DescriptionGeorge Armstrong Custer: His Personal Gun Belt with Holster, Cartridge or Dispatch Box, and Brass Buckle. This gun belt was formerly a part of what may have been the most extensive privately held collection of Custer artifacts in private hands, that of Dr. Lawrence A. Frost of Monroe, Michigan. Frost purchased it in 1949 from Howard B. Berry and obtained a notarized statement of provenance, a copy of which is included with this lot. The belt was one of five items in a trunk marked "Col. Geo. A. Custer, 7th Cav", which Berry purchased from one J.A. Murray of Wayne, Michigan. A 1962-dated I.D. tag in Frost's hand and signed by him confirming the Berry provenance of this belt accompanies the lot as well.
Further documentation has surfaced in the form of a 1973 Frost letter provided to us in connection with the Custer Spencer Carbine also offered in this auction. The letter, reproduced in full on our website, discusses the history of the trunk in which the gun belt was found, and supplies the information that the Howard Berry from whom he purchased it was "a former 7th Cavalry man." Frost writes: "Later I showed them ...to Col. Brice Custer's father, James Calhoun Custer (a nephew of Gen. Custer and son of Nevin Custer). He assured me that he remembered them well and that his father, Nevin, had shown them to him and said that the military items were the General's."
Ernest L. Reedstrom pictures this gun belt in his well-known 1977 volume Bugles, Banners and War Bonnets (p. 247), where he attributes it to the Frost collection. Custer appears to be wearing this holster in two photographs on horseback taken by Timothy O'Sullivan at Gen. Pleasantons's headquarters in Virginia in June 1863. The holster offered here has a distinct rounded "notch" toward the back of the flap. Whether done deliberately or by damage, the notch is well-patinated and obviously contemporary with the time the holster was in use. Such a "notch" is clearly visible on the holster worn by Custer in the two 1863 photos (Custer in Photographs by D. Mark Katz, 1985, pp. 12-13). Copies of both the Reedstrom and Katz books are being sold as part of this lot.
While showing obvious wear from use, the belt and attachments are in very good condition, as the photos show. All elements are similarly patinated and clearly have been assembled this way since Civil War times. Overall length is 31½ ", including buckle.
Personally owned items from figures like George Armstrong Custer will vary tremendously in desirability and value. But it is clear that the more closely the item is identified with the activities or events that made that person famous, the greater the desirability. In our June 2012 Western sale we offered Custer's cavalry saddle, also from the Frost collection. From an opening bid of $10,000, the saddle soared to a final selling price of $113,525. It would not surprise us to see his gun belt and holster generate a similar level of excitement.
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