Antiquarian booksellers are bona fide treasure hunters. Not only do they find rare first editions of literary works, from time to time, they also find handwritten letters by legendary authors tucked inside those old, dusty books. The real treasure is how these letters provide insight into classic literary works, as well as the personal lives of the authors themselves. Book catalogs, issued by antiquarian booksellers, often list such precious treasures for sale. Ken Lopez, a respected veteran bookseller who specializes in modern first editions, lists two such treasures — handwritten letters, one from Harper Lee and another from her sister — in his recently published Catalog of Modern Literature (No. 164).
The first letter was written on December 8, 2006 (when Lee was 80) to one of her elderly fans: “You must hold a record of sorts: most times having read Mockingbird to the most descendants! You are just about to catch up with my eldest sister in age: at 95 she still practices law — in fact, I’m going to mail this on the way to her office. Forgive this scrawl — I have macular degeneration, a ridiculous term coined by young doctors for senior blindness. Sincerely yours, Harper Lee.”
The second letter was written on August 12, 2007 by Alice Lee to a mother: “My sister, Harper Lee, is a victim of macular degeneration and her severely impaired vision does not allow her to read her mail nor can she reply in her own handwriting. You may tell your children that the book is fiction; that the author had no particular person in mind by whom she fashioned her characters. Explain to them that the really successful author is able to put into her characters the traits and characteristics that are so universally descriptive that they transcend time and appeal to readers through endless generations.”
Although the insights in the letters are priceless, both letters can be purchased for $4,500.
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For further reading: Ken Lopez Modern Literature, Number 164 (April 2015)