Civil War News’ Salvatore Cilella

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Cilella-CWN thumbnail.jpgAs part of our series with Civil War News, ECW is pleased to welcome Salvatore Cilella.

My mother and George H. W. Bush’s mother were cut from the same cloth. I was taught never to talk about myself.   Therefore, this treatise on my occasional, and now almost monthly, column in Civil War News was difficult to write since it purports to be about how I came to write it, which in turn, requires an explanation of biographical proportions.

Like any post-WWII kid growing up in the Midwest, I collected everything. I started my nefarious career on “gateway” collectibles—Stamps, then coins, then, the mother of all collectibles—“Baseball cards!” Eventually it led to more despicable collecting habits—I bought my first Currier and Ives print of John Quincy Adams at age 15 for $15 from a local, antiquarian book dealer. Little did I realize that my “habit” would transform into, yes, “Civil War Relics.”

It happened almost overnight. My father, a doctor, had traveled via car, to Baltimore for a medical convention. On his way home, he and his colleagues stopped at Gettysburg where he picked up one of those blue and gray National Park Service booklets about the battle. He brought it home, handed it to me, and said “You might be interested in reading this.”

Well, it was all over at that point. I was hooked. I was now collecting early American prints and maps, but Civil War stuff! And how was I support this double addiction? Odd jobs, an occasional allowance, and yes, trading up. I soon learned that like all transactions, there are “margins.” If I was to procure a print at a below market price and sell it for a higher price, I could “upgrade” the collection. Some pieces were simply not for sale. I will never forget my most major piece bought in my first year in college—a genuine, mint Hardee hat for $25 from a dealer in Long Island who, issued mimeographed lists of “relics” like most of the dealers in those days.

Soon I was receiving Norm Flayderman’s catalogs on a regular basis and day dreaming. I still have in my collection an oversize broadside advertising a meeting of all Democrats in Bangor, Maine, to attend a rally against the Lincoln administration on dated July 4, 1863. I was stationed in Hawaii at the time; I dutifully sent my check via snail mail and anxiously awaited the item. In those days ,there was no guarantee that you would get what you ordered if someone else got his catalog before you did. Hawaii and the army postal system left a lot to be desired. But sure enough, a few weeks later, I received a large manila envelope with the broadside neatly folded several times over. Not the best delivery, but at least I had it.

After the service, my collecting instincts led me to museum school. I retired from the museum field in 2012 after 43 years but never stopped collecting. A few years back, while reading the Civil War News under new management by a colleague, Jack Melton, I pitched the idea of doing an occasional/monthly column on Civil War prints. When he quickly said yes, I found a beautiful marriage of my two passions—collecting prints and civil war materials.

The topic of Civil War prints is almost literally, limitless. And they go well beyond the usual suspects, Currier and Ives. I hope readers are enjoying them as much as I am researching and writing about them.

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