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Thu Apr 4 2013 17:29:26

James Julia on Civil War Market and Extraordinary Auction

By: Julia Wilkinson

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There may have been some extraordinary items related to Lt. Colonel George A. Custer and the Civil War that went for a pretty penny at a recent auction at James D. Julia, Inc., but that doesn't mean the overall market for Civil War-related collectibles is not ripe for many folks to jump in, explained James D. Julia. If you were going to begin collecting Civil War related items at any point in the last 15 years, "now is the time you should be beginning," said Julia. In other words, not six years ago, "when it was at its pinnacle, but right now while it's a bargain."

But the very rare and extraordinary are in a class by themselves, and there will always be a market for very unusual, very choice things, such as those that were in the Colonel George G. Briggs Civil War Collection, one of the lots in Julia's Winter 2013 Extraordinary Firearms auction, which included a piece of the actual "flag of truce" from the Appomattox Courthouse (which was actually more of a towel); and a gold Tiffany-made Custer Valor Medal.

That package ultimately sold for $184,000, including buyer's premium, to Martin Lane, known as a passionate collector of things related to Custer and the American West. Lane is one of the foremost antique Colt revolver dealers in the world. "But he is also extremely passionate about all things historical," and especially about Custer, said Julia. "During his lifetime he has probably ferreted out, chased after, and managed to successfully acquire, perhaps as many Custer-related items as any one man in the last 50 years," said Julia.

For Julia, one of the most exciting things about the Briggs collection (which had descended through the family of Colonel Briggs, who was a friend and confidante of Custer) was the the fragment of the truce flag used by the Confederates to end the Civil War. "The whole package is very neat. But this one fragment of flag reflected the termination of at that time the bloodiest war ever conducted," said Julia.

Although Julia said Civil War items in general are more affordable today than they were in say, 2007, "when you talk about collectible niches or genres, there are always niches that are heating up," and then there are some that are "kind of in a very lethargic state...there's really not that much happening."

And there are various things or forces that can drive a collectibles market, just like the stock market, said Julia. Sometimes it is something in the popular culture. As an example, after the movie "Dances with Wolves" came out, with Kevin Costner playing a former Civil War soldier who was going around with a Henry rifle (one of the first rifles Oliver Winchester is credited with producing), there was a big demand for Henry rifles, with their iron barrels and wooden stocks.

Then "after a couple of years, the whole movement sort of died off," said Julia, and the market "kind of dropped off."

There is always movement in the marketplace; "it isn't as volatile and as quick as the stock market, but it's not much different from the stock market," said Julia.

And sometimes a market can be boosted by "a couple of collectors who are very well moneyed," Julia explained. They will become enthralled with a certain niche or type of thing and start seriously collecting it. "Word kind of spreads out in the marketplace and soon there's a record price paid for this and then another record price because Tim and Dick are both fighting about these things; that creates interest and there are an awful lot of other people that kind of are also motivated by this activity."

In terms of the Civil War in general, things related to it "became extremely popular in the '90s and in the early 2000s," said Julia. "There was a combination of collectors, then there was all kinds of historical things that took place; the movies Gettysburg, Glory; a lot of different Civil Wa- related things that spiked the interest of the American public...and more and more people began collecting Civil War things."

But what happens in any marketplace, if there’s a gradual increase in value, a very gradual increase, that’s a very healthy movement, because lots of people can afford the things, according to Julia. But if, for example, an item goes from $1200 in value up to, say $12,000, the schoolteacher may no longer be able to afford it, but only the doctor will.

Old collectors who bought in a long time ago in a certain market are also in a good position when things go up, of course. "The old collectors can stay in the marketplace because they bought a bunch of Confederate sabers back when they were $300 and $800," said Julia. So an old collector could sell a saber that he bought in 1950 for $300, get $3500 for it, and "now have some money to go out and get other Civil War things."

Of course, the "truly great spectacular things are still a lot of money," said Julia, but it doesn't make any difference what you collect: "If you want to buy the best of the best, it is still expensive."

Do you have an interest in Civil War items, or other militaria? Have you noticed spikes and falls in your collectibles niche, whatever it may be? Post a comment here!

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This user has validated their user name. by: juliawww

Thu Apr 4 20:11:06 2013

Just curious...does anyone collect World War I items? Those have increased in value, according to Jim Julia. Also he said we are now seeing Vietnam and even Iraq war collectibles..the wave is always moving forward. ;)

Perminate Link for James Julia on Civil War Market and Extraordinary Auction   James Julia on Civil War Market and Extraordinary Auction

This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Fri Apr 5 15:59:28 2013

It's fascinating how pop culture can affect the collectibles market. Look at how television shows like Mad Men of Downton Abbey have influenced areas like vintage fashion.  

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