DENVER, Pa. – One of the most historically important American treasures ever to pass through Morphy Auctions’ gallery is the centerpiece of the central Pennsylvania company’s June 13 Edged Weapons, Armor & Militaria sale. It is an 1864 hand-painted flag that was carried into battle by the 127th Regiment, one of 11 African-American regiments from Pennsylvania that fought for the Union during the Civil War.
Painted by the son of a fugitive slave, the flag is a unique survivor and of inestimable importance to African-American history
Each of the 11 Pennsylvania Black regiments had one flag to carry into battle to identify who they were. The flag to be auctioned by Morphy’s is believed to be the only survivor. Its imagery is remarkable, depicting a Black troop waving goodbye to Columbia, the Goddess of Liberty, beneath a banner that reads: “WE WILL PROVE OURSELVES MEN.” Below the cartouche is a banner that says: “127th REGt. U.S. COLORED TROOPS.”
The flag was painted by Philadelphia artist David Bustill Bowser, the son of a fugitive slave and himself a member of one of the 11 Pennsylvania Black regiments. At first, the supervisory committee at Camp William Penn objected to a Black man receiving the commission to paint the 11 flags, but Bowser pleaded his case to John Forney, a powerful Philadelphia Republican politician and newspaper owner. Forney took up the cause and argued, “[Bowser] is a poor man, and certainly professes very remarkable talent. He has been active in the cause and is himself a colored man, and it seems to me there would be peculiar hardship in taking away this little job from him and giving it to a wealthy house.”
Of the 11 flags Bowser painted, Morphy’s example is the only known physical survivor. “Seven others are known only from photographs. Those seven flags were sent to the military museum at West Point in 1906, but incredibly, were thrown out in the 1940s,” said Dan Morphy, president of Morphy Auctions.
“Clearly, this is a flag that belongs either at the Museum of African-American History, the Smithsonian, or in some other important collection,” Morphy said. “The flag was consigned to our auction by the GAR Civil War Museum, and in my opinion, it is very unlikely that it will ever appear for public sale again – surely not in my lifetime.” The pre-sale estimate is $150,000-$250,000.
Of the international edged weapons in the sale, none can outshine the magnificence of a museum-quality Kastane, the national sword of Ceylon. The hilt is of characteristic dragon form is decorated in two colors of gold and silver, set with rubies and lavishly chased and decorated to a standard fit for a king. The exquisite gold scabbard is equally beautiful. Appearing to be of 18th-century origin, it likely resided in the Ceylon Royal Treasury until the commencement of British rule, at which point it may have been given to a member of the Morse family for services rendered; the Morse family motto and coat of arms appear on the chape. The sword’s line of provenance includes El Museo del Oro del Peru Miguel Mujica Gallo. Estimate: $150,000-$250,000
Both artistically and historically significant, the Imperial Russian Napoleonic sword of Prince Ivan Ivanovich Odoevsky, a distinguished military officer who died in 1814 at the Battle of Brienne in France, weighs an astonishing 6 lbs. 1 oz. With solid gold ormolu embellishment on the hilt and scabbard, it bears a Cyrillic inscription with the Prince’s name and the presentation date of 1810. Measuring 41 inches overall, it comes to auction with a $50,000-$100,000 estimate.
Two Bowies stand out in a field of premium-quality knives backed with American lore. An I*XL Wostenholm cast-steel Bowie knife etched “Death To Abolition,” famous in the collecting community for its association with the rare circa-1837 anti-slavery publication The Slave’s Friend, is estimated at $30,000-$50,000. Another top prize depicted in multiple reference books is a gold and silver-mounted California dress Bowie made by Michael Price, circa 1856-1889. This very special knife is entered with a $70,000-$100,000 estimate.
Additionally, a top-quality gold-wash Sheffield California knife made during the Gold Rush era (circa 1849-1850s) by G. Crookes measures over 12 inches long and displays ornate foliate scrollwork. Its estimate is $25,000-$35,000.
Another chapter in the life and times of George A. Custer is filled in with a lot containing then-Lt. Col. Custer’s personal 1867-1868 Indian Wars field map, annotated with campsites and other intriguing details. The group lot also includes cartes-de-visite of Custer in his 7th Cavalry dress uniform and with wife, Elizabeth. The line of provenance goes back to Custer’s great-niece, Margaret Custer. Estimate: $20,000-$30,000
Morphy’s June 12-13, 2019 Edged Weapons, Armor & Militaria Auction will be held at the company’s gallery in Denver, Pa., starting at 9 a.m. Eastern Time each day. Absentee and Internet live bidding are available via LiveAuctioneers. Questions: call 877-968-8880, email email@example.com.