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Collection sparks book

Self-published book includes price guide for GAR items

Self-published book includes price guide for GAR items

July 18, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

  • A quartermaster sergeant's badge from the Grand Army of the Republic: $250 to $300.
  • A porcelain GAR flask from 1900 with busts of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley and James A. Garfield painted on one side: $400 to $450.

  • A Union blue wool GAR hat with insignia and side buttons: $150 to $175.

  • Knowing the history behind this influential, post-Civil War veterans group: Priceless.


"It was just amazing how influential and strong the GAR was," said Hagerstown resident Dennis M. Gregg. "I'm hoping - and I really have started to see - this is going to rekindle interest in this organization."

Gregg, 45, recently completed a self-published book, "A Collector's Identification and Price Guide for Grand Army of the Republic Memorabilia."

The culmination of 21/2 years of research, the book both gives a glimpse into the role the GAR played in setting American policy during its 83-year history and offers suggested prices for how much the GAR's remaining memorabilia is worth.

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Formed in Decatur, Ill., in 1866, the veterans group for Union soldiers had posts across the county and led to other organizations, including the Ladies of the GAR, the Women's Relief Corps, the Daughters of Union Veterans and the Sons of Union Veterans, Gregg said.

At its height, there were more than 400,000 GAR members from more than 6,900 posts across the United States and in Canada, Mexico, Hawaii and Peru, he said. The last GAR member died in 1949, he said.

Powerful in its influence, the GAR successfully lobbied the U.S. Senate to establish Decoration Day, later renamed Memorial Day, and the Ladies of the GAR helped bring the Pledge of Allegiance into classrooms as a national practice.

While Gregg has long been interested in the Civil War and in collecting memorabilia, he rediscovered both when he moved to Washington County in 1987. Initially as a hobby, Gregg started a small dealership in 1996 to sell pieces from his collection.

Gregg said he was largely oblivious to the clout the GAR enjoyed until he went to an auction near the New York-Pennsylvania line in 1991. At the auction, which featured knives and Civil War memorabilia, he first laid eyes on a selection of GAR pieces including National Encampment and Corps badges. The pieces drew little interest from others attending the auction, he said, and he spent several thousand dollars to buy nearly all the GAR pieces at the auction, knowing only that they were valuable.

"I bought tray after tray of these medals, badges and ribbons," Gregg said. "When you have something that's historically significant, and this is historically significant, that's going to always be valuable."

When he discovered what they were, and what role their wearers played in setting national policy, he struggled to comprehend why so little was known about the Grand Army of the Republic. Only one substantial book had been published on the GAR, in 1988, followed by three smaller ones of less significance.

It slowly dawned on Gregg that he had acquired more than just another trinket, he had stumbled onto an idea.

"Along the way, as I studied this, I found out there was not a lot written on this," he said. "There was really very little out there and I realized: Here's a good opportunity for something that's a passion and that there's not a lot out there."

Working days as a subcontractor at a computer help desk in the Russell Senate Office Building, Gregg scoured auctions, private collections and the Internet, particularly the eBay online auction site, to amass as comprehensive a collection of GAR pieces as he could.

Along with his collections of ribbons, medals, hats, uniforms, canteens and other miscellaneous items, he sought to put the items and their significance into context. He started on the endeavor in the fall of 2002, and received the first 1,100 copies of his book on April 7.

While many of the items are listed with suggested prices, Gregg included one that he intentionally did not price. He said he has seen star-shaped grave markers of GAR members listed for sale on the Internet, and he would like to deter further sale of such items.

"This hallowed item should never be removed from its proper location - at the headstone of a veteran's final resting place," he writes in the book. "This should NOT be in a collection, store or auction. It is included in this guide to illustrate what it is as it is often mistaken or misrepresented."

Gregg is now working on a second book about memorabilia from the United Confederate Veterans. He said that unlike the GAR, the UCV did not have as wide a collection of memorabilia. On the other hand, he said, unlike the GAR, the Confederates' veterans group issued a newsletter that should make Gregg's efforts to research the group easier. Gregg said the last Confederate soldier died in 1951.

Gregg quit his subcontracting job in the Senate building in December and, with savings from real estate speculation in the area, he said he is able to devote much of his energy to collecting and working on his second book.

Gregg said he has about 600 of his initial 1,100 GAR books left. He's selling them for $20, predominately at shows, to select dealers and online at his Web site, at www.CWBooks.com.

Locally, copies can be found at the Sharpsburg Arsenal, at 101 W. Main St. in Sharpsburg, and at Fields of Glory in Gettysburg, Pa.

For more information on where to find the book, or to let Gregg know about other GAR pieces out of circulation, call 240-455-0097. He also can be reached by mail at P.O. Box 67, Funkstown, MD 21734.

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