This morning I received an email from Debra Martens, author of the Canadian Writers Abroad blog, who shares my interest in Sara Jeannette Duncan. Debra has found a fascinating item on sale on AbeBooks: “Autograph Letter Signed by Duncan Jeannette.” Which is to say, a letter purportedly written by Sara Jeannette Duncan on Ladies’ Empire Club letterhead, but with no date and an illegible addressee.

The text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Lady [Mullin?] Thanks for your note. I hope dear A’s things are now safely sailing through the Bay under my berth. Do come in to tea tomorrow, here, about five. I shall be in and expecting you; but if you can’t, let me know. I am off on Thurs – and won’t, I fear, have another chance of seeing you.

And it is signed, as much of her correspondence was, “S.J. Cotes.”

We can extrapolate the date and location from the letterhead and the comment “Do come in to tea tomorrow, here,” As Duncan stayed in the Ladies’ Empire Club in February 1904. She had been in Canada in December of 1903, and was back in Simla, India, in March 1904. That is not to say that she didn’t stay at the LEC on some other occasion, but Marian Fowler’s research, such as it is, suggests not (Redney: A Life of Sara Jeannette Duncan, Toronto, Anansi Press, 1983), and I have found no conflicting evidence.

The bookseller is Robert Wright Books, in Tamworth, Ontario, and one wonders how the letter made its way there… and also who is going to come up with the asking price of $300. Were I in Ontario, though, I would certainly be going for a visit to Tamworth to see the actual letter, and compare the writing against the letters I do have scans of. And oh, if only I had $300 to spare for such delightful ephemera!

If any of you buy it, please let us know!


The Ladies’ Empire Club, c1992, photo by Karyn Huenemann