Rare letter from Lizzie Borden purchased for the Fall River Historical Society
FALL RIVER — Nearly 126 years after it was originally written, a letter from Lizzie Borden found his way to his destination – just three blocks from her home, although he crossed the country first.
According Fall River Historical Society Curator Michael Martins, the museum acquired a rare letter written by Borden which was recently Listed for sale by RR Auction of Boston. The letter, which was on sale until October 12, sold for $6,970.
The letter is “accompanied by the original postal envelope addressed in Borden’s hand, with the stamp cut off. Preserved in a custom designed purple leather presentation folder, with a gold embossed spine and a blind embossed ‘LB’ ax on the front,” according to RR Auction.
Martins said a private foundation purchased it on behalf of the Historical Society, but he is not free to disclose which group it is.
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“They asked for anonymity, but were happy to acquire it for the company,” Martins said. “They were thrilled to have been able to include it in our public collection.”
What’s in Lizzie Borden’s letter and who did she send it to?
The letter, dated December 9, 1896, was written by Borden just a few years after his father and stepmother, Andrew and Abby Borden were killed on August 4, 1892; the two were found dead in their Second Street home, hacked to death with a hatchet. Lizzie, the only suspect, was acquitted after a sensational trial that made international headlines due to the brutality of the crime and the blue blood status of those involved.
At the time of writing the letter, Lizzie and her sister, Emma, lived at 306 French St., a 13-room Victorian home that Lizzie would name Maplecroft soon after the turn of the 20th century. The short letter, on personal letterhead, is addressed to Miss Jennie F. Boas of 227 Whipple St., and is a request for help with a project and a royal purple ribbon to “bind the pages”.
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Martins and Historical Society assistant curator Dennis Binette wrote about this letter in their historical book “Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River,» published in 2010.
Martins said Boas “was a member of the Fall River Jewish community and worked as a stenographer” at the Granite Block, a huge business center located roughly where Gromada Plaza is today. .
According to “Parallel Lives,” Boas’ parents were David S. and Augusta (Nelson) Boas. David Boas worked “in the men’s clothing business with Henry Strassman, founding the company Strassman and Boas; the store was located on South Main Street in the Borden Block, almost directly across from the AJ Borden Building. An advertisement for their company from 1875 places their store at 52 S. Main St., roughly where the Academy building is.
It’s unclear how Borden and Boas knew each other, or exactly what project Lizzie needed tape for.
“The pages referred to in the letter remain a mystery but, given the date of the note, it is possible that the activity had something to do with the upcoming vacation,” Martins and Binette write in “Parallel Lives”. “Did Lizzie get Jennie’s help to prepare the pages of souvenir booklets to give presents to her closest friends at Christmas?”
Add it to the Historical Society’s collection
Martins said the letter will enter the vast repository of the Lizzie Borden Material Museum, the world’s largest collection of primary source material relating to Borden’s life. It is available for people to use for research purposes.
“We don’t exhibit this type of material due to the fading and transience of the paper, and of course subject to deterioration, so they are only exhibited for special occasions,” Martins said. “But the collection here is a research collection, so if people were interested in looking at the document – we don’t allow people to handle original documents like this because of their rarity, of course – but we would return facsimiles available.”
Martins said his next step is to establish the provenance of the document – tracing every step of how the letter found its way to market and to his museum.
“It was last sold in 2019 by another auction house,” Martins said. “It had been around for a while. I remember in the late 80s it was actually being offered for sale by a dealer in California, which had a significant price tag at the time.”
This simple letter traveled from Lizzie’s hands to Boas’s, was sold across the continent, and then returned home to Fall River; However it happened, Martins said, “we’re thrilled to add it to the collection.”
Dan Medeiros can be reached at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.