How to spot fake, genuine Civil War memorabilia

Auctioning Civil War memorabilia can be a rewarding endeavor, but there are a few things to keep in mind before heading down that road.

“Be aware of fakes,” warns Lon Clemmer, CAI, CES, MPPA, an auctioneer/appraiser with Sanford Alderfer Auction Co. Inc., Hatfield, Pa.

There are “extreme amounts of counterfeits” out there, agrees historical consultant Bob Lucas, so take your time, consult an expert or check out reference books like North-South Trader’s “Civil War Collector’s Price Guide.”

The Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865. Don’t tarnish your credibility by labeling items from outside that period as Civil War memorabilia, he says.

“In anything collectible, there are reproductions,” points out John Hums, of John Hums Auctions, New Holland, Pa. “That is a pitfall that you have to watch for.”

When doing your evaluation, “Don’t ever take one person’s opinion or don’t take any one book as a bible,” he says.

Hums plays host to previews so that bidders can examine items themselves before they are sold.

In the end, he says, “We leave it up to our buyers to do their homework.”

Look for quality, Lucas says.

Army officers often had money to buy higher quality hats, uniforms and equipment than the standard government-issued items, and, since they were more highly educated than some soldiers, their letters were usually more descriptive, and they bring more at auction.

The Confederacy was agrarian based, and equipment often was made in blacksmith shops, while the Union was industrialized and had “the best armories in the hemisphere,” Lucas says.

Handle ammunition with care, if at all, he cautions. Artillery projectiles are still live.

And familiarize yourself with regulations specifying which guns can be sold and which cannot.

Also, some government medals cannot legally be sold.

Finally, for best results, “Time the sale around events or shows related to antique gun shows or military-related shows,” Clemmer suggests.

Read the March 2012 issue of Auctioneer magazine for a full report on selling Civil War memorabilia. The story provides best practices, tips and resources for successful appraisals and auctions.


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Filed under Auction Industry, Auction marketing, Auctioneer magazine, NAA Members

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