Dear Helaine and Joe: I have enclosed a copy of a letter written by Robert E. Lee to his mother, plus Emily Ann Lee's report card from the Miss Anable's School, dated July 12, 1849, all of which have been in our family for years. I believe Emily Ann was Robert E. Lee's sister. I have also enclosed some of Emily Ann's drawings. A relative borrowed the letter written by Lee and returned it with the signature cut out. Robert E. Lee did write his name on the envelope. Do these have any value other than historical? — M.K.F., Grovetown, Ga.
Dear M.K.F.: A handwritten letter signed by Civil War Gen. Robert Edward Lee is potentially valuable, indeed. The actual monetary value depends on the content of the letter and when it was written (during the Civil War is best).
For example, a letter written by Lee just before Appomattox, musing about his upcoming meeting with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, could be significantly valuable — both financially and historically. But just about any letter signed by Lee is worth $8,000 or more, and a Civil War example with good content can fetch in excess of $35,000.
Unfortunately, Lee was known for writing rather dull missives home to his relatives, and this one, dated June 21, 1840, concerns travels and mentions such locations as Memphis, Tenn., and Jackson, Miss. It is a less-than-exciting letter, but if the famous, iconic Robert E. Lee wrote it, it's still valuable. If written by someone else named Robert Lee, its value is modest.
First of all, let us say that if this is indeed a Robert E. Lee letter, cutting off the signature was an act of inexcusable vandalism. A genuine Lee signature alone is worth only about $3,000, which is not nearly as desirable as a signature attached to a letter as mentioned above.
M.K.F. writes that Lee signed the envelope, but after careful comparison with known Robert E. Lee signatures, this does not appear to be his signature. The writing appears to be completely unlike anything that the real Robert E. Lee ever signed, but this notation may have been added later in another hand.
We carefully checked the handwriting of Robert E. Lee, and while we cannot be absolutely certain using just a photocopy, we feel confident that Gen. Lee did not pen this letter himself. We also want to point out that this letter was addressed to someone in Alabama (Mrs. —— L. Lee), and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee did not write this letter to his long-deceased mother, Anne Hill Carter Lee (1773-1829).
But what about the Emily Ann Lee report card and sketchbook? Was she indeed Gen. Lee's sister?
Unfortunately, once again, the answer is no. Robert E. Lee had two full sisters, one named Anne (1800-1864) and the other Catherine (1811-1856), plus a half sister named Lucy (1786-1860). There was no sister Emily Ann — and none of Lee's female children had that name, either.
That said, a specialist in the field should authenticate this letter and sketchbook. A hands-on second opinion is always in order, but we feel the value of this grouping is less than $150.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. E-mail them at email@example.com.