Published: July 2, 2019
DENVER, PENN. – An 1864 Civil War flag that was carried into battle by Pennsylvania’s 127th Regiment of Colored Troops led the charge at Morphy’s June 12-13 edged weapons, armor and militaria auction, selling for $196,800. The buyer was the Atlanta History Center of Atlanta, Ga.
The 72-by-55-inch hand painted silk flag is the sole survivor from 11 original regimental flags created by David Bustill Bowser (1820-1890), a Philadelphia artist and son of a fugitive slave. Bowser designed a specific flag for each of Pennsylvania’s 11 black regiments. The distinctive artwork on the flag auctioned by Morphy’s features the image of a black soldier bidding farewell to Columbia, the Goddess of Liberty. Above the artwork, a poignant motto reads: “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.”
Dan Morphy, president of Morphy Auctions, said he was “extremely proud” to have handled such an important Civil War artifact. “We were deeply honored that the GAR Civil War Museum chose us to auction the flag,” he said. “From the beginning, we felt it would end up in a prestigious institution’s permanent collection and probably never be offered for public sale again. It’s now the jewel in the crown of the Atlanta History Center’s collection. They will be excellent stewards for what is a living symbol of both American and African American history.”
The Atlanta History Center is home to one of the most comprehensive Civil War collections in the United States but rarely makes major purchases. Its holdings have grown organically over nine decades, primarily through donations of artifacts. On June 13, however, it paid the most money it has ever spent for a single item to acquire the remarkable asset.
Atlanta History Center president and chief executive officer Sheffield Hale remarked, “We want to tell the entire story of the Civil War and how it impacts our country. This flag is worth it in exhibit value alone. It’s one of those things that doesn’t need words to tell you what it is and what it represents.”
The flag attracted the lion’s share of media attention prior to the $1.6 million auction, but collectors also turned out in force for a large, high-quality selection of Bowie knives and swords.
Edged weapons crafted in the 1930s by William Scagel (1857-1963), grandfather of modern-era custom knife makers, were in high demand. A Scagel camp axe with stag-antler handle, 12-1/8 inches in length, landed at $7,800. Another prize, an 11¾-inch Bowie knife inscribed “W. Scagel, Handmade” and bearing the maker’s iconic “Kris” stamp, came to auction with its original tooled-leather sheath. One of only two known examples of its particular type, it sold above the high estimate for $15,600.
An imperial Russian Napoleonic sword originally owned by Prince Ivan Ivanovich Odoevsky, a distinguished military officer who died in 1814 at the Battle of Brienne in France, weighed in at an astonishing 6 pounds 1 ounce. With solid gold ormolu embellishment on the hilt and scabbard, and a Cyrillic inscription with the prince’s name and presentation date of 1810, it is regarded as being both artistically and historically important. Selling price was $30,000
Another showpiece from the antique sword category was the statue-hilted Civil War presentation sword with a Klauberg blade. The elaborate hilt was adorned with a figural depiction of Lady Liberty and a dragon holding a laurel wreath and shield with the head of Medusa. Its amethyst-inlaid gilt-brass mounts and silvered scabbard added the luxury touches that proved irresistible to bidders. It sold above high estimate for $17,835.
A Civil War saber and silver scabbard presented to Captain James Bliss by veterans of Company B, 8th New York Cavalry, carried great historical significance. “Captain Bliss was a distinguished career officer who was present at the surrender at Appomattox while ranked a major. Because the inscription on the sword identifies him a captain, there is no question but that the sword was presented to him while the Civil War was still raging,” Dan Morphy explained. The sword surpassed its high estimate, bringing $12,000.
One of American history’s little-known ironies was represented in a group lot containing a saber and four other documented 7th Cavalry items belonging to Captain Thomas McDougall. Initially, McDougall was supposed to be part of General George A. Custer’s battalion at the fateful 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, but when he overslept and missed a strategy meeting, McDougall and his company were relegated to guarding a pack train. The sword, cabinet photo of McDougall and items of ephemera sold for $27,675 against an estimate of $15/20,000.
The interest in Custer memorabilia has never diminished, Morphy said. “We had several outstanding Custer lots in our sale, and some of them drew big crossover interest from non-militaria bidders, like book dealers and collectors.” A rare first-edition copy of Custer’s book My Life On The Plains – Or, Personal Experiences With Indians (1874) was originally held in the personal library of Custer’s close friend General Philip Sheridan. Offered with substantial provenance, it realized $19,200, more than six times the high estimate. Custer’s personal 1867-1868 Indian Wars field map and cartes de visite of himself and wife, Elizabeth, achieved $19,680.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium, as stated by the auction house.
For information, 877-968-8880 or www.morphyauctions.com.
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