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Treasure Hunting in Your Attic

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From PBS” “Antiques Roadshow”# to A&E”s “Storage Wars,”# reality TV has capitalized on our fascination with discovering treasure in household junk.

It happened to historian Michael Mendoza, whose patient culling through boxes of old papers was rewarded when he found a Civil War veteran”s personal account of his experiences. The 17-page letter was so rich in detail, Mendoza (www.dentedcanenterprises.com) used it as the basis of his first novel, “Glorious Reality of War.”

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 right off the bat. “Don”t,”# he says. “Toss or sell the knickknacks, and keep the paper. It can be invaluable.”#

“Many things are valuable on their own, like first editions of classic books,”# he says. “But don”t forget the family records. Even if you”re not into genealogy, you should save those, because once you throw them away, they”re lost to the next generation.”#

Mendoza 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.

“##Store papers in an open zipper bag in a dry place. If the paper is very valuable, invest in bags designed for that purpose. Otherwise, zipper baggies from the grocery store do fine. Don”t seal them, though, because if there”s no air circulation, the paper might stick to the plastic.

“##Digitize everything. Scanning your documents and photographs allows you to study them without damaging them.

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., and plans a sequel to “Glorious Reality of War.”#

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