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  • Writer's pictureFlea Market Love Letters

What is a 'Found' Letter?

Liz here, creator and curator of the archive. That's me looking absolutely delighted when I came across a big stash of 'found' letters at Flea Market in New Jersey in February 2024. I love a good hunt for letters. In close to 7 years of running Flea Market Love Letters you can take things for granted! Like lingo. I often throw around 'found' ahead of letters perhaps assuming that readers know just exactly what I mean. Read on for what 'found' means in terms of the archive and collecting.

"What's your letter story?" is one of my favorite questions to ask members of the Flea Market community. In fact, I even had some readers write about their letter stories back in 2021. I believe that everyone has a letter story and at its core that's often what attracts people to the project. That they either have a family or 'found' collection of letters that they feel responsible for and when they see how easy it is to preserve and share the letters online, I like to think they are a bit less overwhelmed!

Family v. Found Letters:

Perhaps the easiest way to define a 'found' letter is to find something to compare it to! Family letters are letters that come into an individual's possession by inheritance or gifting. These are probably the most common way people come into contact with 'old' letters. I myself have a family series of letters which was gifted to me for my wedding in 2021.

A 'found' letter is a letter sourced from a flea market, antique store, thrift shop, etc. In my definition there's often one or two layers removed between the writer of the letter and the 'keeper', or buyer. Take for example that most recent 'haul' from the New Jersey flea market. The dealer had tables full of photographs, artwork and magazines from various estate sales etc. Much of his 'stuff' he said to me, came from a buddy who did estate sales and sold it to him in bulk. So that a mad one like me could someday walk up to the table and buy the entire shoe box, no questions asked.

I picked up the phrase 'found' when I started on Instagram with the archive back in 2017 because the majority of accounts I could identify with were posting vintage 'found' photos. I like the way to classify the letters! I even had a friend who collected vintage photographers and she referred to the subjects as 'instant relatives'. There's a lot of things to consider when you buy -- and sell -- 'personal' ephemera like photographs or letters, diaries, etc. That's why it's my mission to make it clear that the archive exists to appreciate the handwritten letters, not to profit off them. On that same day as I found the letters from another dealer I bought three tintype photographs.

The dealer said to me that she felt badly for selling off the collection in pieces but in my heart, I believe that if we can find homes for things they're better with those collectors than in a landfill -- except letters, ha!

I will always buy a complete letter series.

That's probably how I ended up with almost 2,000...

Get in Touch.

Do you collect 'found' ephemera like photographs, postcards, letter or diaries? I'd love to hear from you! Write to me at

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