An artefact billed as "the most important Civil War Photograph album to surface in the last century" will feature in Heritage Auction Galleries' December Arms & Militaria Auction.
Described as a "once in a lifetime opportunity" by the Dallas auction house, the album measures 8.75" x 11" and is held in brown leather binding.
The initials "A.S.H." are embossed on its front cover, although the owner/compiler of the album remains unknown. Heritage's experts "feel strongly it was a member of Mathew Brady's staff." Brady (1822-1896) was an Irish-American photographer famous for documenting the Civil War.
Each page is held into the album with white cloth tape as part of the original binding process. The book is thought to date to immediately after the Civil War, and is made with the era's finest quality workmanship.
The album contains 348 albumen images, 59 of which are full page size while the remaining 289 are either cartes de visite (CDV, a 19th century picture format) or stereo halves or imperial CDV size. These include several panoramic views composed of a number of views fitted together.
According to the lot notes: "All images are in absolutely pristine condition, as bright and crisp as the day they were printed. Many of the images are mounted back to back. All of the images are identified, and many dated, with neatly printed ink captions."
While it's impossible to be precise about numbers, Heritage's experts are certain that a number of these images are previously unpublished or unknown. Often when Brady's photographers returned from the field, many images were deemed appropriate or impractical for commercial publication.
Of the original proof images that were pulled, many were never printed again. In some cases, images were supplied to newspaper artists such as Alfred Waud to use in artworks for Harpers Weekly or other publications. In other words, many of these images are true one-offs.
From Abraham Lincoln to his killer John Wilkes Booth
If this isn't impressive enough, the album's pages also boast celebrity provenance in the form of two President Abraham Lincoln CDVs and an autograph signed by the great man himself, dated February 7, 1863.
Images of Lincoln are filed in the album alongside photos of his cabinet members, following by 28 pages of featuring the Civil Wars leading military figures - both Union and Confederate. Among them is an autograph by Custer accompanied by many images of flamboyant general.
After these pictures are 118 pages of remarkable chronological photographs of the war, beginning with a view of "Fort Sumter from Fort Moultrie" and concluding with a final page carte de visite on John Wilkes Booth, the actor, Confederate sympathiser and later Lincoln's assassin.
The intervening pages are filled with views of soldiers in camp and on the march, naval operations and all the great battles - along with their bloody aftermath. Among these are a remarkable group of unknown and unpublished images documenting the conflicts at both Gettysburg and Antietam.
Heritage recommends that interested bidders pay a visit to its Dallas, New York or Beverly Hills offices for a pre-sale viewing of the album. "A verbal catalog description cannot even begin to transmit the scope and importance of this remarkable photographic document," reads its description.
The term "once in a lifetime opportunity" has perhaps never been more appropriate for an item of Civil War memorabilia on this year's markets. This most important Civil War Photograph album will auction with an estimate of $75,000-95,000, next month.
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