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Woodstock collectibles document an American cultural phenomenon

A cardboard poster designed to advertise the Woodstock festival on New York City mass transit buses achieved $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Psychedelic Art Exchange and LiveAuctioneers.

Woodstock, the concert held on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in New York state in mid-August 1969, has become the stuff of legend. It’s memorable for the sheer number of major rock stars who shared the bill, the rain that plagued the event for three days, and most of all, for being a cultural touchstone. With comparatively little advertising, it drew half a million young people to a 600-acre plot where they endured miserable conditions with little food, less water, too few toilets and too much mud. Still, everything turned out OK. 

A nylon security jacket from the 1969 Woodstock festival realized $1,005 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2008. Image courtesy of Weiss Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

The crowd didn’t riot. The crowd didn’t stampede. Many who were there claimed they saw no incidents of violence. Only two people died, one from an overdose and the other as the result of an accident, which is absolutely astonishing, given the potential for danger and mayhem. If you support the hippie ethos of the era and are willing to believe the stories of a woman who gave birth while stuck in concert traffic and another who went into labor on-site and was airlifted out, you might regard the two new lives who entered the world at Woodstock as having balanced the cosmic ledger. (Neither of those babies, now eligible for AARP membership, have ever been definitively identified.)

A 50-star American flag featuring many of the 32 bands and performers who appeared at Woodstock, along with period peace slogans and logos, all hand-drawn in dark marker, sold for $12,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Julien’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Woodstock was a phenomenon – the godfather of all outdoor music festivals. Demand for genuine Woodstock memorabilia has shown no signs of fading. 

The most iconic image from the Woodstock festival is its poster. A 1969 original earned $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

The most commonly encountered Woodstock items that appear at auction are promotional posters, paper tickets and festival programs. By far, the most visually appealing is the classic Woodstock poster, which pictures a white catbird sitting on the head of an acoustic guitar against an orange background. It was created by graphic artist Arnold Skolnick, who was paid $15 (about $120 today) for his work. “I used a catbird instead of a dove,” Skolnick said in a 2019 interview for National Public Radio, “because a catbird is fat, and a dove is like a pigeon. It has no shape whatsoever.”

A version of the Woodstock poster that lacks the text printed in black, which named the show, the site, the dates and the musical acts, sold for $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2018. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

The original Skolnick poster was printed in two sizes: 18 by 24in and 24.5 by 34.5in. Each had a thin white border with the name of Rapport Press, the printing company, on the reverse instead of on the bottom of the poster’s obverse, or front. The poster has been reproduced many, many, many times, starting less than a year after the concert itself with the 1970 release of the Woodstock documentary. 

A legitimate variant poster exists as well. The music festival was initially to have been held in Wallkill, New York, until town leaders made it unlawful to book an event for a group larger than 5,000. A more detailed and more psychedelic-style poster by David Byrd, indicating Wallkill as the event site, was never formally released. It is unclear how many copies of the poster were printed before the show venue was changed, but it emerges at auction on occasion.

A different, never-released version of the Woodstock festival poster, designed by David Byrd and produced for the event when it was initially supposed to take place in Wallkill, N.Y., achieved $3,600 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Tickets for the 1969 festival were priced at $6 per day (later printed editions raised the per-day price to $7, then $8) with the full three days costing $18 in advance or $24 at the gate. The only way to purchase them was through local record stores or via a post office box in New York City. Nonetheless, a total of 186,000 tickets were sold with the expectation that only 50,000 concert attendees would actually make it to the event.

This set of five unused Woodstock festival tickets, described as “complete, unused and NM (near mint)” sold for $885 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2019. Image courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

The concert organizers were off by a factor of 10. Some 500,000 young people showed up and simply crashed the gate, walking in for free. Unsurprisingly, any surviving Woodstock tickets – especially a complete, original set numbered in chronological order – commands strong collector interest. Beware of crisp-looking orange and green Woodstock tickets; those are usually reproductions. 

A 52-page festival program was given away with each ticket purchase. It features all 32 artists and bands on the Woodstock roster, including Creedence Clearwater Revival (the first band to be signed up for the show), Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, a very pregnant Joan Baez, the Grateful Dead (who overloaded the amps, thus cutting their set short), The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Sha Na Na. Ordinarily, original programs make ideal keepsakes, but at Woodstock, attendees repurposed them as rain shields or burned stacks of them to keep warm at night. First-edition Woodstock programs that have survived without water stains are few and prized. 

An original 1969 Woodstock festival program went for $900 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

As with the Woodstock poster, the festival program has been reproduced several times in the decades following the concert. On a true original, the front cover image of yellow wildflowers on green grass has the letter “f” in the word “of” from “3 days of peace and music” printed directly on a blossom. 1969 programs were printed on glossy, heavy paper stock, with the first and last pages printed on an opaque onionskin-like paper. Also, pages printed in black ink will show some white dots, which was the norm for the contemporary offset printing process of the era. 

The master audio tapes used to produce the concert albums ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Woodstock II’ achieved $120,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

Other Woodstock artifacts that were not created as potential keepsakes have found favor at auction. The documentary film of the concert, released in March 1970 with the minimalist title of Woodstock, earned critical acclaim and an Academy Award for Best Editing. The audio master tapes used to produce the concert albums and the 16mm print film reels from the documentary were offered in two separate sales at GWS Auctions in California, the former realizing $120,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020, and the latter earning $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Security jackets, badges, t-shirts, stage instructions, program notes, order forms, brochures, lighting instructions, musician lineups and other festival memorabilia are highly coveted, as well, in any condition.

The 16mm work print film reels from the Academy Award-winning documentary ‘Woodstock’ sold for $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

The passion for Woodstock and what it has come to represent extends to things associated with Max Yasgur’s farm, which was a working dairy at the time it served as the venue for the three-day event. Signage, crates, packaging, advertisements, invoices and milk bottles from Yasgur’s dairy are all treasured. However, Yasgur was not as popular as the mementos of his farm. He was ostracized by the community for allowing the festival to take place on his land. He finally sold the property in 1971, moved to Florida and died not long afterward from a persistent heart ailment. Addressing the crowd on the last day, he said, “ … the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids … can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music.”

The Woodstock festival was unique. No one, including experienced concert promoters who won the right to stage shows under the Woodstock name, has ever managed to recreate the magic of the 1969 original.

A milk bottle emblazoned with the Yasgur Farms Dairy logo – the site of the Woodstock festival – sold for $200 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2015. Image courtesy of Alexander Historical Auctions (LLC) and LiveAuctioneers.

After Woodstock was recognized as an iconic event, the community that had shunned Yasgur eventually embraced the concert’s historic and cultural significance by creating the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on the very site of the former farm in 2006. Eleven years later, the field where the concert was held was added to the National Register of Historical Places.

A pair of staff passes for the 1969 Woodstock festival sold for $400 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2014. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Relics from the decades-old show carry more than just historical importance; they remind us that the impossible happened at least once. Maybe a future generation of peaceful, loving young people can make the impossible happen again. 

The Timeless Appeal Of A Charlie Brown Christmas

One of the most iconic images from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is the unloved small shrub of a tree that Charlie Brown adopts. An original cartoon cel, signed by director Bill Melendez and numbered 332/500, sold in May 2021 for $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium.
Image courtesy of Alderfer Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Imagine bringing together children, light, faith and the true meaning of Christmas in one animated special that still charms audiences more than 50 years after it first aired. A Charlie Brown Christmas does precisely that. What you might not realize is that at first, the odds against its success seemed as daunting as Charlie Brown’s odds of kicking a football held in place by Lucy Van Pelt.

In 1947, Charles Schultz, known as Sparky to his family and friends, created the four-panel comic strip Li’l Folks for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, featuring the antics of elementary school-age kids. Charlie Brown (the name of a real childhood friend), Patty, Shermy, and a dog named Snoopy were the original characters. 

When United Features Syndicate picked up Schulz’s strip in 1950 for national syndication, an editor changed its name to Peanuts (despite the artist’s objection) to avoid its being confused with an earlier comic strip that had a similar name. Lucy, Linus, Sally, Violet, Schroeder, Marcia, Franklin, Pig-Pen, Peppermint Patty (a different character from Patty), Woodstock and many others eventually joined the cast. Adults were never seen.

At its peak, Peanuts ran in 2,600 newspapers. Schulz produced nearly 18,000 original strips before he retired in 2000. He died that year on February 12, the day before the final original Peanuts strip was published. All subsequent strips are reruns. Unlike other comics that have continued long past the deaths of their creators, United Features Syndicate honored Schulz’s request and chose not to hire a successor to continue drawing Peanuts.

A photo of the Charlie Brown characters standing around a Christmas tree, signed by several Peanuts voice artists, sold for $275 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Schulz maintained a different, more relaxed outlook on Peanuts TV specials, however. New series starring Snoopy and other characters from the strip currently appear on the Apple TV streaming service. But, of course, none of these contemporary productions would have even been pitched if A Charlie Brown Christmas hadn’t earned its place in American pop culture and provoked demand for more. 

Schulz didn’t leap directly to television. The first step on the path that led to the initial Peanuts TV special was taken in 1961, when he allowed his characters to appear in a series of animated commercials for the Ford Falcon, a small compact car. Bill Melendez, an animator for Walt Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons, tackled the task of translating Schulz’s characters into moving images. 

In early 1965, Lee Mendelson, a television producer, was asked by the advertising agency that handled Coca-Cola’s account whether he had an upcoming Christmas special they could sponsor. According to the 2001 documentary The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Mendelson said, “Absolutely.” That was a lie, but he immediately set to work on turning his lie into the truth.

As recounted in the 2001 documentary, Mendelson called Schulz and said he had sold what he called “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Sensibly, the artist asked, “Well, what is that?” Mendelson replied, “It’s what you’re going to write for a presentation the following Monday.” Schulz suggested bringing in Bill Melendez to help outline the Christmas special. The Coca-Cola executives liked the pitch and asked for it to be ready for broadcast in early December – giving the men just six months to write a script, cast voice actors, compose a musical score, and draw, ink and paint more than 13,000 animation cels needed to render a 30-minute-long television program. 

They wrote storyboards depicting the Peanuts gang organizing a play centered around the meaning of Christmas. Composer Vince Guaraldi contributed the light jazz background music and vocals, which Mendelson described in the documentary as “ … being very adult-like and kid-like at the same time,” a curious choice for the soundtrack of an animated holiday special aimed at children in the year 1965.

The men cast real children as the Peanuts characters instead of adult actors who sounded like children another bold and unusual choice. They recruited regular kids from families they already knew instead of professional actors, with the exception of the two 11-year-olds who voiced Charlie Brown and Linus. “The 10- and 11-year-olds could pretty well read without our help, but … we had to coach the five- and six-year-olds … and feed them half a line at a time … which is why there is a sing-songy pacing to the voices in the show,” Mendelson said in the 2001 documentary. Bill Melendez, who directed A Charlie Brown Christmas, provided the voice of Snoopy. The dog’s little yellow avian companion, Woodstock, debuted in the strip in 1969 and Melendez voiced the bird in later Peanuts specials.

An original animation cel depicting a key scene from the finale of A Charlie Brown Christmas realized $3,600 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2015. Image courtesy of Peachtree & Bennett and LiveAuctioneers

Schultz emphatically refused Mendelson’s suggestion to add a laugh track, even though that was fairly standard in children’s animation at the time. The creators also wove in a Bible quote from the Book of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-14 of the King James Version, famously spoken by Linus: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them …” When it was suggested that including a Bible verse in a commercial work of animation made the special seem too religious, Schultz reportedly said, “If we don’t do it, who will?”

After delivering the finished show, Mendelson had jitters, fearing that he and his colleagues might have ruined Charlie Brown. He needn’t have worried. When CBS aired A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 9, 1965, 49% of all televisions in the United States tuned in, yielding the highest ratings to date for a prime-time Christmas feature. When A Charlie Brown Christmas won an Emmy and a Peabody Award, it opened two sets of floodgates: one for animated Christmas specials of all sorts, and a second for Peanuts TV specials.

As of December 2021, there are 46 Peanuts specials in total, eight of which were produced after Schulz’s death. These include the classics It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, neither of which could have been made without the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A 1965 first edition, first printing of the read-along children’s book ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ sold for $48 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Artelisted and LiveAuctioneers

One of the first collectibles to appear after the 1965 debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas was a companion children’s book, written by Charles Schultz and published that same year, which tells the story of the TV special in a read-along format.

Since then, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Peanuts comic strip in general has given rise to a mind-bogglingly wide range of collectibles in every conceivable format. Schultz called merchandising ‘The Things’ and was ambivalent about this aspect of managing the Peanuts universe. In an interview for The Washington Post in 1985, he explained, “ … I … had five kids to support and put through college. And I have United Features Syndicate that takes half the money, and they’re pushing for things and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

The items associated with A Charlie Brown Christmas that perform best at auction are individual colored animation cels which were actually used to produce the special. Those signed by Charles Schulz, Mendelson, Melendez, and/or the voice actors can inspire serious bidding wars. Animation cels that reference the special’s original sponsors, Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison, have their fans, too. Seasonal rebroadcasts of the show removed them to comply with FCC regulations that outlawed advertising within children’s programming.

More than half a century has passed since A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired, and more than two decades have gone by since Schulz died. Yet, the holiday adventures of the hapless, confused, gentle third-grader Charlie Brown continue to cast their spell and enchant new generations.

Summoning the faith to do better, even if it’s just improving a scrawny Christmas tree, is why A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a classic. It’s the simple things that matter the most, as Linus, in his youthful voice, says in a key scene: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” So be of good cheer, Christmas time is here.”

Jasper52 to auction vintage psychedelic rock posters, Nov. 14

On Sunday, November 14, starting at 2 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will host a sale of Vintage Psychedelic Rock n Roll posters. The 237-lot lineup spans the 1960s to the present, and includes selections such as a 1966 Chet Helms and Wes Wilson lithograph design for a King Kong Memorial Dance; a 1967 poster published by Bill Graham touting a San Francisco appearance by the Byrds, Electric Flag, and B.B. King; a 1969 black-and-white Rolling Stones concert poster; a 1970 lithograph advertising a double bill of Elton John and the Kinks; a poster for a 1969 show at the Fillmore West with Santana as the main act; and a 1999 poster for a Counting Crows performance in San Francisco presented by Bill Graham.

1970 double-bill poster for The Kinks and Elton John, est. $125-$250

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

June 25 auction of vintage posters captures essence of great music

Great rock concerts can be unbelievably great–literally. The experience can be so fantastic that the words flee from your brain as you try to explain it to another who wasn’t lucky enough to be there. But even if you can remember the best show of your life reasonably well, you’ll jump at the chance to own an original poster that advertised it.

Possibly unique 1962 Pete Seeger poster, estimated at $750-$1,500

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Ready to rock? Beatles, Bowie & more in sale of 45rpm records

We don’t need vinyl records anymore, but we definitely still want them. Sure, records take up physical space — there’s no way around that — but the sensation of holding your favorite artist’s best songs in your hands will always beat summoning them from the capacious memory of your computer. On May 4, starting at 4 pm, Jasper52 will auction 188 lots of 45s — the vinyl record format reserved for single songs — from several collectors, including a large group that comes from the estate of a former DJ.

David Bowie ‘Fashions’ picture disc box set, estimated at $130-$200

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Rock stars lead all-star lineup in Jasper52 auction Sept. 9

Rock ’n’ roll and pop music takes center stage in an entertainment memorabilia auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, Sept. 9. In addition to signed album covers and stringed instruments, the 73-lot online auction includes movie memorabilia and original comic art. Bid absentee or live online exclusively through LiveAuctioneers.

Metallica, Fender bass guitar, circa 2005, signed by the band. Estimate: $2,000-$2,500. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

World’s Fair collectibles: a global fascination

Ah, the World’s Fair. For anyone who’s ever been, it is a magical and memorable experience – an exciting sneak peak into the future, with acres of exhibits, pavilions, performances and fanfare. And let’s not forget souvenirs. Like the park patrons who get conveniently dumped off at a gift shop after disembarking a ride at Disney World, most people who attend a World’s Fair or expo will almost certainly feel compelled to buy at least one memento of their visit, usually from a vendor at a stand or kiosk.

The list of past World’s Fair memorabilia is lengthy and includes glassware, china, coin banks, salt and pepper shakers, buttons, books, china, programs, coins (or tokens), jewelry, plates, pitchers, dolls, ashtrays, dolls, lighters, compacts, pins, buttons, badges, pocket knives, spoons, lamps, pens, glasses, china, directories, posters, fabrics, photo albums, stereoviews and cards, beaded purses, radios, cameras (such as Brownies), model cars, model trains, jigsaw puzzles and more.

Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse soft doll sold at 1939 New York World’s Fair, patent stamped under right foot, partial 1939 World’s Fair sticker under the left foot. Sold for $2,500 on November 18, 2017. Photo courtesy Milestone Auctions

Are these items worth anything today? If they were mainstream, mass-produced tchotchkes, their value is nominal. But a lot depends on which fair or exposition you attended and if the item was unique or made in low numbers. If you have a memento from the very first World’s Fair – the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London – hang onto it. They are exceedingly rare. Even the venue where that event took place is long gone – the Crystal Palace was relocated to Sydenham in South London in 1854. It burned to the ground in the mid-1930s.

The United States held its first World’s Fair in 1876, in Philadelphia, to mark the country’s centennial. It was called the Centennial Exhibition, and it was there Alexander Graham Bell unveiled his new invention, the telephone. Souvenirs from that fair included inkwells, sewing boxes, metal Liberty Bell paperweights, and stereoviews of various subjects (such as Tiffany vases and the steel turret salvaged from the Civil War vessel The Monitor). These, too, are all quite valuable to collectors.

Collection of nine Libbey Glass peachblow rose bowls, creamers, bowl and pear from 1893 World’s Fair Colunbian Exposition, Chicago. Sold for $1,500 on April 16, 2018. Photo courtesy Gray’s Auctioneers

Another highly collected fair is the Columbian World’s Fair of 1893, in Chicago, timed for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America. Souvenirs from that event include china, glassware, prints, postcards, badges, medals, charms and, for numismatists, the official U.S. coins that were minted beforehand to help bankroll the event. The 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, produced coins, pinbacks, shot glasses and other items.

Two other World’s Fairs popular with collectors are the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis (later made famous in the Judy Garland movie Meet Me in St. Louis); and the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The former marked the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Popular mementos included ceramic plates and glass and metal cups. The latter was in honor of the opening of the Panama Canal the year before. San Diego held its own similar expo.

Rare original Eiffel Tower poster from the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Artist unknown; printed by F. Menetrier, Paris, sold for $3,800 in May 2014. Photo courtesy PosterConnection Inc.

By 1900, Paris had already held two World’s Fairs – both located near the Eiffel Tower. Items from either one are rare and highly sought after. Americans desire what is out there because those fairs often highlighted Yankee ingenuity in the post-Gold Rush era. Items from the 1900 event that surface from time to time include souvenir plates depicting notable figures and structures; and even lists of scheduled events, such as the performance by Sarah Bernhardt.

1933 Chicago World’s Fair ‘A Century of Progress’ poster. Artwork by Weimer Pursell (1906-1974). Once inside the fairgrounds – especially at night – visitors were treated to a dazzling display of color and light. This poster sold for $2,200 in May 2011. Photo courtesy Poster Auctions International

Other World’s Fairs and expositions from that period that appeal to collectors include the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition (Portland, 1905), the International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts (Paris, 1925), the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial (1926), and the Century of Progress (Chicago, 1933).

Once we get into the later, more common World’s Fairs, like New York (1939, 1964) and Seattle in 1962, interest and values tend to taper off somewhat.

New York World’s Fair 1939 / World of Tomorrow poster, boasting Joseph Binder’s futuristic design and the most iconic of all the 1939 World’s Fair posters, sold for $3,200 in September 2012. Photo courtesy Poster Auctions International

The posters that were produced to advertise the World’s Fairs can be valuable and are often very beautiful. “The one word that unites all the World’s Fairs is progress,” said Jack Rennert of Poster Auctions International in New York City. “Each fair says to its public, ‘This is the best we’ve done and this is the future that will be even better.’ The posters touting this are all quite positive, whether official fair posters or those of individual pavilions, companies or events.”

Rennert added, “There’s an air of optimism about the fairs, and this pervades the posters that promote them. We collect them not only for their decorative value but also because they are historic documents. Plus, people like to collect finite items, for events like the French Open, Cannes Film Festivals, the Bill Graham concerts, the Olympics and so on. When there’s a well-defined, finite number of images, there’s a natural desire to own them all. That’s the challenge, and the joy, for collectors.”

Fred Holabird, owner of Holabird Western Americana Collections, LLC in Reno, Nevada, has World’s Fair collectibles in nearly every one of his auctions. “I love them because they bring new collectors into the market, and that’s good for everybody,” said. “Our sales feature items you won’t see in many other auctions, like ‘so-called’ dollars (dollar-size commemorative medallions minted for the fairs but not legal tender), stock certificates, cranberry glass, books and catalogs.”

Unique and very special, this Eugene Feuillatre, Paris, ‘La Nuit’ vase, was a model made expressly for exhibition at the Paris World’s Fair of 1900. Silver, enameled and polychrome painted enamel. Shows two flying bats against a night sky. Sold for €25,000 on November 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen

“The unique stuff gets the most play,” Holabird said. “For example, there was a Tower of Jewels made for the Panama-Pacific Expo in San Francisco in 1915. It was this giant, tree-size tower, about a hundred feet tall, studded top to bottom with glass jewels, each one about two inches in length. Those come to auction periodically and sell for the $100-$200 range. Even postcards from the older fairs are highly collected. There’s tremendous mystique and intrigue in the genre.”

On The Civil War Memorabilia Trail

By Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

I parked in front of the late Victorian A-frame home in response to a phone call I received from the friend of a friend who said she was interested in disposing of her uncle’s possessions, which included some Civil War items. While every house call (as we’ve come to call them) brings its own unique sense of anticipation, those with items described as “Civil War” instill a strange mixture of anticipation, excitement, worry, doubt and even anxiety. From the time you make the appointment to the appointment itself, your mind works overtime. “What could there be? Is it really Civil War related? Will we be able to come to an agreement or will I walk out empty handed?” After a lifetime in the business, few things cause me to shiver – old photographs, paintings, and Civil War-related items are some of those things.

These two hat insignia were included in Josiah Hammond’s box of medals. There was no accompanying information to indicate how the insignia were obtained or why Josiah had them. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Frequently the items encountered during these calls are antiques and collectibles that are readily available in the marketplace. There are other times, however, when you are surprised in ways you hadn’t expected. I have been called to homes to buy “Civil War” items only to find World War I real-photo postcards, helmets, canteens and other equipment – not that these are bad finds, but they are not Civil War.

Conversely, I have walked into a home to look at grandma’s rocking chair and walked out with a Colt Special Model 1861 rifle-musket dated 1862 and a World War II Nazi dagger from a soldier who served with Patton, both items with complete provenance. That is precisely why, with every house call, the excitement reaches a crescendo as you approach the home and ring the bell, thinking, ‘What will I find behind this door?’

The woman invited me to sit at her dining room table onto which she placed a few boxes. Was I a contestant on a game show? No, but all of the boxes could be mine if “The Price Was Right.” She removed photographs from the first box, and my heart sank. I immediately recognized as being of World War II era, not Civil War. They were photographs of her uncle, Richard Hammond.

Following the glossy paper photographs were Hammond’s WWII medals, and finally about 12 long, clear cylinders loaded with Indian head pennies. The woman explained that the pennies were tips her uncle received on his paper route during the early 20th century, which he never spent. There was a WWII photo album, and documents as well. Not a bad find but not Civil War.

Josiah Hammond’s Grand Army of the Republic Medal with insignia for the infantry, cavalry and navy, with images of 24 corps badges on verso. The partial letterhead from the District of Boton dates to 1859 and confirms that Josiah P. Hammond is an American seaman. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

The next thing she pulled from the box was a 19th-century tobacco tin whose rattle informed me there was something inside other than tobacco. I pried it open to find a few Civil War-related medals, and immediately my adrenaline was on the rise. There was hope after all.

Things only got better from there. Letters appeared from a sailor named M. C. Philbrick from the U.S.S. Monongahela. His private papers and sketch of the U.S.S. Albatross off Mobile, Alabama, September 25, 1863, are in a collection at the U. S. Naval Historical Center.

The Massachusetts Minuteman Medal awarded to troops who answered Lincoln’s “first call” for volunteers. The rim of each medal is personally inscribed with the service member’s name, rank, and unit. This medal is inscribed, “Josiah P. Hammond, PRVT. H. 3rd. REG.”

Then out came a couple of hat insignia and uniform buttons along with a “Massachusetts Minute Men 1861” medal, inscribed on the edge, Josiah P. Hammond, PRVT. H. 3rd. Reg., and other Civil War-related medals. Josiah’s 10-page, official military record came next, accompanied by a Seaman’s Passport from the “Collector of Boston, Arthur W. Austin” verifying Josiah P. Hammond’s status as a sailor, dated March 31, 1858; as well as a sailor’s certificate from 1859 and a four-page letter from Josiah’s uncle, J. Parker, from the Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., dated June 24, 1864. There was an ambrotype of Josiah P. Hammond and another of his father, Doctor Josiah S. Hammond, an 1834 graduate of Williams College.

The Massachusetts Minuteman Medal was awarded to troops who answered Lincoln’s “first call” for volunteers. The initial enlistment was for a period of three months in the belief that the war would be over before three months passed. The rim of each medal is personally inscribed with the service member’s name, rank, and unit.

It is estimated that about 3,800 such medals were struck by the U.S. Mint in 1902, by which time many of the recipients had either died or otherwise were unable to collect their medals. The medal alone brings $400 to $500, but it might be worth twice that amount if it is part of a collection of items belonging to the same recipient.

Ambrotype of Josiah P. Hammond that had been stored in a 19th-century tobacco tin. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Josiah P. Hammond, born November 24, 1839, answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers on April 16, 1861 – four days after the outbreak of the Civil War. He enlisted in Plympton, Massachusetts, for a period of three months as one of the “Minutemen of ’61.” Josiah was in the Massachusetts 3rd Regiment, Company H, Infantry. He re-enlisted in October 1861 in Boston for a period of three years and served as a seaman aboard the USS North Carolina, USS Bienville, USS Monongahela, and USS Pensacola. He was later promoted to Quartermaster for “meritorious service” and also took part in many historic battles from the Carolinas to Florida, into the Gulf and finally at Port Hudson, Louisiana, where he took part in the longest siege in American history.

The Hammond family has an interesting history. Josiah Hammond’s great, great grandfather, William Hammond, married Elizabeth Penn, the sister of William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia. William died in London, and Elizabeth Penn Hammond immigrated to America with her four children in 1634.

Included with the papers was a two-page letter on parchment, which is not related to the Civil War but very interesting nonetheless. It is a 1743 note written by a member of the Hammond family to “The North Precinct in the Town of Plymouth (Mass.) General Court” concerning the building of a meetinghouse. Also include in the historical trove were other Civil War-related documents, pension papers, 18th- and 19th-century land deeds, and last wills and testaments.

The most interesting item, however, was an 1863 blueprint of the Confederate fort at Port Hudson, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River. The blueprint originated with Charles H. Taylor, who was injured at the age of 16 during the battle of Port Hudson. As a photograph collector, I am familiar with cyanotypes (a type of blue-tinted photograph) and until now had never made the connection between the cyanotype process and blueprints. An Englishman named John Herschel, the son of astronomer William Herschel, invented the cyanotype and thus the blueprint process in 1842 in an attempt to copy his notes. Paper coated in iron salts was used to make a contact print (direct print by placing the original or a negative onto sensitized paper and exposing it to light). This resulted in a white image on a blue background.

Port Hudson was the Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River and a major obstacle to Union forces. The fort was vital in the flow of supplies from Texas and Europe to the Confederate states. If Union forces could capture Port Hudson, they would be in control of navigation on the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico throughout the Deep South. The Confederates repelled a number of Union assaults by Farragut’s forces during 1862 and 1863 until the 48-day siege from May 22 to July 8, 1863. At its peak, Port Hudson was 16,000 strong; however, during the 48-day siege it housed only around 3,500 men. This battle was the longest siege in American history and the first place where African-Americans fought under African-American leadership.

Portions of the Port Hudson blueprint showing the positions of the 1st Alabama, General Gardner’s Headquarters, a depot, Nims Battery, Lady Davis, 15th Arkansas Battery, rifle pits, the spot where Lieutenant Glover was killed, and the spot where General Paine was wounded. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

The blueprint of Port Hudson is unique in that it identifies the position of almost everything in the fort – information that has otherwise been lost to time. Places and positions identified by the blueprint are: rifle pits, depots, mortars, 18-gun battery, Nim’s Batteries (Capt. Ormand F. Nims 2nd Massachusetts), Confederate General Gardner’s Headquarters, the positions of “Native Infantry,” the Indiana battery, Arkansas divisions 9th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th, and 23rd, as well as the 53rd Massachusetts and 1st and 43rd Alabama. Also shown is Clinton Road, Baton Rouge Road, roads leading to landings, the road to Confederate General Bank’s headquarters, Lamely Creek, Chimpson Creek, and a variety of SAP. SAPs are zig-zag trenches.

Along the Mississippi River, it indicates a “Mortar Fleet,” the place where the Gunboat Mississippi was destroyed and the positions of the USS Hartford and USS Alabama. There are also X’s indicating spots where Union Lt. Glover of the 53rd Mass. Infantry was killed and Union General Paine wounded.

One of the more interesting things shown on the map is a location identified as Lady Davis. Lady Davis was a rather large gun – a 10-inch columbiad – that fired 128-pound shells for a distance of two miles. This gun was a curse to Union camps and so named by the Confederates for the “First Lady of the Confederacy” Varina Anne Banks Howell Davis, the second wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The collection, never seen by more than a few people, will be on loan for five years to the museum at the Port Hudson State Historic site.

It’s pleasurable to collect and own such treasures, but sharing a collection with the public is not only beneficial to others but may serve to inspire young people who are interested in history, preservation and collecting. It is especially exciting to know that this blueprint could help reconstruct a map or model of Port Hudson. It is also gratifying to know that letters to and from sailors, as well as a photograph of a sailor who took part in the siege of Port Hudson, will be displayed at the Port Hudson State Historic Site. It is kind of like sending them home.

Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing Dr. Anthony J. Cavo’s article with us. Visit Antique Trader online at www.antiquetrader.com.