Monday, April 1, 2013

Fooled by an Artifact

by Erin Doane, Curator

A Civil War breastplate was donated to the CCHS several years ago. It was worn by a guard in Company F at the Confederate Prison Camp in Elmira in 1864.  But wait – April Fools’! The breastplate is actually a fake. 

Fantasy Civil War Breastplate
More accurately, the breastplate is a fantasy piece as no such uniform piece ever existed historically. Apparently fakes, misrepresented reproductions and fantasy pieces are common in the Civil War artifact market. They are even more prevalent now because the sesquicentennial has created a greater demand for authentic Civil War objects. Fortunately, there are people and communities online who are dedicated to teaching others how to tell a real Civil War artifact from a fake. A simple web search will bring up information on what to look for in an original and what types of inauthentic items are out there.  Fraudulent artifacts were created to make money and that bothers me. I see the value of an object in the history it can tell, not in its selling price. In my mind, these fake artifacts make the real things more significant and important to preserve. The museum plans to keep the fantasy breastplate in the collection as a reminder with the hope that we won’t get fooled again.

Members of the 23rd New York Volunteers
Civil War Reenactors
You can come see authentic pieces of Civil War history here at the Museum in Keeping the Home Fires Burning: Life on the Chemung County Homefront.  The exhibit, on display through May, is the second in our four part series commemorating the sesquicentennial.  Then in October, come back to see more in the exhibit, Civil War in the Attic, which will showcase Civil War artifacts owned by local collectors.

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