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Long-Lost Historic Letter Accidentally Purchased by Stamp Collector

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Long-Lost Historic Letter Accidentally Purchased by Stamp Collector

Photo: Screenshot via RÚV

A long-lost letter from Iceland's so-called 'national poet' Jónas Hallgrímsson to his best friend, the Danish naturalist Japetusi Steenstrup, will be unveiled at a special exhibition hosted by the Icelandic Philatelic Federation on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports. For 80 years, the letter was thought to have been lost, but it was recently rediscovered when an unsuspecting stamp collector bought it by chance at an auction in Copenhagen.

The three-page letter, written in 1842, is one of eighteen that Jónas sent to his friend in Copenhagen. Scholars have known of their existence because they were referenced in a biography that Matthías Þórðarson, the former director of the National Museum of Iceland, wrote of the poet in 1930. The letters went missing soon after that, and no trace has been found of them until this recent discovery.

“I collect ship stamps,” explained Árni Gústafsson, who purchased the letter without realizing its provenance. “This one is from 1842 and so I couldn’t resist buying it. After I bought it, I saw the name Hallgrímsson and put two and two together that it was Jónas Hallgrímsson, the one and only.”

The letter has since been examined by Páll Valsson, who wrote a biography of Jónas in 1999. He said there’s no doubt that it was written by the poet and that the letter consists of personal chat between the two friends, and also talks about natural samples that Jónas collected for the University of Copenhagen in Iceland.

For his part, however, Árni said he’d still never bothered to read the letter. “No, I never opened it. I’m not that curious—it was just the stamp I was interested in. But then I told someone about it one day and he insisted that we go down to the Árni Magnússon Institute and they opened it there, for the first time in a hundred years, as I understand it.”

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