Review and Onsite Photos by Tania Kirkman
GETTYSBURG, PENN. – Known to many as one of the most important battles fought during the Civil War, three turbulent days in 1863 forever marked Gettysburg as a significant part of American history.
On the weekend preceding the battle’s anniversary, the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association (GBPA) hosted their 46th Civil War Artifact and Collectibles Show on June 29-30. This annual event, considered one of the best Civil War shows in the country, brings together specialized collectors, knowledgeable dealers, and unique exhibits with items rarely seen on public display.
With approximately 200 dealers in attendance, hundreds of tables were chock-full of museum quality antiques and artifacts, rare weapons, identified Civil War garments, battle flags, textiles, swords, personal objects of the soldier, antique photography, books, ephemera and war relics.
“This is one of the last Civil War-focused shows around,” said Brendan Synnamon, owner of Union Drummer Boy Antiques in Gettysburg and president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association. “Items are vetted and must be earlier than or directly related to the Civil War and those who served.”
Mike Brackin of Winterville, N.C., spent the weekend buying and catching up with show friends. He remarked that “many of us got our start together in the 1960s during the Centennial anniversary of the Civil War.” Brackin, who still mails a printed catalog, commented on the interest and age of buyers and the shifts that he has seen in what people collect.
Phil Van Steenwyk travels from Honolulu, Hawaii, with inventory acquired from estates and family collections on the islands. He enjoys seeing old friends at this show and “appreciates the willingness of the dealers to share their knowledge.” As part of his personal collection, Van Steenwyk carries a cane engraved to Dr Zabdiel Adams, a Massachusetts surgeon who was at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Sprinkled in and among the myriad of muskets and frock coats, several dealers of non-military items stood out, including Facets of History from Lititz, Penn. Pam Lynch, who has been attending the show for more than 30 years, arranged a fine display of period and antique women’s jewelry.
Sharon Pittenger of Dark Moon Antiques in Johnsonburg, N.J., was pleased to see “special interest in the antique items,” such as pottery and ceramics, in addition to their militaria. Pittenger picked up a New England Militia Rifleman’s hat for her personal collection, and with connections to the Fifteenth New Jersey Volunteers who fought at Gettysburg, her family enjoyed taking some time to visit the battlefield. “We always enjoy coming to Gettysburg.”
Morphy’s Auctions of Denver, Penn., was at the show exhibiting highlights for their upcoming sales, including the musket that fired the first shot at Bunker Hill, which had belonged to and descended in the family of John Simpson of Deerfield, N.H. This musket will be featured in their October 22-24 Extraordinary, Sporting & Firearms Auction.
Collector and dealer Frank Mroczka of Gettysburg and Harrisburg, Penn., featured an eclectic display of one-of-a-kind objects for sale. Items of note included a framed group of Abraham Lincoln funeral memorabilia; a wedding album from the family of David Willis (Lincoln’s host for the Gettysburg Address); recovered bullet fragments in tree bark; a patent collection of the USS Ironclad Monitor; and prisoner-of-war carvings from Georgia’s Andersonville Prison.
Deanna French of Poulin Firearms & Militaria Auctioneers was in attendance with her husband, Robert of Robert Eric French Militaria, South Portland, Maine. French commented that “this was one of the best Gettysburg shows in 30 years.”
Renfrew Museum and Park of Waynesboro, Penn., a premier historic site with a strong folk art and decorative arts collection, was a first-time exhibitor at the show with a display of Johnston family long rifles from the museum. Executive director Becky LaBarre was “excited about how well our presence was received and welcomed. We talked with a lot of people.”
Charles J. Petrillo of Levittown, Penn., who has been a dealer at the show for years and is also a member of the GBPA, had the distinct honor of presenting the Civil War Exhibit Awards. Plaques were given out for Best Civil War Photographic Exhibit, Best Union Exhibit, Best in Show and People’s Choice.
The Best in Show award was presented to Jay Reid for his artifacts belonging to Captain John Digman of the 183rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The focal point was an impressive presentation staff officer’s sword, accompanied by original documentation, sash and photograph of Digman. Most interesting, however, was the fantastic story of how this sword found its way out of hiding after a 40-year search by descendants of Digman. Sold off years ago by a family member, relatives pursued its whereabouts, and after discovering the online research presented by Reid, were able to connect and end the family’s longtime search for this sword.
The Best Union Exhibit award went to James R. Crane III for his display of Fifteenth New York Volunteer Cavalry memorabilia. Crane, who began collecting when he was only eight years old, became interested because his great-great grandfather fought with the Fifteenth. After 36 years of collecting, Crane has amassed an unrivaled collection, which includes identified photographs, documentation, weapons and frock coat belonging to Captain John S. Hicks. Crane commented that this show is one of the best for him to make connections because of the serious senior collectors that are in attendance.
Hazleton, Penn., collector Alan Genetti unveiled an extremely fine and rare cased presentation sword belonging to Major General Ambrose Everett Burnside. Burnside is renowned for his command of the Union Army of the Potomac at the battles of Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg. This special sword is one of only two known in existence, and after having been in Genetti’s collection for a decade, it was offered for public display for the first time at this show. The sword has a figural handle in the form of a Union soldier driving a sword into the mouth of a serpent. Genetti received a Civil War Exhibit Appreciation Award for his display.
The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association was founded in 1959 and continues their mission to preserve the heritage and history of the Civil War through land preservation, battlefield tours, historical seminars and lectures, living history programs and other special events.
Next year, the show will take place June 27-28. For more information, www.gbpa.org or 717-778-7760.