The Mysterious Found Envelope


My most recent thrift store treasure was something that I have been looking for a while now: a vintage metal file cabinet. It was the size of a standard two-drawer cabinet but the top half was a locker-type space instead of a drawer – and the key was even still dangling in the lock. Overall, this steel cabinet was nothing extraordinary but it was exactly what I needed. And with a price tag on only $4, it was perhaps the best money I’ve spent all year. I was excited to get it home and into my home studio.

But first things first… this bad boy had to be cleaned. It was in excellent condition and wasn’t filthy looking, but given that it was several decades old and had just come from a thrift store, there was no way I wasn’t going to give it a thorough cleaning. I set it on a chair in the backyard and started to methodically remove and clean each part, starting with the interior. That’s when it happened… As I removed the bottom drawer I found a large envelope tucked WAY in the back. It had either been purposefully hidden back there or simply escaped the view of its previous owner prior to donating the piece. Either way, my mind was racing as I reached in to grab it. What could it be? It was clearly filled with something. Was it something valuable? Was it CASH??!?!!?

I pulled it out and flipped it over. The yellowish letter-sized envelope had the words “1971 Bills” and “E. M. Lilly” handwritten on the front. I reached inside and pulled out the stack of papers contained within. It wasn’t cash, but it was something valuable, to me anyway. I proceeded to flip through dozens of receipts, invoices and bills from the early 1970s, most of which included handwritten personal notes. It was a pile of colorful papers featuring beautiful vintage typography and design. I had basically just found a small time capsule from 1971!

To make it even more interesting, Richard C. Lilly & Elizabeth M. Lilly seem to have been a relatively affluent couple. The papers reflect purchases from a variety of places around the Twin Cities including country clubs, department stores, florists, television repair shops and even a car. It’s fascinating to compare merchandise prices from 1971 to those of today, and to think about how far record keeping has come since the introduction of computers and the “digital age.”

As for the couple themselves, my initial research indicates that Elizabeth passed away in 2003 at the age ripe old age of 98 – meaning she was 66 when she made these purchased back in 1971. County records for the house at the address listed on these documents was also in 2003, presumably put on the market after Mrs. Lilly passed. It is proving much more difficult to find information on Richard C. Lilly. There was a very prominent business man and banker by that name here in the Twin Cities who lived from 1884-1959, but records show his wife’s name was Rachel and his son was named John. Likely not a match, unfortunately.

I plan to keep investigating and will provide any updates here. If you happen to have any information please say so in the comments below.

Make sure and check out the entire contents of the envelope here:

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