The further removed we become from the time of our mid-19th century national confrontation, the more valuable the artifacts from that period become. Values placed on these items on the open market continue to rise.
Civil War Times (CWT) magazine typically devotes a page in each issue to describe a Civil War-related object that a dealer or auction house sold for a hefty price. For example, soldiers enjoyed carving pipes used for smoking tobacco, and one such pipe — apparently made for a friend and that had crossed rifles as well as the words “Bull Run” and “JIM to SAM” carved into it — was worth $615 at auction (CWT, December 2014).
A gold locket with photographs of a soldier who served in the 36th Massachusetts Regiment and a young woman — most likely his wife or girlfriend — went for $646. A somber footnote is the soldier died from disease while a POW at notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia (CWT, April 2019).
A collection of four artillery shells — two of which were found at Gettysburg — went for $738 (CWT, February 2015). However, a single artillery shell found at Gettysburg that was engraved with the name and year of the battle fetched $2,952 (CWT, December 2015).
One bidder spent $2,214 for the privilege of owning a haversack that a member of the 17th Massachusetts Infantry once carried during the regiment's service mostly in North Carolina (CWT, August 2016), while another anxious collector paid $2,829 for a 14-karat gold VII Corps badge that a 5th Kansas cavalryman had made to commemorate his service (CWT, June 2016).
Many soldiers had “cartes de visite” photographs (CDVs) taken as keepsakes, and collected CDVs of well-known military commanders into albums. Two such albums sold for $4,613 (CWT, June 2015).
Who would have thought that a Civil War belt buckle would also sell for $4,613? One with the Louisiana state seal on it did just that (CWT, August 2015).
Brig. Gen. Samuel K. Zook, a Union brigade commander who suffered a mortal wound during the fighting at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, was wearing a pair of high leather boots at the time. These boots sold for the seemingly popular sum of $4,613; and it is surprising, given the reputation of their owner and the circumstances of his death, that the price was not higher (CWT, October 2016).
In order to own a wooden canteen that a private in the 4th Texas Infantry carried after decorating it with folk art, someone was willing to bid at auction the winning figure of $10,455 (CWT, April 2016).
Companies here in America, as well as in foreign countries, manufactured thousands upon thousands of rifles that were put to use during the Civil War. In contrast, a small outfit in Danville, Va., produced a few hundred of a specialty item called a “Perry” carbine, and one of these sold at auction for $15,990 (CWT, April 2015).
Big spenders came out to bid on a “four-button fatigue blouse” once worn by a 6th Pennsylvania Infantry soldier. Someone parted with $17,220 to purchase this remembrance from the Civil War period (CWT, February 2016).
The pièce de résistance of these collectors' items is a wooden item called the “Gettysburg Tree.” This is a small part of a tree from Little Round Top that had been hit three times by a bullet and two shells, and cut down by a veteran of the battle as a decoration for the Grand Army of the Republic hall in Beverly, Mass. It sold for a mind-bending $23,370 (CWT, October 2014).
The prices people are willing to pay for items related to our domestic trauma during the years 1861 to 1865 may be sufficient motivation to conduct a search in grandma's attic. Who knows what Civil War artifacts may be lurking there, waiting to be rediscovered?
Tom Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” which is available at Bethany Beach Books, at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth and at Cardsmart in Milford. His latest book, “Lee is Trapped, and Must Be Taken: Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg, July 4-14, 1863” is due out in May 2019, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.
By Tom Ryan
Special to the Coastal Point