DENVER, Pa. – An extraordinary Civil War time capsule containing a Pennsylvania family’s collection of Civil War guns, apparel and battlefield implements will take center stage on day two of Morphy Auctions’ July 24-25 Firearms Auction. Described by Dave Bushing, head of Morphy’s Firearms division, as “one of the greatest untouched collections ever uncovered,” the Roberts assemblage arose from historical tragedy.
“The Roberts family’s story was not unlike that of thousands of other families of the Civil-War era, where two sons would go off to war and one would come back in a box,” Bushing said.
In 1862, brothers George and Charles Roberts, who came from a prosperous East Goshen Township, Pennsylvania family, heeded the call to arms and joined the Union Army. George, then an up-and-coming Chicago lawyer with a degree from Yale, enlisted in the 42nd Illinois Volunteers. He was commissioned to the rank of major and later promoted to brigadier general. Charles, who joined the 124th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, eventually rose to the rank of captain.
George Roberts, a valiant leader who commanded the Third Brigade under General Sherman, was killed on the front lines at the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee, on Dec. 31, 1862. Around that same time, brother Charles was gravely injured. Charles survived and remained in the army for another three years before returning home to Pennsylvania, where he purchased a farm outside the town of West Chester.
The core of the Roberts family collection consists of the original uniforms, guns and relics used in battle by George and Charles Roberts — family treasures that would be painstakingly preserved by several generations in the third-floor “museum room” of Charles’ farmhouse. Having an interest in historical research, Charles continued to add important Civil War items to the collection until his death in 1895. After that, the collection remained within the Roberts family, its contents untouched to this day.
“In 1904, two photos were taken of the museum room. The items we will auction are an identical match to the pieces in the photos. Nothing has been removed from the collection. It is a virtual time capsule and a discovery that comes along once in a gun historian’s lifetime,” Bushing said.
A Civil War officer’s porkpie slouch belonged to George Roberts who, in the capacity of Acting Brigadier General, was killed in action in 1862 at Stones River, Tennessee. A high-grade, silver-grip officer’s presentation sword that was awarded in 1863 to Lieutenant Charles Roberts by the members of Company A, 124th Regiment, P.V., is also scheduled to cross the block.
Immediately following the 111 consecutive lots devoted exclusively to the Roberts collection, Morphy’s will offer three highly important Civil-War-era guns, including a rare Sharps New Model 1859 Coffee Mill experimental carbine, which had a grinder installed in its buttstock in 1864 at the St. Louis Arsenal. “During the Civil War, troops were issued a bag of corn kernels, which they could feed to their horses. But if they wanted to use the corn for their own consumption, they had to grind the kernels first,” Bushing explained. “With this particular gun, they could pour the kernels into the buttstock, hold the gun over a plate and grind with a separately provided handle.”
Bushing also noted that a few guns of this type were made in the early 20th century by a former employee of the mill factory. “He obtained original carbines from Bannerman and used original grinder parts from the factory, so unless there’s provenance that goes back far enough, there’s no way of knowing if a gun of this type is from 1864 or the 1920s. But either way, to the best of my knowledge, our gun is one of only a few known to exist.”
The gun was obtained earlier this year in Plymouth, Massachusetts, together with a Colt 1860 long-flute revolver originally owned by Gen. Gordon of the 3rd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The revolver will be auctioned by Morphy’s along with provenance dating back to Gordon’s niece, plus Gordon’s own cartes-de-visite and books.
Another rarity is an engraved Colt 1849 Pocket Revolver that was purchased at William Read & Sons in 1861 and gifted to a sergeant in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment by Hose Company 90 of Milton, Mass. “In the Civil War, only officers were issued sidearms, but enlisted men could carry one at their own cost, so often families would buy them for a son or husband going off to war. In this case, it was purchased by a firehouse, perhaps for one of their own,” said Bushing. It comes with a holster and a book of exploits written by the division’s chaplain.
The session also includes a Tiffany presentation sword and a few other Civil War swords; and dozens of other Civil War guns, among them an unfired 1861 Maynard carbine and and 1863 Sharps musket of the type made famous in a photo of legendary Union sharpshooter “California Joe.”
During the Friday opener, Morphy’s will auction approximately 550 guns manufactured during the last 20 years. All but 20 were amassed by a single private collector who focused on owning every high-grade, name-brand gun available in the marketplace.
“He bought every caliber, model, grade and special-issue commemorative from Winchester – which was remaking all of its famous lines – plus Colt, Ruger, Browning, Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer and others,” said Bushing. “They’re literally brand new. We had to unwrap many of them for the first time to photograph them for our catalog.” Many of the Brownings are engraver-signed with deluxe gold-inlaid claro walnut stocks.
At least six of the highest-grade Belgian Custom Browning Superposed shotguns ever manufactured are entered in the sale, some with estimates exceeding $10,000. Also, there are 12 new, boxed examples of the Belgian Browning Hi-Power 9mm, a handgun so revered, it was used by the armed forces of more than 50 countries. Each of the 12 will be auctioned as an individual lot.
Winchester highlights include a high-grade Model 1886 Take-Down rifle, a scarce .50 caliber Express Model, and a high-grade Model 1873 in .22 caliber. There are two J.P. Lower stamped guns, an all-matching WWII Luger listed by serial number and with capture papers; and a vast array of other guns spanning three centuries from the Pre-Revolutionary-War era to contemporary times.
“This is going to be a sale that every dealer and collector should show up for. There will be merchandise in every price range, and I think there will be some great buys because of the multiples,” Bushing said.
All firearms are available to preview at Morphy’s gallery from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., now through auction day. All forms of bidding will be available for Morphy’s July 24-25, 2015 Firearms Auction, including in person at the gallery, over the phone, absentee or live via the Internet through Morphy Live.
The auction will begin on both days at 9 a.m. Eastern Time. Morphy Auctions is located at 2000 N. Reading Road in Denver, PA 17517. For additional information on any item in the sale or to reserve a phone line for bidding on auction day, call 717-335-3435 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit Morphy Auctions online at www.morphyauctions.com.