Among other historic documents recently offered for sale on eBay are handwritten letters sent in 1903 from the Dawson, New Mexico, Mining Company to a resident in a ghost town, available for purchase by the highest bidder. Also for sale was an 1868 U.S. Cavalry Equipment document from Fort Sumner, related to the Indian Wars.
The New Mexico Commission of Public Records is worried that some of the state’s historic material, dating back to Spanish rule of the region, also may end up for sale online.
The state agency, which is responsible for archiving New Mexico’s past, recently issued a warning that the sale of state public records is illegal, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
According to state officials, New Mexico has lost many of the historic documents from Spanish, Mexico, and territorial periods to private collectors. New Mexico State Records Administrator Linda Trujillo told the AP that officials are not aware of any new cases of state records available for sale online, but they have discovered some in the past.
“The disappearance of government records into private hands deprives the public of access to important historic information that helps us to understand the history our state and our nation,” the agency said.
Many public documents are passed down from family members who don’t know they shouldn’t be sold online, Trujillo said. However, in some cases, the documents are stolen by former state employees or researchers who take them when workers aren’t looking, she said.
During the last legislative session, state archives officials told lawmakers the New Mexico Commission of Public Records is grossly underfunded, and aging state documents are in dire need of more protection.
A quick eBay search reveals that the problem of historic documents offered for sale on online auction sites is not exclusive to New Mexico. Recently, the Albany, New York-based Council of State Historical Records Coordinators issued a statement requesting eBay’s assistance in alerting its customers to the illegal sale of historic public documents from all 50 states.