The signature on the aging document, "R.E. Lee, Genl.," was good enough to convince the librarian of the Museum of the Confederacy of its authenticity.
And it was good enough for Washington book store owner Allan Stypeck to buy the copy of Lee's surrender order on which it appeared.
But it was not good enough to convince other experts that it was really Gen. Lee's, so Stypeck was stuck with a piece of paper worth perhaps $50 instead of the $12,000 a similar but authentic document recently sold for.
Stypeck, contending that he had paid $5,000 for the document, sued the Charlottesville collector from whom he had bought the Lee document and a collection of 650 Civil War books in early 1977, and on Tuesday won a partial victory.
Albemarle County Circuit Judge David F. Berry, after hearing Stypeck's argument that he had paid $5,000, for the Lee paper and $9,000 for the book collection and former owner Arnold Skaar's contention that it was sold as a single collection, split it down the middle.
He ordered Skaar to pay Stypeck $2,500 m what Skaar yesterday called "a Solomon-like decision that left both sides dissatisfied."
The judge threw out a civil action accusing Skaar of fraud in the sale of the paper. Skaar said yesterday that he and Stypeck had "discussed the possibilities" of what the document might be and that both had relied on letters from Eleanor S. Brockenbrough, librarian at Richmond's Museum of the Confederacy, and National Park Service historian Ronald G. Wilson, a Civil War specialist at the Appomattox Court House National Historial Park.
Brockenbrough said yesterday that she has examined the Lee paper and "it appeared to be an original." She said she had compared the signature with others in the collection and although it was smaller than most Lee signatures and "Genl." appeared on the same line rather than below the name she felt it was genuine.
But she said, "I don't feel strong enough to state that it is. I would't argue with anyone about it."
Skypeck's wife, Janice, said yesterday that an expert who had examined the disputed letter before Skaar bought it had learned of the sale and called them questioning the document. The Skypecks then asked other experts, who said it was not genuine.
The problem of authenticating copies of Lee's General Orders No. 9, the surrender order, is complex, experts said yesterday. Lee issued an original that many experts believe has not been found. He also signed duplicates of dispatch to his generals. Many of his soldiers also copied the order and some brought their copies to Lee who signed them. Others simply copied Lee's signature themselves.
It is the distinction between The Lee-signed copies and the soldier-signed copies that led Skypeck and Skaar into court and could have changed the document from a $50 family heirloom into a $12,000 collectors showpiece.