Collecting Civil War memorabilia can be an affordable hobby. Unlike artifacts, and Civil War gear, memorabilia encompasses modern items that commemorate the war, as well as vintage items from that time period. Memorabilia includes books, magazines, and calendars, as well as old photographs, artwork, journals, and other types of ephemera.
What Is Civil War Memorabilia
The Civil War is a wide category, indeed. Some of the sub-categories that would be included in it are:
- Sale papers
- Manumission papers
- Other documents associated with slavery
- Certificates of Freedom
- Slave tags
- Black Americana posters, postcards, ads and such
- Segregation signs
- Civil War art
- Antique lithographs
- Illustrations from vintage sources
- Limited edition prints from well known, modern military artists
- Authors and other important historic figures of the time
- Requisition forms
- Military documents
- Postage Stamps
- Post Cards
This is by no means an all inclusive list. It is merely a place to begin considering what to collect. A number of modern objects could also be considered memorabilia from the Civil War, such as:
- Unique teapots commemorating the Civil War
- Books about the Civil War
- Prints and artwork
- Calendars, both from the Civil War era and modern
- Collectible figurines
- Collectible games, such as chess, with Civil War figures
Civil War memorabilia continues to be a highly sought after collectible. It is such an important turning point in American history that the items remain meaningful to many people. The prices of these vintage objects at auction often reach incredible amounts:
- The terms of surrender, signed by Robert E. Lee, went for $537,750.
- Photograph album from the Civil War was auctioned for over $77,000.00.
- A Confederate flag was sold for over $179,000.00
These prices will only go up as Civil War items become harder to find. Items with a known history are especially valuable. For example, if you had a collection of letters from a Union soldier, as well as his photograph and a button from his uniform, the value of the collection would be much more than the value of the individual pieces added together. If it was from an ancestor of yours the value would go up even more. Try to get as much information as possible on the background of the pieces you find.
How to Begin Collecting Memorabilia
There are dangers in collecting any type of memorabilia and the Civil War era antiques are no exception. The market is flooded with items that are fakes and forgeries so let the buyer beware. There are a few things you can do to ensure that you are getting what you pay for:
- Collect a small genre of things. For example, collect only stamps, or flags, or photographs, or whatever you are interested in. By choosing to start small you will better be able to learn and research your collection. This way, you will be able to spot fakes more easily. As you learn more about the items and are more confident you can expand your collections to other categories.
- Get a Certificate of Authenticity whenever possible.
- Talk to other collectors.
- Go to trade shows, antique auctions and anywhere else that you can touch, and examine, Civil War memorabilia.
- Visit Civil War museums.
- Get a collectible price guide such as, Civil War Collector's Guide for Paper Memorabilia by Alan Charles Phillips, to keep up with prices and current information.
Finding Civil War Collectibles
While living near an old war field can be handy, the majority of items that are authentic collectible civil war items can be purchased in antique stores, on eBay and from fellow collectors. Serious collectors will rarely buy dug items though, since it is considered raiding someone's grave. Online auctions usually list items as either dug, or non-dug, so that collectors know where the items have come from. Most authentic items on the market that are in good condition usually come from families that have been collectors for generations or had a family member that served in the War Between the States.
Places to find authentic Civil War gear include the following:
- Civil War Preservations
- Heller's Civil War Antique Shop
- Georgetown Antique Mall
- Civil War Battleground Antiques, Inc.
Resources on the Internet
There are many resources on the Internet where you can view memorabilia, or buy it. You can talk with others who collect it on chat boards, or find the value of an object. Collecting is always more fun when you have someone to share your excitement with.
- Vanderbilt Library
- Battleground Antiques Archive Gallery
- The Smithsonian
- Civil War Medicine Museum
- Gettysburg Military Park
To get the most enjoyment from your collectible memorabilia be sure to display it properly, and in a way that will protect it from sunlight, dust and fingerprints. Glass front cabinets, glass top tables and special photograph albums with acid free papers are examples of ways that these fascinating pieces of history can be displayed. Small vignettes can be created for more sturdy pieces of memorabilia.
By collecting these wonderful pieces of history, you are preserving the past for the future.