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    Auction Finds

    Cellophane tape holds together 1949 ‘Dear Jane’ letter

    The sheet of paper looked like a puzzle. It was covered in a crazy patchwork of cellophane tape that had turned golden-brown with age. It was a handwritten letter that had been ripped into pieces and taped back together again.

    I picked up the first of the three sheets from a box of disparate items on the auction table and began reading. Or reading as much of it as I could, because the penciled message was lightly written and the paper had not been precisely re-affixed in some places.

    The first few lines revealed that it was a Dear Jane letter, dated 1949, from a man breaking off a relationship with his girlfriend. His reason: He felt that she had found another love named Frank.

    Dear Jane letter

    First two pages of the Dear Jane letter.

    That was a few years after the end of World War II when Dear John letters were seemingly prevalent. Soldiers were off fighting in service to their country, and letters from loved ones back home were a cherished lifeline. Among the love letters and familial correspondence were heartbreaking Dear John letters (females presumably got Dear Jane letters). The letters bore a message more common than the one at auction: The person back home had found someone else to love.

    As I recall, this was the first Dear Jane/Dear John letter I’d come across at auction, but not the first between two romantic partners. Some years ago, I picked up some love letters written from 1919 to 1920 that a woman had received from her boyfriend. At one point, she had accused him of cheating on her, something he denied.

    These days, breakups can be done in other more efficient ways, but just as impersonal: by text or email, by a form letter where you can fill in the blanks, by purchasing an already-written letter, by FedEx (as Sly Stallone once did) or by sending a copy of Whitney Houston’s bouncy song “Dear John Letter” (which puts him on notice). Or you could copy the poetic tone of a letter written by Jackie Kennedy in 1947 (she wrote another one to another beau in 1952 after falling for JFK).

    Dear Jane letter

    Last two pages of the 1949 Dear Jane letter.

    In the recent auction letter, the man signed it but his signature – like other parts of the letter – was indecipherable. Her name, though, was Bette. I can imagine her reading the letter, angrily tearing it into small pieces, and then deciding at some point to put it back together.

    This is what I could decipher from the letter:

    Oct. 13, 49

    Dear Bette

    I am writing to you because I won’t see you anymore. I’m not coming down there (to get) hurt …

    Your mother is smart but not smart enough I knew the story before she had it all figured out She is trying to get you and Frank back together. That is why she called him.

    … mother knows best you don’t count She is the one that has too be happy. Any way I still like her. I think she is ok. …

    I never been so hurt as when you went to the hospital the only thing you had to say to me was you annoyed …

    And now with Frank coming again with me around is too much. You gave him a big hello and a big smile more than I got. Well you can have him. I won’t bother you anymore that goes for him too And if you stay in Wilmington like your mother wants you all their happy you your mother him and his mother

    I’m making this short because it hurts to much Vernon told me you told him you loved me some joke you should win a prise for that one. Well Bette I giving you the open field so you can give him all the … you want too …  (when) you get up and around and I hope its soon. I mean that … so take care of your self please

    With all my love

    (signature indecipherable)


    I know what your thinking, thats all right too

    I wonder if they got back together again. Did she ditch Frank or was the whole situation with him a misunderstanding? Was repairing the letter indicative of what she wanted for the relationship? Maybe she was done with him – but maybe not.

    Dear Jane letter

    The front and back of the 1949 Dear Jane letter.

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