Auction of Legendary Dealer Norm Flayderman Brings $1.1M and Achieves Record Prices

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  • February 24, 2017

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Rare & Important Album Containing CDVs & Cabinet Cards of Wells Fargo Highway Men, Train Robbers, & Other Criminals

Antique firearms, Bowie knives, Civil War broadsides and imprints, folk art soldier-carved pipes, and manuscript archives from the famed dealer spark robust bidding setting records in the process.


Once again proving that exceptional items bring exceptional prices, Cowan’s auction of the property of legendary dealer Norm Flayderman topped $1.1 million including the buyer’s premium. Cowan’s registered 877 bidders including 113 phone bidders on just 290 lots, a per-lot record for the auction house. Between the record number of phone bidders, a near capacity crowd on the floor, and bidding from two Internet platforms, the auction saw consistently spirited bidding that sent nearly half of all lots above their high estimate.

“Norm was a giant in the collector world so it’s no surprise that there was such tremendous interest in his property,” said Wes Cowan, Cowan’s founder and principal auctioneer. “Many of these pieces are one of a kind and are worth every penny spent today.”


Flayderman was perhaps best known for his book Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms…and Their Values, which to this day is considered the bible of American arms collecting. It goes without saying, then, that the selection of rifles and revolvers offered in this auction were in high demand.


The highlight of the firearms section was the Kentucky rifles which included the top firearm of the day, a full-stock flintlock Kentucky rifle by Nicholas Beyer that sold for $28,800. Beyer was a master gunsmith of the Lebanon, Pennsylvania school, active in the early 19th century who was known for adding spectacular raised carvings to the butts of his guns.


Other Kentucky rifle highlights included a Jacob Ernst full-stock percussion rifle that sold for $20,400; a full-stock flintlock rifle attributed to Frederick Sell for $13,200; a full-stock percussion rifle by W. Defibaugh for $11,400; and a full-stock flintlock rifle by A. Altland for $11,400.


The auction featured many different types of firearms from the Civil War or earlier including a Confederate Fayetteville Armory rifle that sold for $15,990; a full-stock percussion sporting rifle by J. & S. Hawken, St. Louis for $13,800; a Colt Model 1860 Army percussion revolver for $13,200; and a Confederate rifle by Read & Watson for $9,600.


But Flayderman wasn’t just known for antique firearms.


“He was such a versatile dealer,” said Jack Lewis, Cowan’s director of Historic Firearms and Early Militaria. “I don’t think enough can be said about him. He was iconic. There were several great people who came from that era and he was certainly at the top of the list.”


Edged weapons were in high demand during the auction highlighted by an excellent collection of Bowie knives, many of which were photographed in Flayderman’s book The Bowie Knife: Unsheathing an American Legend. The top knife of the day was a large Bowie knife by Schmid of Providence, Rhode Island that sold for $10,200. Other top selling knives included a Dog Head Bowie knife identified to Albert B. Stearns, 46th Massachusetts Infantry for $9,600; a Coffin Handle Arkansas Toothpick Bowie knife by W.S. Butcher for $9,000; and a Confederate Bowie knife by Boyle & Gamble for $9,000.


What likely surprised many collectors was Flayderman’s extensive collection of rare Civil War broadsides, a subject he was hoping to write a book on at the time of his death. This remarkable collection was the hottest category of the sale including an exceptionally rare Civil War recruitment broadside for African Americans that proclaimed “Men of Color, To Arms! To Arms! Now or Never,” which sold for $34,800.


"Norm’s collection of broadsides covers everything from the seeds of rebellion through the end of the Civil War," said Katie Horstman, Cowan’s director of American History. "Whether rallying northern and southern troops, proclaiming Union occupation of Confederate cities such as New Orleans, or calling on soldiers to cast their votes, this fine selection of broadsides documents the events of the Civil War as they unfolded."


Other highlights from the broadsides included a Charleston Mercury Extra broadside dated December 20, 1860 announcing South Carolina’s Secession that sold for $24,000; a lot of four Richmond, Virginia, CSA broadsides calling for the defense of Richmond for $22,800; and a Civil War recruitment broadside extolling African Americans to “Come and Join Us Brothers” for $18,600.


The top lot of the day was a rare and important album containing CDVs and cabinet cards of Wells Fargo highwaymen, train robbers, and other criminals, many from the Oklahoma Territory, which sold for $46,800. Many of the 71 photographs included in the album are similar to those that have been located in a Wells Fargo photographic record identifying notorious criminals (dead and alive) who robbed their banks and stagecoaches.


Perhaps the most unique section of the auction was a selection of pipes hand-carved by Civil War prisoners of war from Flayderman’s private collection. At the time of his death, Flayderman was in the process of writing a book on Civil War pipes and prisoner of war art that he sadly never finished. The most historically significant pipes of the sale were three extremely rare pieces created by the same Union prisoner at Andersonville prison in Georgia. The top seller of the three was the pipe of the Andersonville commandant Henry Wirz, which sold for $13,200, while the other two went for $8,400 and $5,100.


The top lot from the pipes was an elaborately carved piece identifying significant generals and battles, which sold for $16,800. Other highlights included cotton stone pipes created by two Confederate Missouri State Guard POWs at Alton Prison in Illinois, one carved by Q.A. Pearson that sold for $12,000, and one by Private W.H. Willis for $10,200; a pipe in the form of a soldier sitting atop a cannon barrel for $7,200; and a pipe belonging to J.W. McCollum, 10th South Carolina Cavalry, for $6,000.


Of the historic manuscripts, the diary of a United States naval officer during his time as a prisoner of war in the Barbary Wars was the top seller going for $18,000. Other manuscript highlights included the manuscript archive of Civil War surgeon and Libby Prison prisoner of war, William S. Newton, which sold for $16,800; a letter to social reformer Gerrit Smith signed by John Brown Jr., eldest son of abolitionist John Brown, for $12,600; the extensive archives of Captain George E. Albee, Medal of Honor recipient, which included his 1869 Indian Wars journal, for $11,070; and the log books of the USRC Bear from 1892 for $8,610.


Miscellaneous highlights from the sale include a Civil War sixth plate ambrotype of A.J. Waters of the 4th Mississippi Cavalry holding a Whitney percussion revolver and a Colt Model 1851 Navy revolver that sold for $10,800; a very rare British Military General Service Medal for an Indian warrior in the War of 1812 for $9,600; and a lot of five Civil War items concerning the 42nd Georgia Infantry group including a photographs of brothers B.F. & T.G. Moore plus an 1861 Journal for $6,000.


For more information on the auction and to view all prices realized, click here.

Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
6270 Este Ave
Cowan's Auctions, Inc., Ohio

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