Monday, December 13, 2010

Custer Portrait Vases sell for more than $50,000

Today I received a notice from Heritage Auction Galleries about their recent auction of a pair of hand painted porcelain vases with portraits of George Armstrong Custer and his wife Libby.

In July of 1865 Custer and his young bride traveled to New Orleans, where they visited the studio of the highly regarded photographer and portrait artist R. T. Lux. There they were photographed by Lux, and the tintype images he retained were used to paint these remarkably life-like portraits. The vases are of baluster form, measuring 11" in height, and adorned with bouquets of pink roses bound in blue ribbons. Each is dated "July 1865," and signed "R.T. Lux, N.O." Lux's work is highly collectable today, and this magnificent pair must surely be considered among the most desirable examples. Pictured on page 72 of Lawrence Frost's important book, The Custer Album, they are among the most recognizable of Custer artifacts. When Butterfield & Butterfield auctioned a number of important Custer relics on behalf of the family, the vase depicting Custer was featured on the catalog's cover. The pair was sold at Butterfield's in 1995, where they fetched $46,750. The original Lux tintype of Custer, featuring the exact same portrait seen on the painted vase, was auctioned by the Custer family at the same time, but unfortunately not together with the vases. - Heritage Auction Galleries
George Armstrong Custer and Elizabeth Bacon Cu...Image via Wikipedia
George Armstrong Custer and Elizabeth Bacon Custer
between 1860 and 1865.  Courtesy of the Library of
I found a copy of a portrait of the couple from the Library of Congress for comparison.  Although Libby is wearing a similar dress, George's hair is much shorter than in the vase portrait.  However, the vase portraits' resemblance to the couple's facial details in the photograph is striking.

If you visit the Heritage Auction Gallery website and set up a free account, you can view wonderful enlarged images of these portraits as well as other historical collectibles that are either being offered for sale or have been sold in the past including firearms, military paper ephemera (military manuals, discharge papers, orders, letters, etc), uniforms, flags, cannon, bladed weapons, tintypes, etc.  What a treasure trove of information all freely available if you just set up a free  account!  You can browse online catalogs of both past and upcoming auctions and they publish a beautifully illustrated magazine that may be read online or requested in print at no charge.

Earlier this month, the only U.S. flag not captured or lost during Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn sold at auction for $2.2 million. 

The Culbertson Guidon from the 1876
Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Image
courtesy of Sotheby's
Of the five guidons [flags with a distinctive swallow-tailed shape] carried by Custer's battalion only one was immediately recovered, from beneath the body of a fallen trooper.

According to testimonials from Indians involved in the fight, the trooper, Cpl. John Foley, was attempting to escape on horseback — and had almost succeeded — when he shot himself in the head. All the other flags under Custer's command were believed captured by the victorious Indians.

The recovered flag later became known as the Culbertson Guidon, after the member of the burial party who recovered it, Sgt. Ferdinand Culbertson. Made of silk, it measures 33 inches by 27 inches, and features 34 gold stars. - Matthew Brown, Associated Press
The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn   A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West   Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors   Lakota Noon: The Indian Narrative of Custer's Defeat   They Died With Custer: Soldiers' Bones from the Battle of the Little Bighorn   Archaeology, History, and Custer's Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined   Custer and the Little Bighorn: The Man, The Mystery, The Myth  My Life on the Plains (Military History)
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