Tom Liljenquist (pronounced LILLY-en-kwist), of MacLean, Virginia, has donated a collection of more than 700 American Civil War ambrotypes and tintypes to the Library of Congress.
The 58-year-old owner of the Liljenquist & Beckstead jewelery store chain amassed the collection over the past 15 years with his sons Jason, 19, Brandon, 17, and Christian, 13, by working with dealers, traveling to memorabilia shows and antique shops, and scouring Ebay, paying anywhere from a hundred to thousands of dollars each for their finds.
The Library of Congress, which plans to exhibit the collection this coming April as part of its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, said the Liljenquist bequest is the largest trove of Civil War material donated to the institution in at least fifty years.
If they publish a catalog, it ought to be as valuable for the back-stories behind some of the photographs as for the photographs themselves. One of Tom Liljenquist's poignant favorites is a parent's memento of an 18-year-old killed just days before the end of the war. The case contains a note, a picture, and a lock of a child's blond hair.
Library of Congress curator Carol M. Johnson said that most of the photographs would have been taken in their hometowns of soldiers before they left for service, or by itinierant tintypists who set up near army encampments.
Here are a few more selections from the collection, with captions devised by Library of Congress staff. These are larger than the originals, which would be two or three inches high or so.
You can see more at loc.gov. As usual you can click on any of these to see them larger.
Many of the pictures' subjects would likely have died young. The Civil War was a nearly unprecedented slaughter, killing nearly as many Americans as all of America's other wars combined. More than half as many Americans died in several single battles in the Civil War as were killed in the entire Vietnam conflict a century later.
It's not unusual for tintypes to be partially hand-colored—sometimes done by the photographers and sometimes done after the fact by the pictures' owners.
(Thanks to Taran Morgan. The Washington Post has led the way in reporting about the collection.)
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.