Cowan's Corner

Civil War Collectibles Gaining Traction

By Wes Cowan
Posted April 2011

Anyone who has made it through a junior high American History class is well aware of the fact that the North defeated the South, thus ending the Civil War; however, in this day and age, when it comes to Civil War collectibles such as photographs, firearms, swords, flags, uniforms, and related accoutrements, the Confederacy reigns supreme! As we approach the 150th anniversary of the start of the War Between the States, which began with the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Civil War relics remain as popular as ever, but when comparing a carte-de-visite, or CDV, of an identified Union soldier with a CDV of a Confederate soldier, or a 33-Star United States flag with a Confederate 1st National Flag, the Confederate collectibles tend to bring higher prices at auction.

There are several explanations as to why Confederate relics typically command more attention. During the Civil War, the Northern states had far more factories and easier access to the railroads, and as a result, they were able to produce weapons and other equipment in large quantity and transport the materials much more easily. The Southern states did not have the same access to machinery and often had to hand-make their weapons and equipment, or have the goods shipped over from England and France. In addition, the Northern photography studios and itinerant photographers far outnumbered those in the South, thus impacting the number of portraits of Union versus Confederate soldiers that were produced throughout the war. Furthermore, at the close of the war, many of the Southerner’s belongings were either destroyed or confiscated by Union soldiers. These reasons, among many others, help to explain why many Confederate collectibles are so rare and encountered less frequently.

My auction company has had the opportunity to handle a wide variety of both Union and Confederate weapons, uniforms and accoutrements. While certain items can be affordable, such as canteens, U.S. belt buckles, plates, and cartridge boxes which can bring anywhere from $100 to$300 at auction, items such as Civil War-Era revolvers, rifled muskets, carbines, swords, frock coats and kepis can bring between several hundred dollars and several thousand dollars. U.S. cavalry officers’ swords can bring between $800 and $1,000 at auction, sometimes more.

Confederate cavalry officer's sword by Kraft, Goldschmidt & Kraft,
sold for $6,463 in the same auction.

In addition to weapons, uniforms and accoutrements, Civil War photography is also very popular. Image collecting provides Civil War enthusiasts with an excellent opportunity to pursue a variety of interests, such as specific regiments or generals, uniforms, weapons and among other things. Overall, it can be fairly inexpensive to start a collection of Civil War-Era photography. CDV portraits of both Union and Confederate soldiers can bring between $50 and $200 at auction, making them affordable items for beginning collectors. However, the “hard” Civil War images, such as tintypes and ambrotypes, can cost substantially more, especially if they have Southern connections.

Despite the wide range in values between Union and Confederate relics, Civil War collectibles as a whole provide a direct link to one of the most fascinating, yet tumultuous, times in our nation’s history. Whether one is pro-Yankee or pro-Rebel, there is undoubtedly something for everybody. 


About the author: Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally-recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at info@cowans.com.

 

 

Half-plate tintype of Federal officer presenting sword sold for $764 in Cowan’s Dec. 2010 American History Auction.

 

Half-plate tintype of high-ranking Confederate officer sold for $4,113 in the same auction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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