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A Rare Stamp Reunited With Its Lost Love Story

The break in Taylor's research came when she discovered that Hooff and Brown had indeed married and that their descendants lived in Alexandria. She visited one day around Christmastime, hoping to get as many relatives together as possible to discuss the task at hand: finding the letter.

Waiting for her was an old scrapbook pulled from the basement.

On the first page was a picture of the Blue Boy on the envelope. Then, she saw grainy photographs of Brown and Hooff, black-and-white prints turned brown over time. And finally, on the next page, folded in a yellowed envelope with a note identifying it, was the letter.

In the careful, elaborate penmanship of another era, the letter began with the place and time. Alexandria, Va. Nov 24th 1847. It was sent to Richmond, where Brown was visiting relatives. Mostly it tells of family happenings.

There is no marriage proposal.

"Reading the letter evokes different emotions for different people," Taylor said. "There are some people who read the letter and say it's a wonder they ever had children. . . . If you are expecting a marriage proposal and something gushy and hearts and flowers, it's probably going to be a disappointment."

Instead, there is restraint in Hooff's words, an air of distance that only occasionally allows his emotions to peek through.

"The reasons you give for not writing often, are good, for your cousin Wash. will be certain to say something, if you give him all your letters, to put in the office," Hooff writes. "But whenever you think you can write me a line without exciting the attention of your coz. Wash, do so, for it gives me a great deal of pleasure to receive a letter from you, even if it is only a short one."

And: "Bye the bye, I believe Aunt Julia has an idea of my writing you; for two or three days after my first letter to you, she wrote Mother," Hooff writes, adding that his mother and sisters later referred to Aunt Julia as a "prophet" in front of him. "And Mother laughingly remarked 'That if there was any love going on Aunt Julia was sure to find it out,' and while making that remark, I think, looked at me, but I continued reading, as if what she said did not apply to me in the least." It is signed: "Yours with the greatest affection, W"

Six years later -- after Aunt Julia left Richmond for Albany, N.Y. -- the two were married. Eventually they had three children.

Their oldest daughter, Mary Fawcett, who found the envelope in a sewing box, sold it in 1907 to a stamp collector. Now, almost a century later, the letter and stamp -- on loan from an anonymous owner who lives in Switzerland -- will be reunited at the Philatelic Exhibition beginning Saturday at the D.C. Convention Center.

Morison said that even with more than $200 million worth of philatelic items on display, the Blue Boy story will be the star.

"Many wanted to know how the movie ended," he said.

It ended as it began, with a letter that should have been destroyed.

"Burn as Usual," Hooff had written on the bottom.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company