All that is gold does not glitter - J.R.R. Tolkien

A friend called me a couple weeks ago. Her best friend’s dad had passed away, and that friend was considering selling some things her father had saved, many of them family relics. She asked if I would take a look, to see if there was anything of value. I was glad to do that. There were a few badges and ribbons from the United Confederate Veterans, things I once collected, as well as an 1830s sword that my friend Kirk helped with, and an 1875 Smith and Wesson pistol that my brother-in-law told me a little about.

As to value, I was intrigued to see a Forrest Cavalry Corps badge in near perfect condition, a 1901 UCV celluloid, and a Southern Cross of Honor. Those three pieces, alone, had to be worth at least a thousand bucks, probably more. But among all those things there was something intriguing, something that I knew had little monetary value.

There was a German 20 pfennig stamp from the WWII era with an image of Hitler. It had not been canceled, but even in pristine condition wasn’t worth more than a couple dollars. The envelope it came in was the story. Noted in the veteran’s handwriting was, “Given to me by a German Prisoner of War.” And in that moment I envisioned a scared prisoner, captive but alive, completely defeated. I knew that the American had done something - an act of kindness that will never be known. The stamp was given. It was not traded, it was not taken - it was given. Even on that day, as the German's war ended, the slight bit of paper was worthless, but it held a value to him as perhaps his last true possession. He hoped the American would understand. The GI kept the stamp until his death, proof that he did.

Today we trekked to the Tennessee Military Collectors Association exhibition to sell the UCV badges, and we got a lot of information on how to refurbish the old S&W 32 caliber pistol, from a man who sometimes works with Antiques Roadshow. But the one thing I didn’t want sold, well, that stayed in the family. Remaining with his daughter as part of the old soldier’s personal mementos is that stamp, brought to life only by his death. It is the story of defeat, kindness, redemption, and a memory that stays. It is the lasting relic of a moment that could only truly be understood by the victor and the vanquished on that day 70+ years ago. It is worthless. It is priceless.