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Circa-1862 ambrotype of Calvin and James Walker of the 3rd Tennessee Infantry (Cook’s Tennessee Brigade), which sold for $19,500 ($23,985 with buyer’s premium) at Fleischer's.

Herb Peck collection of Civil War ambrotypes, lost to thieves in 1978, returned to the family and sold at Fleischer’s

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Herb Peck (1936-2004) was a passionate collector of firearms and Civil War daguerrotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes, keeping his collection all around the Nashville home he shared with his wife Felicity and son Tim. Against his better judgment, Herb brought a known-to-be-shady fellow collector over to view his collection. Shortly thereafter, his home was burglarized in a targeted strike on his gun and daguerrotype collection.

As recounted in a masterful article in Military Images Magazine, the theft left Herb shattered. Felicity recounted, “It broke his soul.” Herb spent the remaining years of his life trying to recover the images, many of which are world-famous and have been featured in books and in Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. But the trail went cold, and Herb succumbed to a heart attack in 2004.

Amazingly, a single image of Herb’s appeared on eBay in 2006. By now internationally sought by collectors, thanks to Herb’s continual searches and promotion using photocopy flyers, the FBI recovered it. Then, more of Herb’s collection began to appear on eBay, and again, they were all recovered. In the end, 40 of the stolen images have been reunited with the family, who decided to liquidate the collection at Fleischer’s Auctions on March 16. Complete results are available at LiveAuctioneers.

The top sellers blew well past their conservative estimates, as seen below:

A circa-1862 ambrotype of a Confederate soldier holding a Colt M1855 revolving rifle, which is something virtually unseen in CSA portraiture. His unusual headgear also drove interest in the lot, which hammered for $26,500 ($32,595 with buyer’s premium).

A circa-1862 ambrotype of Calvin and James Walker of the 3rd Tennessee Infantry (Cook’s Tennessee Brigade). Its remarkable clarity is one reason the image has been reproduced in countless publications despite it having been stolen. It made $19,500 ($23,985 with buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $1,250-$1,750.

An undated ambrotype which, according to Fleischer, is considered one of the premier images in the Herb Peck collection: a school-aged Confederate wielding an enormous Bowie knife as a symbol of Southern defiance. It sold for $16,000 ($19,680 with buyer’s premium), blowing out the $2,250-$2,750 estimate.

Generally considered to be the finest ambrotype portrait in Herb’s collection, this unidentified CSA soldier poses with two Colt Navy revolvers, a Bowie knife, and a model 1842 musket, sending a message loud and clear to any viewer. Some have claimed the subject to be Pvt. John Rulle of the 2nd Tennessee Infantry, who was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. Also reproduced endlessly, its popularity showed with bidders, where it hammered for $12,000 ($14,760 with buyer’s premium).