When it comes to collecting photographs, images of men are typically far less popular than those of women. However, there are two primary categories where there is some rather high interest: Images which gay men and images from the military. This photo features a young male soldier holding his rifle with a bayonet. While there’s no date (or other information on the photo), we had a few militaria collectors agree that it’s likely from WWI.
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In Philadelphia, PA, Freeman’s auction house reports that “one great history lover” was dedicated to procuring every single item in yesterday’s Historic Muhlenberg Property from a Private Collection auction. The private collector, who wished to remain anonymous, was successful — spending $646,063 to ensure the entire collection would remain together and be added their own private collection of Revolutionary War materials.
This auction contained items from the Muhlenberg family, having descended through the family, which included an extensive archive representing the public and sometimes private lives of Pennsylvania’s leading German family from the period of the American Revolution through the Civil War.
The collection’s signature piece was The Grand Division of Color of the Eighth Virginia, a Regimental flag which descended in the family of the Regiment’s original commander, Peter Muhlenberg (1746-1807), the legendary “Fighting Parson”, who served in the Continental Army, as Colonel., Brigadier-General and finally as a Major-General. (His robe was featured on PBS’s History Detectives.)
The flag, which sold for $422,500, is cited in the 1849 biography, The Life of Major-General Peter Muhlenberg of the Revolutionary Army by descendant Henry Augustus Muhlenberg. (Henry Augustus Muhlenberg was the son of Henry Augustus Philip Muhlenberg and grandson of Henry Muhlenberg Jr. (1753-1815), General Peter’s brother.) The flag’s description reads as follows on pages 338-339:
The Eighth Virginia Regiment was generally known as the ‘German Regiment.’ By that name it is designated in the Orderly books of Generals Washington and Muhlenberg during the campaigns of 1777, 1778 and 1779….The regimental colour of this corps is still in the writer’s possession. It is made of plain salmon-coloured silk, with a broad fringe of the same, having a simple white scroll in the centre, upon which are inscribed the words, “VIII Virg(a) Reg(t)
Samuel M. “Beau” Freeman II, Freeman’s Chairman and specialist in Americana said, “Revolutionary battle flags are rare and those in private hands are almost unknown or only fragments have survived–this is an extraordinary discovery. Muhlenberg is a legendary hero of the Continental Army and this flag represents his Virginia regiment. This flag pre-dates the Tarleton Colors and may be the last remaining battle flag in private hands.”
Among the lots were hundreds of letters, including historical content concerning the political affairs of U.S. Congressman and diplomat Henry Augustus Phillip Muhlenberg, General Muhlenberg’s letters to his brothers about his military role, several letters from sitting presidents, and a document signed by Benjamin Franklin.
Called “especially illuminating” was the General Order and Brigade Order Book, kept by General Peter Muhlenberg’s orderly from May through November, 1777, a period that encompasses the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. That book set an auction record when it sold for $98,500.
As for the pieces from the Muhlenberg collection remaining together, Lisa Minardi, author of Pastors & Patriots: The Muhlenberg Family of Pennsylvania, Assistant Curator at Winterthur, and the president of The Speaker’s House (a preservation group that overseeing the restoration of Frederick Muhlenberg’s home), said it best. “This collector is my hero! It’s amazing that these items descended in the family and are now staying together in a single collection.”
The lighter bears the raised emblem adopted when the ship was first commissioned in 1961: a star-spangled blue field; the frigate of 1797 on the left; CVA-64, her aircraft and her guided missile battery, on the right; all encircled in yellow.
This full-sized brushed chrome lighter was made in Japan by Penguin (No. 19531).
[Note: The bottom of this vintage lighter is not brushed, so it is very shiny and difficult to photograph.]
It is often compared to, or considered a knock-of of, the “original” Zippo “Town and Country” lighter. However, it is important for collectors of lighters to note that the Zippo version was not truly a Town & Country lighter. Zippo ended the Town and Country line in 1960; meanwhile, the USS Constellation (CVA-64) was launched October 1960, delivered to the Navy in October 1961, and commissioned at the end of October 1961. While the paint on paint process continued to be used by Zippo, lighters using that process were not part of the real own & Country line.
It’s a great piece in terms of history; and in collecting, it’s a reminder of how wartime knock-offs are often nearly as valuable as the originals. If the knock-off was the lighter held back in the day, it’s the lighter you want today.
When I first heard about the National Geographic Channel’s new show, America’s Lost Treasures, I was excited. The premise is that folks parade in, Antiques Roadshow style, to have their objects evaluated — not simply for monetary value, but for their historical value — to answer the question, “Could you have a museum-worthy artifact hidden in your house?” The artifacts discovered or uncovered each week then “win” the opportunity to be included in a special exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., stated to be sometime in 2013 (though the exhibit does not yet appear on the museum’s calender— which, at the time I write this is scheduled through the end of April, 2013).
While the series has a game show element of competition, the focus appeared to be on the history and museum-worthy value of objects. Sure, there’s a $10,000 prize to with such an honor; but I fell for the idea of the recognition. What collector doesn’t want some validation? And, let’s be honest, a $10,000 cash prize for loaning an object to a museum seems a low price for objects deemed of such great historical value.
But then I watched the show.
Problems erupted everywhere.
Show hosts Curt Doussett and Kinga Philipps are literally talking heads with little, if any, experience in history, antiques, or collectibles. Sure, their enthusiasm is high; but their knowledge is obviously low.
When Phillips meets a couple with antique shaving mugs, she literally gushes and coos her ignorance. Who hasn’t heard of shaving mugs?! I think Old Spice still puts them out at holiday time. OK, maybe not everyone has heard of shaving mugs; but then not everyone hosts an antiques & collectibles history show either. And that’s my point.
And Doussette, who studied music composition and theory at Brigham Young University with the stated intention of becoming a master conductor, may have become overwhelmed with emotion at having the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream to conduct at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (it was a cool, moving moment), but he continually over-estimates the importance, value, and condition of musical instruments. It’s all rather mind-boggling, really.
And it might be OK, these talking heads who are nearly empty-headed on the subject they are hosting, because there will be experts, right? Well…
Enter curator emeritus Chris Baruth from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who is the expert visited to authenticate and evaluate a walking stick from the 1893 World’s Fair held in Chicago which contains a map of the fairgrounds. Despite the cautionary comments of the woman who owns the antique walking stick, Baruth rips the fragile old map! And do make matters worse, you can hear Baruth (or perhaps it’s Doussett?) say, “Now what do we do?” While I tried not to cry (or was it faint), Baruth offers to tape it. Really?! Oh. My. Gawd. Thank heavens Doussett promises complete restoration to the owner. You can watch the catastrophe here:
How’s that for damaging your credibility as an expert?
But wait; like a set of Ginsu knives, America’s Lost Treasures has more!
Among the other objects selected as finalists and worthy of expert analysis are a piece of a Japanese Zero from the attack on Pearl Harbor, an antique campaign writing box from the 1700s believed to have been owned by Roger Sherman (the only person to sign each of the four major documents that built this nation: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution), and Venetian glass mosaics depicting Christopher Columbus‘ “discovery” of America (eighteen feet by five feet panels built on six inches of concrete for the 1893 Chicago’s World’s Fair, presumed lost for at least 40 years).
The piece of metal from the WWII Japanese Zero plane was identified behind its frame and glass via webcam connection — something ludicrous, given the images we are shown of the webcam connection. There is no investigation of the owner’s story; his father’s story is taken virtually at face value. Meanwhile, the descendants of Roger Sherman don’t have it so easy; they don’t have the properly documented provenance of the item passing down the generations in wills and so are removed from the running. I guess one father’s story isn’t as good as another’s.
And at the end, perhaps the greatest injustice of all.
When the piece of WWII Japanese place goes up against the Venetian glass mosaics, the museum curator chooses —
The piece of plane.
I’ve nothing against recording WWII history, but this piece was poorly authenticated to begin with; plus there are museums dedicated to WWII (including the one in Hawaii which said they wanted the piece). And they opt for that instead of those incredible, humbling an huge, antique mosaics made of glass from Venetian glass that came from Murano, Italy; some no larger than a seed, some sandwiched with actual gold. Mosaics which not only have been presumed lost, but which would illuminate parts of history and art which many people know next to nothing about. And isn’t that a large part of what museums are supposed to do? Preserve as well as tell the stories of our past so that they are not forgotten?
That choice was an epic fail.
Gunar Gruenke (owner of the mosaics), I feel your pain. (You can visit the site and donate to help restore the mosaics.)
In many ways, it’s the Milwaukee episode which most encapsulates the train-wreck quality of America’s Lost Treasures. (In fact, the examples given here all come from that single episode!) If you can get through that one, and still find something fascinating to watch, then you’ll like this NatGeo series.
I myself can’t say I like it. I’ve watched three episodes so far, and I may watch more. But I’m pretty sure it’s for all the wrong reasons. …Well, maybe not “all” the reasons are wrong. I do like to see old objects, and learn what I can. But the more I watch this show, the more I feel like an expert. And I know that as a generalist in this business and hobby, that would be a rather silly thing to say. But apparently Shakespeare was right: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
America’s Lost Treasures airs Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel and is produced by Original Productions, a FremantleMedia Company.