Expo a Treasure Trove of Civil War History

By McClay, Rebecca | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 9, 2001 | Go to article overview

Expo a Treasure Trove of Civil War History


McClay, Rebecca, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Worn shoe soles in small plastic bags, revolvers in glass cases, weathered uniforms and yellowed journals sparked the interest of hundreds of Civil War enthusiasts this weekend.

The 29th annual American Civil War Show featured more than 450 tables of Civil War memorabilia, including books, photographs, art and antique weapons in the Chantilly Shopping Center.

Medallions, uniforms, swords and other objects from the Civil War era were on a flea-market-style display. The Northern Virginia Relic Hunters Association, which was founded in 1972 to locate, identify and preserve military and related historical artifacts, sponsored the event.

Each April, the Civil War Show, which is advertised nationally, exhibits individual and museum collections of war relics.

This was the first year that the event offered an "heirloom analysis." Anyone could bring in artifacts for a critique.

At the heirloom booth, artifacts were given to specialists in the objects - be it buttons or boots - for authentication. Specialists who got stumped had to don a dunce cap.

Vendors, who rented a space in the warehouse for $85 for the weekend, could sell war-related items or just display their collections.

"Most people don't realize that every dealer here is probably a collector too," said Frank Wilkens, a retired school principal who displayed revolvers priced close to $2,000 and photos of anonymous soldiers for about $200. "We are saving all these artifacts for the country. You can't possibly put all these artifacts into a museum."

Mr. Wilkens, who also has a private collection in his home that he began when he started teaching social studies, said his artifacts will be passed on to other collectors and his grandchildren. Mr. Wilkens described the hobby as part of a cycle.

"I take care of [the artifacts]. I preserve them, and when I die other collectors will do the same to preserve the history of this country," he said. …

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