Condition crucial to Civil War artifacts


“Warman’s Civil War Collectibles, 3rd Edition,” is a trove of information, not only on the artifacts, but also on the history of this rather unique hobby.

Author Russell E. Lewis spends much of his detailed introduction explaining the hobby’s evolution over the last 150 years; it was the soldiers themselves who were the original keepers of artifacts from the American Civil War.

As America healed, collectors’ passion heated up and they worked to find new items tied to major battles, soldiers and officers and historical events. Lewis writes: “Early collectors gathered representative weapons, collected battlefield-found relics, and created personal or public memorials to the veterans.” Lewis illustrates collectors’ passions through a few novel approaches in his book. Structured more like a coffee table book than a static price guide, Lewis starts his book with a look at groupings and special items.

This first chapter is a visual treat of ensembles based primarily on provenance. It’s exciting to see stunning Civil War uniforms but the special groupings show off the results of collectors’ dedication. Some groupings took years and several thousand dollars to pull together and have all the quality and attention to detail as the work of a professional archivist.

Chapter 9, which focuses on Civil War-era ephemera, is interesting and diverse. Other chapters that stand out with exceptional information focus on medical instruments, personal items, pistols and revolvers, swords and cutlasses and sabers and uniforms.

Lewis uses prices gleaned by the nation’s top auction houses as well as opinions of the nation’s top dealers and collectors. In some cases he provides a set value, based on an auctioneer’s hammer price. In other instances, he gives a range of value.

This would probably help most collectors when pricing their items or buying more common artifacts. Most refreshingly, Lewis does not for one minute lament the state of the hobby. Instead, he celebrates the current era by stating “at no moment in time since the Civil War has so much information and material been available at a single instant.”

This is an important fact and one that compliments another of Lewis’ main points: We live in an era in which longtime collections are “reemerging” onto the market. “The fabulous collections of relics assembled in the 1940s and 1950s are reappearing.” Lewis’ book works hard to deliver a detailed cross section of the Civil War collectibles hobby.

Readers will learn that the two most important factors influencing the value of Civil War collectibles is provenance and condition. It is here Lewis emphasizes condition which, he says, “its importance seems to be universally lost upon many, if not most, collectors. As such, values in items in superb condition are priced several factors higher than those in poor condition.”

It is also true that Civil War items are much more difficult to locate due to a variety of reasons spelled out in the book. However, those reasons shouldn’t deter a new collector from jumping in to the market. With Lewis’ book in tow, the battle is half won. ?

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"Warman's Civil War Collectibles Identification and Price Guide, 3rd Edition," Russell E. Lewis, Krause Publications, 2009.

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