Posted September 2016

If you have a Civil War item that you can't identify or something you want to know the value of, contact John (mail: Box 510, Acworth, GA 30101; email John at with Civil War in the subject line or call 770-329-4984 or 770-974-6495). John needs a good description of the item, condition, manufacturer's marks and any other markings, and photos. Please Note: All questions MUST be accompanied with a Photo, it should not be more than 200k in file size.

I have the following from my ancestors: a Confederate Great Seal, a letter to Mrs. Jefferson Davis referring to the seal, and a Jefferson Davis pen. Your thoughts will be appreciated.

JS: This is a fine archive from your Jefferson Davis Family. I have no doubt that pen indeed was Jefferson or Varina Davis Family-used, based on your ancestry and having other family items donated to Beauvoir, the ancestral home of the Confederacy's First Family. I know of a nearly identical repousse silver pen with “Conning, Mobile” markings on the inkwell that was given as a gift from Varina Davis to Virginia Frasier Boyle, a Southern writer to whom Jefferson Davis bestowed the title of "poet laureate of the Confederacy" after the Civil War.

The Great Seal of the Confederate States measures 3.5 inches in diameter and features George Washington in the center (modeled after the equestrian statue in Richmond), surrounded by a wreath of Confederate agricultural products (wheat, cotton, tobacco, corn, sugar and rice) and the text: "THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA: 22 FEBRUARY 1862" and "DEO VINDICE" around the exterior. Ordered by the CS government to serve as both a means to emboss documents and to lend themselves credibility as a government, the original Great Seal of the Confederacy was engraved in England and smuggled in-country via Bermuda, circa 1864. As the embossing machine never left Bermuda, the seal saw little use and was eventually smuggled out of Richmond by one William Bromwell, a disbursing clerk with the Confederate State Department, along with the contents of the State Department Archives.

Nearly a decade later in 1872, Bromwell, by way of the former Confederate Commissioner to Mexico John T. Pickett, arranged for the sale of the Confederate Archive to the U.S. Government. At the close of the deal, Pickett gave the seal as a gift to Lieutenant (later Admiral) Thomas O. Selfridge, USN, the government representative for the transaction.

A year later, Pickett borrowed the seal from Selfridge and took it to Samuel H. Black of New York who produced a series of electrotype copies in brass directly from the original seal, most examples being gold or silver-plated like yours. The seals were housed in photographic-style casings of gutta-percha or most commonly, paper-veneered wood of the type you would find in a tintype. Each seal was protected by a brass bezel and glass cover, which yours retains but with no case. These were sometimes sold with a folded facsimile letter from the London engraver, J.S. & A.B. Wyon, stating the seal was indeed made from the seal they produced for the Confederate Government in 1864.

The seals are quite common in the market, and missing the case, it might bring about $1,000 as-is. What makes your grouping so compelling is that we know this particular seal belonged to Varina Davis because of this unique personal letter to her dated November 21, 1873 from W.S. Pickett. The letter recounts that Col. John T. Pickett of Washington sent to him in Memphis "…a number of medals, a facsimile impression of the great seal of the Southern Confederacy, the original being in his possession—to sell for the benefit of the Church Orphans Home. Some few men addressed for complementary distribution among them, one for you which I send herewith. My relation Col. P., you kindly receive this metal as a memory of the sacred and ‘lost cause’ with which Mr. Davis and yourself were so conspicuously conducted. It may be of interest for you to know that I have placed metals for sale for the Church Home at Clark...."

Unfortunately, your letter is in poor, fragile, water-stained condition with missing text, but it is unique, as is the pen. Knowing the history of ownership, I am not sure what this grouping might bring in auction, but I would expect it to bring more than a presale estimate of $4,000-$6,000.

This was found in old metal box in my grandmother’s house, and I am curious about the value. Any help or direction you could provide would greatly be appreciated. The attached sheet was pulled down from Army records as my attempt to validate.

JS: JS: Your ancestor's "dog tag" was an item he bought from a sutler (merchant) in camp. ID tags were not issued items. There are various designs in brass and pewter, and this "McClellan, War of 1861" was a popular choice among soldiers. The sutler selling it hand stamped the name, unit, city and state of Private Samuel Dickson, 100th Pennsylvania Infantry.

Often, bodies lay unidentified on battlefields, and also often, such dog tags were the only reason bodies were united with families. Not until WWI did dog tags become an issued item. Note the large number of unidentified graves at Civil War battlefields.

I see you found his service records, and note he was a fine soldier with several promotions, including his last company grade officer promotion by war's end. He was wounded at Second Bull Run, one of almost 900 wounded in this hard-fighting regiment. They had three commanders killed! An excellent website dedicated to history of "The Roundheads" with lots of photos and facts should be viewed by those interested:

Your dog tag is in good, average condition compared to others encountered and shows four years of wear. Though not rare, these dog tags are highly collected for variants in design, particular units, history of combatant and other factors, which produce pricing in wide ranges—$300-$1,500, and sometime more. I would value yours at about $1,000 based on its history, aesthetics and prices asked by dealers at Civil War trade shows.

John Sexton is an independent appraiser and expert of Civil War memorabilia. He is an accredited member of various appraiser organizations. He can be contacted at 770-329-4984 or If you have a Civil War item for him to appraise, email a photo and a description to .




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