Field Trip: Elizabeth Bacon Custer Books
HOST: Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his wife Elizabeth Bacon Custer are part of the rich military history of Fort Abraham Lincoln in Mandan, North Dakota. The Custers lived here before the Seventh Cavalry set off in May of 1876 to fight what would come to be known as the Battle of Little Big Horn. This house is a replica of the home that Custer shared before that monumental clash. Roadshow thought it was a great place to examine the written works of Libbie Custer, who became her husband's most fervent champion after his death.
Libbie Custer was born in 1842 in Monroe, Michigan. During the Civil War, George Armstrong Custer visited Monroe, and he was enamored with her. He stared courting her, but he was a low-ranking officer at the time. She was from a prominent family. Her parents weren't quite sure it was a great match. But he became the boy general. He was the youngest brigadier general in the Civil War. He was 23 years old, boy general. By the end of the war, they were married, and from that time on, she was with him, wanted to be with him, and forever promoted him. HOST: Then of course there's the Battle of Little Big Horn, which doesn't go so well for Custer.
Not at all. HOST: And controversy happens, and there is debate on whose fault it was, and that's where she really gets on the pulpit.
President Grant basically said it was Custer's fault-- he didn't wait for backup, he was impulsive-- and she was—she couldn't accept that. She became his champion. She was, in a sense, the mythmaker, and she was going to do everything she could possibly do to make sure that she was putting George Armstrong Custer as being one of the greatest military heroes of his time. That's how she used these books and her later career. The first book, Boots and Saddles, came out in 1885. Then Tenting on the Plains was 1887. The last one, Following the Guidon, was 1890. And they actually were a fabulous depiction of what it was like, the army life, the camp life, what it was like to be a woman being out at Fort Abraham Lincoln at 49 degrees below zero and how wonderful the general was. And she always refers to him as the general. Libbie Custer books are moderately priced. They published a lot of them. The 1890 book, Following the Guidon, relatively common. They sell in the $100, maybe $200 range. The Tenting on the Plains is a little bit harder to get. It was a 700-page book, so it doesn't show up as much in good condition. This one is in fine shape, beautiful cover. It's about a $400 to $500 book. And then the last one we have here, Boots and Saddles, in decent condition. It's, again, fairly common. It's a $100 to $200 book. HOST: However, this particular book is worth more, and why is that?
Well, when you open it up, it was inscribed in 1929 by Libbie Custer, and she refers to a sword that was George Armstrong's. The engraving on the sword says, "Do not draw me without cause, do not sheath me without honor." HOST: So with that personal inscription, how does that increase the value?
It increases the value to in the $1,000 range retail. HOST: Well, Ken, really great to see these three books. Thanks so much for sharing them with us.
Well, thank you very much.
Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.
Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."
Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.
Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.
Verbal approximations: The values given by the experts on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are considered "verbal approximations of value." Technically, an "appraisal" is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes, written by a qualified expert and paid for by the owner of the item. An appraisal usually involves an extensive amount of research to establish authenticity, provenance, composition, method of construction, and other important attributes of a particular object.
Opinion of value: As with all appraisals, the verbal approximations of value given at ROADSHOW events are our experts' opinions formed from their knowledge of antiques and collectibles, market trends, and other factors. Although our valuations are based on research and experience, opinions can, and sometimes do, vary among experts.
Appraiser affiliations: Finally, the affiliation of the appraiser may have changed since the appraisal was recorded. To see current contact information for an appraiser in the ROADSHOW Archive, click on the link below the appraiser's picture. Our Appraiser Index also contains a complete list of active ROADSHOW appraisers and their contact details and biographies.