Immigration, learning from our antiques

As the founder of WorthPoint, I have been asked countless times what I collect. I think it is a funny question, as I have learned that a collector’s attention span is usually measured in a 5-6 year time span. I am typical in that respect, as, what I collect changes every 5-6 years. The problem is that I keep what I collected, thus, I have many collections that I am not active in. Thus, how do I answer the question?

My current focus as both a collector and a dealer is in paper. By paper, I mean anything produced on paper. This includes photos, letters, autographs, tobacco cards…. As a seller I like these as people around the world are my customers. They are easy to put in the mail, and the audience is large, as people can put the items in notebooks and live in an apartment. The buyers for your items are limitless, compared to selling a table or a sofa.

I personally like paper because I learn a lot from it as I read it and can experience history. I recently went through the new Smithsonian aviation museum, at the Dulles airport, in VA, and knew so much about the planes there because I have read and sold documents related, to the planes, that I bought out of attics and flea markets in Maine. It was like I have lived the history, uncensored, or through a participants eyes.

I am, through my mother’s family, a second generation American. With the recent controversy about immigration, I have wondered how American’s historically viewed my grandmother’s immigration to the United States less than 100 years ago.

Interestingly, I recently came upon a document in my buying that is from the late 1800’s, from a ship’s captain, that was immigrating to the US and had an American born wife and children. The letter is quite interesting as he is quite educated, and refers to the mass immigration rush to the US, the giveaway of land to immigrants and the immense opportunity in this country. I have shared the letter in my blog and it is quite fascinating. I suppose it is worth about $40, but, the contents, and learning about our history, is worth much more than that, to me. Ultimately, the value is worth whatever the contents are worth to a collector!

I recently spoke at a press conference, in Denver, about WorthPoint’s hosting of the American Presidential Experience, at the Democratic National Convention, in August. It is a tremendous event and I would encourage all that can attend to do so. I will take my family of 7, from Atlanta, to Denver to see it. Not because I am the CEO of WorthPoint, but because of the experience and what one can learn from the history that is there. Like reading the posted letter, and seeing from the eyes of an immigrant, the US in the 1880’s, there is so much to learn about the US presidency in this exhibition in Denver. There are documents, letters, clothes and such that the president or their spouse wore or created. There is so much to learn.

As I mentioned at the press conference, antiques are there as survivors to help us learn about the past. For me, it is more relevant to understanding the past then reading a book that is someone else’s interpretation 100 years later. You just have to take the time to do it!

“Dear Friend

Many thanks for your kind favor including my clearance from Atlantic Lodge Portland.

Will you please inform me if you think I could get the government to locate the 160 acres of land in a Western or Southern State, as I might prefer, or must I take it just wherever they happen to locate it;-have I no right to have any choice in the matter?

Would it meet the requirements of the Government if my wife is a native born American and my came to reside on the land in a couple of years; or must I myself in person occupy same in order to obtain clear and proper title to the same.

I have four years contract with the French (Messageries Maritimes Mail Steamship Company); commencing from late January. As this brings me a pretty good income. I would not like to resign the position-, until the contract is finished: but Mrs. Dithlefsen and my children may wish to come to America soon, provided it (the land grant) was located in a place not to wild and uncivilized. Mrs. Dithlefson says she would not mind to occupy such land, especially if there would be a school for our children at not too great a distance from it.

Although of course Uncle Sam will have land to give away for many many years yet to come, still with the immense immigration constantly pouring into America, would I – in your opininion – be less likely to get good land from him by writing than by claiming and occupying – it soon.

I suppose a few years would not make a difference in that respect. But no doubt – if I now at once could get it in a place already begining to be settled by immigrants, – by the time I arrived in America it might already be pretty valuable.

In conclusion: – would you advise me to try to obtain (as regards these 160 acres) timberland, mineral – land- or purely agricultural – land?

With kindest regards from Mrs. Dithlefson, my children and myself I remain

Yours truely,

Paul A. Dithlefsen”

  • Lois Berenyi

    I find the letter by Paul Dithlefsen to be fascinating. My grandfather was Paul Dithlefsen, son of Captain Paul Dithlefsen who was a sea captain who was born in Yokohama, Japan and had an American wife. Somewhere in our photos I have a photo of him and his wife in Japanese dress. We have also lost some documents when he was the ship captain of the ship taking the last Czar Nicholas on his grand tour. Supposedly we had a letter of commendation and some sort of memento (I fantasize a Faberge egg) but I believe they have been lost. If you have any other “paper” regarding this I would be most interested. I am forwarding this to my sister, Diane Bullock-Runge who has most of the geneological research my late mother did.

    • December 23, 2009.
      Hey Lois! Happy 70th b’day. As to the document from the Czar’s paymaster, I have finally located it; it states as follows:

      “I hereby certify that Inland Sea Pilot Mr. Paul A Dithlefsen piloted H.I.M’s Pamiat Arova under the pennant of His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Cesarevitch of Russia from himonosaki till Kobe and that the abovementioned Mr. Dithlefsen was honoured by the presentation from His Imperial Highness of a golden scarf pin, incrusted with precious stones. Kobe 13/25 decemb. 1891

      Captain of Flagship
      His I.R.M.’ Frigate, Pamiat Arova S. Bauer.
      Paymaster Lieut A Petroff
      Staff – Navig. officer at. Smelsky
      There is some sort of seal on the document but it is blurry.

      I am making copies of this document to go along with the various “family history” packets I am putting together for certain family members. I have copied Mom’s contest log book and Daddy’s journal. I will send this along shortly as well as the album I put together for you.

      Merry Christmas, Diana

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