To the Editor:

I was shocked to read in the Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C., that historical manuscript collections at Yale (although not at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library) had been culled for envelopes for sale. It also happened at Duke University and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, all major repositories.

Weeding of library collections, printed or manuscript, is dangerous. Unless the weeders have both research experience and great sensitivity to the potential uses of material, they can discard bits of our heritage. Most librarians and archivists lack that experience and sensitivity.

There are many reasons why historical envelopes shouldn’t be discarded. Envelopes constitute philatelic history, and their removal from public institutions means disappearance into private hands. Envelopes with special printing are highly collectible;ÊUnion and Confederate stationery and advertising vignettes and messages are examples. In some cases, envelopes have survived as the only evidence of lost letters. And sales may violate the expectations of donors.

If we cannot trust manuscript librarians, especially at prestigious institutions, to preserve history, whom can we trust?

Historians take warning!

William Rector Erwin Jr.

May 28, 2002

The writer is a retired manuscript cataloguer and reference librarian in Durham, N.C.