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Search for Paper Treasure in Attic Trash, Says Historian Michael Mendoza

(December 21, 2011)

SAN DIEGO, CA -- (Marketwire) -- 12/21/11 -- Historian and author Michael Mendoza, who used a letter written by a Civil War veteran as the basis for his new first novel, "Glorious Reality of War," (, says such treasures are often overlooked when people pore through inherited estates.

Mendoza owned an antiques store in 1997 when 95-year-old Alice Bowersock died in San Diego, Calif. He acquired her estate: furniture, knickknacks, and stacks of boxes full of photographs, insurance policies and letters.

Most people, Mendoza notes, might trash the papers immediately.

"Don't," he advises. "Toss or sell the knickknacks, and keep the paper. It can be invaluable."

Collectors value ephemera because such paper records are unique and irreplaceable, he says, so he went through the boxes page by page.

The letter Mendoza found was written by Charles Wesley Rickard to his daughter in 1925. He wrote that he was a 15-year-old Iowa farm boy when "a great desire came over me to go to the war. My parents were loathe to give their consent, and so I made life miserable for them until they finally gave in."

In 1862, he enlisted as a Union fifer and served until 1865.

Finding inspiration for a novel may not equate to striking it rich for everyone, but people willing to sort through old family papers stand to profit, Mendoza says.

He offers these tips for dealing with old paperwork:

  • Don't throw it away simply because it's damaged. Mendoza found a first-edition copy of "Gone with the Wind" that was so waterlogged, it was destroyed. "I sold it for $80," he says, "and that was cheap."
  • Put together items on the same topic to improve chances of selling to collectors. Collectors like to buy in lots, Mendoza notes. They'd rather have a whole bunch of things than just one. Among Alice Bowersock's belongings, Mendoza found photographs and documents from her father's time helping to build the Panama Canal. Mendoza pulled all the canal material together and sold it to a collector.
  • Digitize everything. Scanning your documents and photographs allows you to study them without damaging them.

For the record -- Mendoza is still going through Alice Bowersock's boxes.

About Michael Mendoza

Michael Mendoza holds a master's degree in American history and is an adjunct instructor for Central Texas College. He lives in Santee, Calif.

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Ginny Grimsley

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