Sunday, March 3, 2013

My History as a Collector, Part III

I graduated from the University of Mississippi with a Bachelor of Arts in History  in 1992 (I had enough hours for minors in English, Art History and Anthropology -- my guidance counsellor called me a "Renaissance Man."  I said that I was qualified to be interesting at cocktail parties).   I obtained my Juris Doctorate (the fancy name for a law degree) from the same institution in 1995.   During that time period, my collecting was relatively light.   A few WWII rifles and some dabbling in German WWII medals was about it during undergrad.

During law school, I became friends with a classmate from Richmond, Virginia.   My friend, and his father, are  avid militaria collectors, but they most liked collecting Confederate memorabilia -- especially swords.   I hadn't thought much about CS swords up until then.   I knew about the US patterns and the prolific US makers and retailers such as Emerson & Silver, Horstmann  and Ames.   I  was now learning about  the CS makers such as Boyle & Gamble,  Louis Froehlich and Thomas, Griswold & Co. of New Orleans, Louisiana.    From my friend, I also learned a modern name that is very important in the world of CS edged weapon collecting -- William A. Albaugh, III.   Mr. Albaugh's books, especially Photographic Supplement to Confederate Swords,  are some of  the earliest works on the subject of CS arms, makers and retailiers.    They are must haves for any Civil War militaria collector's library.   While in law school, I did not really purchase any items, the exception being two German WWI cavalry sabres that my classmate's father sold to  me -- a great deal.   I married my wife, Elizabeth, midway through my second year.  Strange that a young couple, with one of us still in school, just doesn't have much income to allocate to militaria collecting.  What I could afford at this time were books.  Campaign and battle histories were not my focus.    What I actively sought and purchased were reference books.   I obtained and studied reference books on the subject of  arms, accountrements and uniforms such as those by Mr. Albaugh.   I devoured any reference book with detailed pictures and/or period photographs.  I studied them over and over.  In fact I still do.  Elizabeth gives me grief about not actually reading anything. She says that I just look at the same pictures all the time.  I cannot deny it.   I will tell you this, reference books are expensive, but necessary.  They are expensive I guess, because there are just a few strange individuals like me that want them.   I'd rather spend $50 to $100 on a good reference  book than lose $500+  on a bad purchase.   Of course, the internet has hurt the reference book business, but I will warn new collectors about the internet.  Believe it or not, but not everything on the internet is accurate or true (ironic that I'm posting this on the internet, ain't it?).

After I graduated from law school in 1995, I decided to reward myself with a purchase.   Using my new found knowledge and North SouthTrader magazine, I identified several dealers and started my quest for the item that I wanted -- an 1850 pattern U.S. foot officer's sword.   In 1995, militaria dealers attended Civil War shows, had shops open to the public  or offered mail order.  Some provided photographic catalogs, but those that did printed their catalogs only a few times per year.   Just because it is pictured in the catalog doesn't mean that its still available for purchase.  In 1995, Memphis, Tennessee was the site of  the MidSouth Civil War Show (the show still takes place, but in Southaven, Mississippi).  I was living in Holly Springs, Mississippi at the time and could go to the show to make my purchase,  but the show wasn't until February.   It was May and I was eager to take the plunge.     From my law school friend, I learned only a few dealers' names and  most were in Virginia.  I wasn't getting up there any time soon.   I would have to rely upon mail order.

I found a few dealers in the magazine and started calling.    It shocked me how many of them  did not have what I wanted.  However, I eventually found the sword for which I was looking through a well known dealer in Gettysburg, Pennslyvania.     I paid $500.00 in 1995 for my first US Civil War era officer's sword.  It arrived in July of 1995 just in time for the bar exam.    The sword lacked the markings of any well known maker or retailer.  I was most likely a European made import, but  the blade was beautifully etched with "US" on one side and "E Pluribus Unum" with an eagle on the other -- true signs that it was intended for the US market (mostly likely it was etched in the United States.   As an added bonus it had its original scabbard.   It was not perfect.   It missed a patch or two of its fishskin grip wrap and the leather scabbard was dry and cracked, but it was a significant purchase for me.   Today, I would imagine that the same sword would sell in the $800 - $1000 range.

Looking back on my this time of my life, I see how I grew as a collector.   I learned about the importance of research.   There are fakes and forgeries everywhere, so you better know what you are doing.   I also learned how difficult it can be to locate the item for which you are looking.  There simply aren't any "Swords R Us" stores around.   Finally, I learned that it takes a bit of courage to:  (1) purchase something of signficant value sight unseen, or based solely upon a few measly photos,   (2) trust your instincts, (3) trust the reputation of a quality dealer and (4) trust the U.S. Postal Service to get the item to you and in an undamaged condition  (which of the four would scare you the most?).    It was about to get a lot more scary.  I was about to take the plunge into much deeper pools.  Actually, as our English brothern would say, my next foray into collecting took me "across the pond."

I know that this history is probably getting a bit boring for the readers, but quite frankly I've never really thought about how I got into this hobby and I'm enjoying reminising and writing about my journey.   There is more to come, but I'll try to intermix and item or two in the midst of my history.