Extraordinary US Civil War shirt collar letter auctions at Spink Shreves

Spink Shreves, as we've already reported is holding a special auction commemorating the sesquicentennial of the attack on Fort Sumter that began the United States Civil War.

One highlight for stamp collectors is Lot 2, the Arthur Groten award winning exhibit collection of Union Patriotic Labels of the Civil War.

But it is by no means the only highlight, and some of the other items will draw in collectors of various different kinds.

Another highlight is a use of the Lenoir, North Carolina 5c blue and orange provisional - an unusedsingle with full margins showing frame lines all around, bright fresh colours and unusually clean impressions, affixed to a small piece of a diary dated September 19, 1861.

The piece is then affixed to a notarised affidavit dated August 11, 1887 of G.W.F. Harper, the Assistant Postmaster and creator of the die used to print the provisional, very fine.

Lenoir Provisional from the Caspary collection
Lenoir Provisional from the Caspary collection

The date of the piece from the diary, September 19, 1861, is the same date as the issue of the Lenoir postmaster provisional, the piece reads in part "that he retained and pasted in his Diary at the time, the first good impression made from the die, then he had said diary and the stamp attached in his possession since Sept 19/1861".

The Lenoir provisional was impressed from a pear-wood device carved by the Postmaster's son, G.W.F. Harper. The Lenoir provisional is rare, with this particular example, the first impression made, being particularly desirable.

Once a part of the famous Caspary collection, it is listed at $10,000-15,000 and should make an excellent investment.

One of the most remarkable items in the whole auction is a truly remarkable piece of correspondence: a soldier's letter made from a shirt collar with three examples of the 1c Blue affixed.

During the Civil War, the scarceness of basic resources led to creative methods of making envelopes. This was particularly true in the South, where envelope manufacturers used wallpaper, which was in relatively plentiful supply, when their normal paper stock ran out.

In the case here, the soldier had just finished fighting in "The Seven Day Battles" and wanted to write home to his mother.

Shirt collar letter
If I told you the lot, I'd end up nude - the unique shirt collar letter

Not having the normal paper and envelope material available, he took a paper shirt collar, wrote the letter in pencil on the inside, then addressed and affixed the stamps on the outside. It was accepted in the postal system and delivered to his mother in Philadelphia.

The letter, datelined "Headquarters 2nd Regiment Banks James River Jul 4, 1862" mentions the battles "Dear Mother, We have fought five battles and won five victories.

"They took place on the 26th, 27th, 30th and 1st & 3rd..."

It also talks about Generals McCall and Reynolds being taken prisoner, and various officers being killed or wounded. Toward the end he notes:

"We have been driven from the rights to the left of our line, which has been completely broken up, but our confidence in McClellan is such that we believe it to be a great strategic movement and expect to enter Richmond soon in triumph..."

The piece is listed at $3,000-4,000 in the New York sale which takes place on April 12.


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