They are. But what is the point of owning a musical instrument if it has a price tag attached to its existence—in other words, if it sells at auction, if it’s taken apart and put back together again.
So how did the musical instruments first go into the hands of collectors, and who is getting most of the revenue?
When the Civil War began and the price of land skyrocketed, those on the other side of the conflict could not keep themselves from spending a fortune on such things as guns, rifles and cannons, or on armor. “The cost of building all that new armor, and of making new muskets, musket balls, ammunition, powder and gunpowder, all came up to around fifty to a thousand dollars a pair.”
While these expensive items were being purchased by the belligerents and transferred to the public, they did not go to just any person. Their value was recognized by collectors on both sides of the conflict. In his book Battlefield America, author and historian Paul Barrett tells of the first collector of Confederate musical instruments: “This collector had a secret admirer, and the secret admirer was a former Confederate colonel, named Charles T. Burch, who bought a ton of violins of fine workmanship and rare materials at auction. Burch, in his enthusiasm, left it at the auction house, thinking it would be all used up before any appreciator cared to examine them.”
Over the course of the war, this collection of instruments was sold to and acquired by numerous collectors, ranging from the South’s aristocracy to people who were just beginning to gain access to the war-torn Midwest. As the civil war continued, the collection of Confederate musical instruments began to expand in scope and value.
As collectors began to gather collections of such items, the value of these collectible instruments soon became apparent. One example: one of the most famous collectibles of the period, a “Lullaby to the Last Battle” guitar, sold for the equivalent of around $5,000 in 2010, or close to $100,000 today.
The violin had also become popular, gaining mass popularity in the 1840s and providing a new source of revenue for some of the Confederate states. The value of such instruments as violins and violas, as well as cellos and even violas with strings, soared.
As a result of the war, the financial costs of having the Civil War’s instruments go into the public domain became too great
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