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April 10, 2011
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What's a Richard Sopris signature worth these days?

A New York City-based collector of old stock certificates and other historical paper memorabilia has uncovered a small trove of documents connected with the locally celebrated name of Capt. Richard Sopris.

The collector, Frank Hammelbacher, is not quite sure what to do with the documents, or whether they are of any value.

"I don't know what a Richard Sopris signature is worth," he said.

Sopris, whose name graces the prominent massif looming over Carbondale and the middle Roaring Fork Valley, was a founder and mayor of Denver, prospector and explorer who came this way in 1860 while wandering around the mountains.

He also was, at different times, a sheriff, deputy sheriff and legislator.

He was elected to represent Arapahoe County in the 1859 Kansas legislature in Topeka, at a time when eastern Colorado was officially part of Kansas, according to the website, findagrave.com.

Hammelbacher, 64, who lived in Aspen in the early 1970s and still owns property in the Little Elk Creek subdivision, said he found the three Sopris-related documents offered for sale online. He was doing research for his current business - buying and selling historical documents.

He declined to say exactly when or where he discovered the documents, noting, "I don't want to ruin my sources."

The documents have to do with land transfers involving Sopris, his wife, Elizabeth, and his son, Allen B. Sopris.

The land in question was in Arapahoe County, and one of the documents is a land grant from the U.S. government to Allen Sopris, with the signature of Ulysses S. Grant affixed at the bottom - signed by a secretary, not the president.

Hammelbacher said he is not certain what he will do with the documents, although it is his business to sell them.

He talked with Linda Criswell, president of the Mount Sopris Historical Society in Carbondale, who told him the society would gladly accept a donation of the documents, but could not buy them.

"Sure, we'd love to have it. We'd put it in a frame," Criswell said.

She explained that Sopris likely never even set foot on the mountain that bears his name, but simply passed by the mountain's base during an 1860 prospecting trip with friends.

"He wasn't really a hero," she said of Sopris. "He was just a regular guy."

Hammelbacher noted that he has been buying and selling documents for about 40 years, ever since he once was rummaging around in a dumpster outside the Aspen home of the late Judge Robert Shaw.

He uncovered some old mining stock certificates the judge had held, and that was the beginning of his dabbling in the world of historical documents.

He said he has one of the oldest Virginia City, Nev., mining stock certificates in existence. It was owned by Samuel Clements, otherwise known as Mark Twain, issued by Clements' brother, Orion, when Orion was the territorial secretary in Nevada.

Hammelbacher returns to the Roaring Fork Valley every couple of years, he said, to ski and to take a look at his property in Little Elk Creek, "to make sure it's still there."

jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Apr 10, 2011 09:26AM Published Apr 10, 2011 09:24AM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.