George Custer - memorabilia that charts America's turbulent times


2015-06-26 13:19:56


George Custer - memorabilia that charts America's turbulent times

Paul explores what drives the market for ever-popular George Custer memorabilia

This week, one of the auctions that really stood out for me was Heritage Auctions' Legends of the Wild West, held June 22-23 in Dallas.

The sale was preoccupied with a horde of memorabilia relating to George Armstrong Custer, the famous US officer who perished at the hands of Native Americans in the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Perhaps the exciting consignments were fuelled by June 25 being the anniversary of the battle, which took place 138 years ago in 1876.

But what drives the market for the memorabilia of this military leader in particular?

There are hundreds of military figures in America's history that collectors could focus on, yet none seem to match Custer's desirability or ability to excite.

He achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during his remarkable career, but there are many whose accomplishments far outshine his own.

However, Custer's memorabilia is always popular and is aggressively pursued by a host of collectors every time an item appears at auction.

For example, the recent Heritage sale was highlighted by his bib shirt, which sold for $56,712 - a 127% increase on its $25,000 estimate.

Custer bibb shirtThe shirt has passed through some of the most famous collections of Custer memorabilia

A lock of his famous blonde hair (Custer's troops called him "Ringlets") also appeared, selling for an impressive $21,510.

The record for any item relating to Custer was set at Sotheby's in 2010 at $2.2m by the flag that he took into the battle at Little Bighorn.

custerslastflag.jpgCuster's guidon flag was discovered days after the Battle of Little Bighorn

What strikes me about Custer is that his career came during one of the most turbulent times in America's history.

Graduating in 1851 -a year earlier than planned - from the West Point military academy, Custer was thrown straight into the US civil war due to the pressing need for officers.

He had not excelled in training, but was nonetheless continually promoted and saw action in some of the most important campaigns of the Union army.

Custer also led important expeditions into previously unexplored frontier territories, such as the Yellowstone expedition of 1873 and the Black Hills expedition of 1874.

These events not only revealed more of America that was previously known, but also triggered tensions between the Native Americans who occupied the lands, and eventually led to the Great Sioux War of 1876.

The expedition into the Black Hills led to the discovery of huge deposits of gold, triggering a gold rush and another important event in American history.

The Indian Wars followed, another landmarkconflict that raged for years, andhas continued to shape the US' social climate to this day.

So, perhaps it is not the man himself that powers the market, but more his role in some of the most notable events in a developing nation.

And it's this that I love about collecting. We, as collectors, are historians: conservators of important relics from the past for others to enjoy in the future.

We collect not only for the pleasure of ownership and profitable gains, but also to ensure the legacy of remarkable characters and incredible events are preserved.

By purchasing items such as these, we include ourselves in their story and become part of a history from which we would otherwise have been excluded by the hands of time.

In the case of Custer collectors, it means leaving a personal, indeliblemark the history of one of the world's most powerful nations.

Become a conservator of items with great historical importance with our superb selection of collectibles for sale.

Call us on +44 (0)117 933 9500 or email to discuss your options.

Thanks for reading,


Paul Fraser

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