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Purchase Story

Bad Guys Make Good

Don Johnson | February 21st, 2017

Cowan’s Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio

Photos courtesy Cowan’s Auctions

The bad guys took top billing at Cowan’s Auctions on February 21 in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a sale that featured property from N. Flayderman & Co. Although there were selected additions, the Flayderman material, from Americana to firearms, clearly highlighted the action.

E. Norman Flayderman (1928-2013) is remembered for dealing in antiques and writing reference books. His father and grandfather were both antiques dealers, and Flayderman followed suit, founding N. Flayderman & Co. in 1952. The business was run as a brick-and-mortar shop before Flayderman changed his business model, focusing on catalog sales. He produced 118 issues between 1954 and 1998.

It wasn’t his only venture into print. Flayderman wrote a number of books, including the highly acclaimed Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms…and Their Values, as well as titles on scrimshaw and bowie knives, with other research left unpublished at his death.

Although Flayderman received accolades as a firearms collector and dealer, he also put together an impressive assortment of Americana. At Cowan’s, the top lot of the day was a Wells Fargo photograph album containing 71 images—34 cartes de visite and 37 cabinet cards—of identified Western outlaws and other criminals, including highwaymen and train robbers. It sold for $46,800 (includes buyer’s premium), well above the $7000/10,000 estimate.

A Wells Fargo album containing 34 cartes de visite and 37 cabinet cards of identified Western outlaws and other criminals sold for $46,800. N. Flayderman & Co.

“This is considered to be the mugshot album by Wells Fargo to seek out the guys who did them wrong,” said Katie Horstman, Cowan’s director of American history. “I’ve seen individual pictures, especially of some of the better-known guys, but a collection like this in one album, I haven’t seen before.”

The book had no Wells Fargo markings, but a 1967 letter from the Railway Express Agency attests that it was “the official office copy kept by Wells Fargo in New be used by the special officers, detectives and officials of the company,” according to Cowan’s. Likewise, the auction house noted that a 1990 letter to Flayderman from Tom Martin, a collector and dealer of Western Americana, stated, “I’m confident that this book was, if you will, THE corporate mug book which was kept in New York for the use of officials and special officers.”

Wells Fargo did compile photos and details useful for identifying notorious criminals who posed a threat to the company’s operations, and many of the images in the Flayderman album were said to be similar to those official records. The Flayderman book emphasized offenders in the West, with most of the portraits taken by photographers in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Kansas. The men’s offenses covered a laundry list of felonies, most notably theft, murder, forgery, and larceny.

Among those pictured on the cabinet cards were nearly every member of the infamous Oklahoma Cook Gang, which terrorized Oklahoma, robbing banks and stagecoaches and murdering at least eight men in one year. Twenty-two cartes de visite were stamped on the reverse with a template from the St. Louis Detective Department, with spaces for information that included the person’s height, weight, defining features, and birthplace—useful details in an era before national crime databases. Inscriptions and newspaper clippings added subsequent information, including the fate of some of the men.

This prisoner-of-war diary was written by an American naval officer aboard the captured frigate Philadelphia during the First Barbary War. Written between 1803 and 1805 with approximately 131 pages of descriptive entries, the diary brought $18,000. The unpublished work records the author’s capture and experiences as a POW under the control of a bashaw on the North African coast. It reads like a novel, with stories of pirates, an intense naval battle, intrigue, love, betrayal, a daring escape attempt, and more. N. Flayderman & Co.

Also drawing strong interest from bidders was a selection of Civil War material Flayderman had put together, from broadsides to folk art.

The printed items included a number of recruitment posters, led by “Men of Color / To Arms! To Arms! / Now or Never,” a broadside that declared “Fail Now, & Our Race Is Doomed.” The piece, which promoted a three-year enlistment, posed a question to African American viewers: “Are Freemen Less Brave Than Slaves?” A list of men endorsing the recruitment included Frederick Douglass, who had urged that African Americans should be allowed to fight alongside white soldiers. Printed in Philadelphia, the 41½" x 29½" broadside sold for $34,800.

“Men of Color / To Arms! To Arms! / Now or Never,” a Civil War recruitment broadside, printed in Philadelphia, 41½" x 29½", $34,800. N. Flayderman & Co.

This “Come and Join Us Brothers” Civil War recruitment broadside depicting 18 uniformed African American troops, a drummer boy, and a white officer posed in front of a tent and an American flag, published by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments, Philadelphia, chromolithograph, 12¾" x 15½", sold for $18,600. The “Photo Sleuth” feature by Kurt Luther in the autumn 2015 issue of Military Images suggests that the regiment could be the 25th or one of the other United States Colored Troop regiments at Camp William Penn in Philadelphia from late 1863 to March 1864, and the officer may be George Edwin Heath (1834-1905), who was the camp’s post adjutant and a lieutenant in the 6th USCT. N. Flayderman & Co.

Horstman described the poster as “exceptionally rare,” noting that she knew of only one other, brokered privately. “From what we know, this is the only one to be sold in an auction setting,” she added.

Other broadsides included a one-sheet extra edition printed by the Charleston Mercury, announcing South Carolina’s secession on December 20, 1860. Declaring “The Union Is Dissolved,” the page reportedly was printed 15 minutes after the ordinance passed, making it the first Confederate publication. Measuring 22" x 12" and fully separated at the fold, the piece realized $24,000. Attached to the bottom portion was an 1877 signed oath from the assistant editor of the Richmond Enquirer, verifying the broadside’s authenticity.

Charleston Mercury broadside announcing South Carolina’s secession, December 20, 1860, supposedly printed 15 minutes after the ordinance passed, making it the first Confederate publication, $24,000. N. Flayderman & Co.

Folk art was an important part of Flayderman’s Civil War material, with an emphasis on pipes carved by soldiers, including those held as prisoners of war. The most elaborate of the pipes was one bearing the names of generals and battles, as well as various motifs, the most dominant being of an eagle standing over a broken chain that represented the split between the North and South. Measuring 10" long and carved from a single piece of wood with decorative metalwork, the pipe sold for $16,800.

Elaborately carved Civil War folk art pipe identifying significant generals and battles, the design including an eagle over a broken chain, created from a single piece of wood with some decorative metalwork, 10" long overall, $16,800. N. Flayderman & Co.

Also of note was a pipe carved with the name of Henry Wirz, who commanded Sumter Prison, better known as Andersonville Prison. Made of laurel root, it sold for $13,200. The sale included three of these “extremely rare and historic wood pipes with identical motifs that seem to have been created by the same Union prisoner at Andersonville prison in Georgia.” Flayderman purchased the pipes between the 1950s and 2001. His research indicated that a fourth example carved in the same style also exists.

The best of the firearms to come from Flayderman were two full-stock Kentucky rifles by Pennsylvania makers. A percussion rifle by Jacob Ernst of York County, also with brass furniture and silver inlay, finished at $20,400. A flintlock example by Nicholas Beyer of Lebanon having a curly maple stock, brass furniture, and silver inlay brought $19,998.

Full-stock flintlock Kentucky rifle by Nicholas Beyer of Pennsylvania, .44 caliber, 43" rifled octagonal barrel engraved with the maker’s name, carved curly maple stock with brass furniture, an oval German silver thumbprint pinned at the wrist, $19,998. N. Flayderman & Co.

Jacob Ernst, York County, Pennsylvania, full-stock Kentucky percussion rifle, .46 caliber, 42" octagonal rifled barrel, curly maple stock with inlaid German silver, brass furniture, $20,400. N. Flayderman & Co.

Bowie knives had also been of significant interest to Flayderman. Bidding for a large example made by Schmid of Providence, Rhode Island, having an 11" clip-point blade, a German silver guard, and black walnut handles, went to $10,200. One having an unusual design of dogs’ heads at the ends of the brass crossguard, attributed to the Ames Manufacturing Company and once carried by Albert B. Stearns of the 46th Massachusetts Infantry, sold for $9600. Two other examples realized $9000 each: a Confederate bowie knife made by Boyle & Gamble of Richmond, Virginia, and an ivory coffin-handle version produced by W. & S. Butcher of Sheffield, England, the etched blade lettered “Arkansas Toothpick.”

The breadth of Flayderman’s interest could also be seen in other lots, from a British Military General Service Medal awarded in 1848 to Rowi Jahoaron, a Canadian Mohawk warrior who participated in the War of 1812, which sold for $9600, to a set of eight logbooks from the cutter Bear, the most famous ship of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (now the U.S. Coast Guard). With almost 3000 pages recording the Bear’s service from about 1889 to 1894 and 1897 to 1899, including its 1892 season, which proved to be important historically, the logbooks sold for $8610.

For more information, phone Cowan’s at (513) 871-1670 or visit the website (

Originally published in the June 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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