By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
Old receipts. Stock certificates for now-defunct companies.
Gerald Howard has hundreds of them, and he's donating a handful to the Tuolumne Utilities District not to prove why he can't pay his water bill, but for display in the district board room.
This is 150-year old paperwork from Tuolumne County Water Company, the public agency which, in the mid-1800s, built ditches throughout the county to transport water to Gold Rush miners.
Those open waterways still provide water to most residents north of the Tuolumne River.
"To me, there's two values," Howard said. "There's a monetary value and a historical value. Historically, they're priceless."
Monetarily, they can and do fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay.
Howard's passion for Tuolumne County relics is obvious from the entryway to Foothill Business Cards, the business he and his wife own and run on South Washington Street in Sonora. Old photos and maps adorn the walls, and keep customers occupied as they wait in line. The couple's collectibles also double as front-window displays.
"Ever since I was a small kid, I've been a collector," Howard said. He is a fifth-generation Tuolumne County native, whose passion has always been local history.
The display in his shop just a sampling of Howard's collection inspired the TUD deal, he said. Board member Gary Walter was in the shop doing business and commented on the district's lack of meeting-room decorations. Howard mentioned the old receipts and other documents.
Walter excitedly returned to the board, and the five members agreed the relics would be perfect for boardroom decor.
Despite their value, Howard is donating them at no cost to TUD except the charges for framing the documents and preparing them for display.
"My son said, 'Dad, do I have to inherit this crap when you die?'" Howard said. "So I started giving some of this stuff away."
Besides, the Sonora man said, "I think TUD needs a few things hanging on the wall in there."