Appraisal Video: (4:59)
C. Wesley Cowan
Arms & Militaria, Books & Manuscripts, Decorative Arts, Folk Art, Photographs
Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
GUEST: It's a collection of James Mason, who, before the Civil War, was a senator from Virginia. And during the Civil War, Jefferson Davis had appointed him as a commissioner to England to search for support from England. He boarded a ship in Charleston-- with a gentleman from Louisiana, John Slidell-- called the Trent. It was a British mail ship. And they ran the blockade in Charleston and were landed in Cuba, and at that time a ship from the North came down and suspected that something was going on, so they boarded the ship, found the two gentlemen, and they arrested them for treason, locked them up in Boston. And at the time, the aristocracy in England was more sympathetic to the Confederacy and everybody else was more sympathetic towards the North. At some point, I think the queen actually said, "You need to let them out, "or we're going to do more than we're doing right now, and it'll be for the South." So at that time, Seward encouraged Abraham Lincoln to let them out, and they did, and they went on their way.
APPRAISER: So you're the great-great- great-grandson...
GUEST: I think three greats.
APPRAISER: Three greats of James Mason, the senator from Virginia.
GUEST: Virginia, mm-hmm.
APPRAISER: And the Slidell, or the Trent Affair as it came to be known, was a pivotal point early in the Civil War. More so than I think people realize.
APPRAISER: This was a point when the Confederacy was desperately seeking recognition from Great Britain. They recognized that the British cotton industry and the textile industry was dependent upon the South, and if they could draw Britain into the war, they might be able to turn the tide, because they knew they were going to have a tough time with the Union. When our ship interfered with that British ship, this was a big no-no from a diplomatic standpoint,
GUEST: It was.
APPRAISER: and this caused immediate furor across the pond in Great Britain at the same time it did in the South. But in the North, everybody was rejoicing. You know, "We got these traitors!" "We got the big one." This was in November 1861, so it wasn't long after the war had begun. The British actually brought troops to Canada and Nova Scotia...
GUEST: They did.
APPRAISER: ...thinking that if push comes to shove, if the United States doesn't release these diplomats from a foreign country that were coming to see us, that we could go to war here. Cooler heads prevailed, and William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of state, said, "Wait a minute, we don't want to do this." And so December of '61, the two diplomats were ultimately released, and the war with Britain was potentially averted. What you have, though, are remarkable things. His box, his liquor cabinet. It says on the top, "C.S.A.," engraved. This carte de visite photograph is a relatively common image, but a carte de visite was a type of photograph that became popular right at the outbreak of the Civil War. And think of it as like a baseball card. You know, people collected these. And so there were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of these carte de visites made of Mason after the affair. And of course, this was taken by Mathew Brady. Brady of course was in Washington and would have taken this photograph before the war started, when Mason was sitting in the Senate. I would guess that this book, The Constitution, with his name inscribed on it, was given to him when he took his seat, and I would bet that every U.S. senator had one.
APPRAISER: To me, the real gem is this snuff box. It's gold-washed with a peasant scene or a country scene. What's really important, though, is the inscription on the inside. "James Mason, from AGB Beresford "and Lady Mildred Beresford Hope "of Bedgebury Park, Kent, "in memory of his residence in England "as special commissioner "of the Confederate States of America, 1862 to '66."Now, who are the Beresfords, do you know?
GUEST: All I understand is they were a member of the aristocratic society in England and very sympathetic to the Confederate cause.
APPRAISER: Let's talk about value now. This carte de visite photograph is worth maybe $100. His Constitution, which is in really bad shape, is worth a few hundred dollars. His liquor cabinet, with the "C.S.A." engraved on the top plaque, is worth a couple thousand dollars. In my mind, the sterling snuff with the inscription, that is probably worth between $10,000 and $15,000.