Confederate firearm collection hits auction block

Rare Confederate Cofer Third Type Revolver in its original holster, captured by 11th Maine Captain S.H. Merrill. Estimate: $250,000-$350,000.

Over the course of nearly seven decades, Maurice Cliff Young collected rare Confederate firearms. He amassed a highly respected collection of about 100 pieces noted for their quality and provenance.

Young, a Boston resident, died in September. On April 26, the Cliff and Lynne Young Collection of Confederate Arms will be sold at auction in Cincinnati.

The auction is expected to attract serious collectors and high bids. One revolver by T.W. Cofer Company of Portsmouth, Va., was purchased by Young in 1954 for $395. It’s expected to fetch between $250,000 and $350,000.

“That’s quite an appreciation,” said Wes Cowan of Cowan’s Auctions.

Some of the pieces, the LeMat revolvers, are associated with P.G.T. Beauregard, the officer who commanded the Confederate forces of Charleston at the start of the Civil War and led the defense of the city when it was under siege in 1863.

Beauregard and gunmaker J.A. LeMat both were from New Orleans, and they worked together before the Civil War to develop a new pistol, the LeMat No. 2, according to Jack Lewis, firearms expert at Cowan’s Auctions.

They wanted to sell the revolver to the government and partnered with a Philadelphia manufacturer, Lewis said.

During the war, most firearms were made in Alabama, Georgia and Virginia. The Palmetto musket was a common gun manufactured in South Carolina and widely used by Confederate forces, Lewis said.

But Young’s collection includes rarer specimens.

A longtime member and officer of the American Society of Arms Collectors, Young was a respected lecturer on the topic of the Confederate States Navy and knowledgeable about blockade running, according to his obituary.

Last month, South Carolina’s Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia paid $620,800 for a collection of British-imported Confederate weapons that were smuggled through the Union blockade. The artifacts had been collected over four decades by the late Cleveland Adger Huey of Columbia.

Museum director Allen Roberson called it a “groundbreaking collection of one of the last unexplored areas of Civil War history” and said an exhibit planned for 2019 will tell how the Confederacy armed its soldiers.

The upcoming Cowan auction will include a rare “Third Type” revolver made by Thomas W. Cofer of Portsmouth. Only 266 Cofer revolvers were issued by the Confederate government; just 15 are known to have survived; Young acquired two of them. The Third Type revolver could fetch about $300,000. The entire collection is thought to be worth about $2 million.

Cowan said Young was a meticulous record keeper whose extensive research accompanied the collection.

“There were boxes and boxes and folders and folders of research that he had done on these firearms,” Cowan said. “Some (of the guns) were accompanied by binders full of information. He was certainly aware of their scarcity and their importance in context of the Civil War.”

He said the collection is especially compelling because it sheds light on the desperate efforts by the Confederacy to create an arms manufacturing industry.

“But it failed miserably,” Cowan said. “It didn’t have access to the factories, raw materials, etc. So those who did make arms, most made no more than a few thousand guns. And they were plagued by quality-control issues.”

Young’s collection includes 67 handguns, seven long guns, some artillery fragments, carvings and other miscellany.

Reach Adam Parker at 843-937-5902. Follow him at facebook.com/aparkerwriter.