EXCLUSIVE: $23,000 Civil War tintype returning to Goodwill

Robert E Lee tintype.jpgThe world was abuzz last week with news of a cased Robert E. Lee tintype surfacing on Goodwill Industry’s online auction site. After nearly 40,000 page views and 131 bids, it settled at $23,001.

Suzanne Kay-Pittman, Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee’s Public Relations and Communications Manager, said the winner, Richard Schaffer of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., has decided to return the tintype. Kay-Pittman said Goodwill did due diligence and stands by the listing.

John Adams-Graf, editor of Military Trader and Military Vehicles magazines (also published by F+W Media) and past president of the Daguerreian Society, an international photo history organization, has this to say about the image:

The image is a copy photo of a known late war image by J.W. Davies — that was available as a carte de visite. R.E. Lee aficionados refer to it as the “sloppy tie” setting.

The image that was sold for $23,000 could have been a late 19th century tintype copy of that image. But, it is not a “from life” image of Lee. At best, it is a period copy of a carte de visite. Collectible, but not a $23,000 collectible. The case is worth about $65. The image, on a good day, $1,200. If being generous, it is $1,500 image. That is assuming, however, that the copy is old and wasn’t made in the last 10 or 20 years. There are a lot of copy tintypes out there.

Kay-Pittman said Adams-Graf’s assessment confirms what their original expert had told them. She said they were surprised when bidding ran so far above their expectations.

Once Goodwill receives the Robert E. Lee tintype, they will have another expert look at it, Kay-Pittman said. She didn’t know yet who that would be. She’s confident there will be a positive outcome to re-listing the tintype. “The market drove the price,” she said. “It started at $4, like everything else,” and the bidders determined the outcome.

Originally, the tintype had been placed in a bin destined for an outlet store where items are sold by the pound when it was spotted by one of the employees as something that might have more value. The piece was then forwarded to the e-commerce department, where it was listed with the standard starting bid of $4. Whatever the results of the re-listing, it will be more favorable than selling it by the pound.

Goodwill stands by what it sells; it has a Satisfaction Guaranteed policy (which many sites don’t have) and they are standing by it – even if it means taking a $20,000 hit from a fever-pitch bidding frenzy.

Kay-Pittman said there’s an amazing amount and variety of items that get listed every day; typically, between 250 and 300 new items are offered daily by Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee at onlinegoodwill.com. “It’s a shopper’s delight,” she said. You never know what you’ll find.

As of Sept. 16, the Associated Press said Schaffer, a dabbler in antiques and the owner of the Secret Six Tavern near the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, says he’s happy with his purchase and the boost it gave the charity. But he’s not quite sure what he has.

“We’ve determined it’s probably a photograph of a photograph. But it’s not an image we’ve seen. We’ve seen this identical image in an engraving, but not in a photograph.”

“So, as it stands right now, we’re happy with what we’ve purchased,” Schaffer said. And the money is going to a good cause. “But there’s still a lot of mystery around it.”

The change up shouldn’t distract from the positive results that come from donations to Goodwill; 87 percent of the sales revenue goes directly to client services: i.e. providing clients with skills needed for career solutions. Counselors aid clients by providing skills training in digital literacy, job application understanding, identifying skill sets, how to market your self and so on. Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee has 1,600 employees, 90 percent of which are mission-related. Kay-Pittman said they served 11,200 people last year.

The Goodwill Industries International online auction site is shopgoodwill.com. Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee serves a huge area of 46 counties and has 30 stores; it is one of the few divisions that has its own URL (onlinegoodwill.com). GIMT also serves online buyers through an eBay store at http://stores.ebay.com/goodwillindustriesofmiddletn, which currently has more than 10,000 items listed.

Kay-Pittman assured Antique Trader that not all the good stuff ends up online. She said they are restocking their stores at least three times a week, and the items that are listed online are “a fraction of what comes in.”

For more information on Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, visit www.giveit2goodwill.org. For more information on Goodwill Industries International, visit www.goodwill.org.

Photo courtesy Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee.

— Karen Knapstein

Related Product: A Practical Guide to Collecting Civil War


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