1872 P.T. Barnum Letter & Envelope

Value (2009) | $5,000 Auction

I had just started teaching high school history back in 1957 and my sister, who's a beautician, was telling a customer about her brother. And the customer said, "Gosh, I've got an old letter that he might want to look at and have." And so they brought this letter and I almost fell out of my chair, because talk about Americana, what could be more important than P.T. Barnum back in the 1870s? It's just a little bit after the Civil War.

It's dated 1872. It's got the stamp on each of the letters, and then there's a postal postmark right on the envelope. So, you were a history teacher at the time?

Yes, in high school, yeah.

And so tell me what kind of history you learned in this.

Well, I learned a couple of things, one of which is the importance of sideshows and carnivals at that point in time. That was America's recreation. Number two, the treatment of the Indian is, I think, interesting. At one point, he says, "I'd like to have a couple braves, a couple squaws, a few papooses." And then later on he says, "We may have to deal with a Catholic priest "because they may not want "to send these people off to a side show. But I think with a small bribe, we'll be able to pull it off." And later in the letter he refers to them as "critters," which I thought was a kind of interesting way to talk about people.

Yeah, he was, at times, derogatory about people that are different and was trying to exhibit them to make money. You did have the letter transcribed for you by the Circus World Museum.

Right, I did.

And they did mention this was sent to a James Nutt, N-U-T-T. I also tried to do some research and couldn't find whether Commodore Nutt, one of P.T. Barnum's small people, was related to this Nutt. So, whether all those were given names or were actually show business names is hard to tell. But Mr. Nutt was not able to provide him with Indians, I believe.

I don't know that he was able to because he was in the wrong part of the country.

Right, and I think Barnum showed with this type of stationery the future thinking of how to attract people into his museum. This was to get people for the American Museum, which was in New York City at the Hippodrome. And the museum then traveled after the Hippodrome burned down. He had an envelope that was printed with the same logos and names just like this one. The signature on here is big and bold, and that's very important, as he did scribble. As you can tell by the rest of this. I would say for insurance value, to replace something like this would cost you at least $5,000.

Okay. Yeah, now that exceeds my expectations.

If this envelope was to come up for auction, just by itself, it would sell for $500 to $1,000.

Wow, okay

Appraisal Details

Hudson, MA
Appraised value (2009)
$5,000 Auction
San Jose, CA (August 15, 2009)

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