1822 Thomas Jefferson Letter

Value (2013) | $35,000 Auction$50,000 Auction

So you've brought along a letter by Thomas Jefferson written to one of your relatives. Can you tell me a little bit about your relative?

It was my grandmother's father's great-grandfather, so I think that would make it three greats for me. His name was Joseph Eccles, and he was the 12th child born in his family, and both of his parents died, and he was raised by some people in Lynchburg, Virginia. That's pretty much all we knew about him, that he wrote to Thomas Jefferson.

I contacted a fellow at the Jefferson Foundation. The thing I wanted to know the most was what was in the letter that Joseph Eccles sent to Jefferson, and he sent me a copy of it.

He wrote the letter asking for advice on going into a different occupation or something, but we didn't know why.

Well, that's good information. I read a transcript of the letter that he wrote to Thomas Jefferson. His name is Joseph Eccles, as you said, and Eccles is saying, "I'm 33 years old, and I haven't had much education. "I was raised by a guardian, "I only went to one year of school when I was 14 years old, "learned a little of arithmetic, "so I'm writing to you as a fellow Virginian "because now I'm a fairly successful businessman, "enough to support my family, "but I want to know what books I should read "to further my education, "and I'm writing to you because I know that you're a knowledgeable and worldly guy." And Jefferson, here in this letter, takes the time to reply. It's a wonderful letter. At that point, Jefferson was back down in Virginia. He had retired from politics, and in 1819, he had founded the University of Virginia. He wanted to educate people who were not in a position to receive too much education because of their finances and economics, and so this was just in his wheelhouse, what kind of letter to write back to Mr. Eccles about what kind of books to read. The letter is a long list of books that he thinks would be great for furthering Eccles' knowledge, and one of the nicest parts of it is where he says, "You want to learn a little bit about modern history, but I don't recommend Hume's history of England." He says, "I find Hume to be too seducing a writer and not really faithful to the history of England," and so he recommends Baxter's history of England instead. So he has opinions and it's a wonderful, fleshy letter filled with details, and he put a lot of time into this letter. As far as value goes, if this letter came up for auction, it would fetch from $35,000 to $50,000 because of the contents.

Wow. Well, maybe I shouldn't keep it in the sideboard.

(laughing) Maybe not.

Appraisal Details

Caliban Books
Pittsburgh, PA
Appraised value (2013)
$35,000 Auction$50,000 Auction
Boise, ID (June 29, 2013)
Ink , Paper

Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.

Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."

Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.

Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.

Verbal approximations: The values given by the experts on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are considered "verbal approximations of value." Technically, an "appraisal" is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes, written by a qualified expert and paid for by the owner of the item. An appraisal usually involves an extensive amount of research to establish authenticity, provenance, composition, method of construction, and other important attributes of a particular object.

Opinion of value: As with all appraisals, the verbal approximations of value given at ROADSHOW events are our experts' opinions formed from their knowledge of antiques and collectibles, market trends, and other factors. Although our valuations are based on research and experience, opinions can, and sometimes do, vary among experts.

Appraiser affiliations: Finally, the affiliation of the appraiser may have changed since the appraisal was recorded. To see current contact information for an appraiser in the ROADSHOW Archive, click on the link below the appraiser's picture. Our Appraiser Index also contains a complete list of active ROADSHOW appraisers and their contact details and biographies.