World War I Binoculars & Franklin Delano Roosevelt Letter
Appraised Value: $2,000 - $3,000
IMAGE: 1 of 2
Appraisal Video: (2:41)
Books & Manuscripts
Books and Manuscripts Dept., Senior Vice President
GUEST: These were given to me by a friend, my friend's grandmother sent these binoculars to the United States government just at the start of the First World War, when they asked for binoculars, telescopes, whatever would "be the eyes of the Navy" during that war. And they sent her documentation with a dollar, a check for $1 as a rental fee. And if they were able to return it at the end of the war, then the rental fee became a purchase fee, or rather vice versa.
APPRAISER: And this letter here actually mentions "the enclosed check, payable to your order." You're right-- there was this program called "Eyes for the Navy." Wasn't at the beginning of the war. It was actually shortly after the U.S. entered the war, but it wasn't until 1918. And a lot of citizens responded. Your friend's grandmother here has noted that she loaned her binoculars to the Navy. And they actually got used. They were sent to France. We have the tag that got attached to them. She got a thank-you note from the assistant secretary of the Navy. No big deal except that... the assistant secretary of the Navy at the time was Franklin Roosevelt.
APPRAISER: He did climb the political ladder before he became president. Most remarkable of all, though, is that at the end of the war, what happened to the binoculars?
GUEST: They sent them back to her, which is amazing. (laughing)
APPRAISER: So, at one time, at least, the government was efficient.
APPRAISER: We've seen letters like this with some frequency. Obviously, a lot of patriotic citizens responded to this call and did send eyeglasses, spectacles, binoculars, spyglasses. And over the last ten or 15 years... I looked in the auction records, and about a dozen of these have been sold, none for more than $500.
GUEST: Oh, okay.
APPRAISER: But what I think is interesting is the evidence that the binoculars were used by the Navy during the war, and the binoculars themselves. I think that enhances the value significantly. Any idea of how that might increase that average value of $400 or $500?
GUEST: No, not at all.
APPRAISER: Well I'd say it brings it up to something in the range of $2000 or $3000
GUEST: Oh, excellent.
APPRAISER: Because it's so unusual-- a lot of people would keep the letter because it had Roosevelt's signature, but most people wouldn't keep the envelopes, the other documents, the tag, and probably not many of them could have gotten the binoculars back. So, I enjoyed seeing it. I didn't realize before there was this dollar fee, so not only do the people who come to the ROADSHOW learn things, the appraisers do also. So I appreciate it.
GUEST: Thank you.
APPRAISER: You're very welcome.
GUEST: That's wonderful.
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