Three weeks into his presidency, George Washington sent a letter to his friend James Warren.
Now — 224 years later — the American Philatelic Society in Bellefonte has the folded letter sheet with the Free Frank that was used, and the group are looking to restore it.
“As a piece of history, this is probably one of the rarest things we have,” APS director of authenticity Mercer Bristow said.
The Free Frank was used by U.S. presidents in lieu of postage stamps, and this is the oldest documented use of it, Bristow said.
The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts started a campaign to raise money to restore Pennsylvania’s 10 most endangered historic artifacts. The campaign ends Nov. 1.
At the conclusion of the fundraising effort, Bristow said the APS should have the about $700 needed to restore the piece, and it could be on display by January or February.
The artifact was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. It was locked in a bank vault in New Jersey when the storm hit, and it received damage from humidity.
Bristow said the restoration process will halt the mildew that is developing on the paper, straighten out the wrinkles and allow it to be mounted for display. He said the artifact is worth about $25,000.
When it comes to what was in the letter, it’s anyone’s guess.
Scholars would have to go back and examine what kind of correspondence Washington sent in the first few weeks of his presidency to accurately make a guess, he said.
But because Washington was friends with Warren, a member of the Sons of Liberty, Bristow suspects that it could have been a personal matter, not official government business.
Even without that knowledge, its age is what makes it historically significant.
“It’s the earliest documented use of a Free Frank and that’s why it’s important,” he said.
Anyone wishing to donate to the campaign to save the endangered artifacts can go online at patop10artifacts.org.