- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2001

Worn shoe soles in small plastic bags, revolvers in glass cases, weathered uniforms and yellowed journals sparked the interest of hundreds of Civil War enthusiasts this weekend.

The 29th annual American Civil War Show featured more than 450 tables of Civil War memorabilia, including books, photographs, art and antique weapons in the Chantilly Shopping Center.

Medallions, uniforms, swords and other objects from the Civil War era were on a flea-market-style display. The Northern Virginia Relic Hunters Association, which was founded in 1972 to locate, identify and preserve military and related historical artifacts, sponsored the event.

Each April, the Civil War Show, which is advertised nationally, exhibits individual and museum collections of war relics.

This was the first year that the event offered an "heirloom analysis." Anyone could bring in artifacts for a critique.

At the heirloom booth, artifacts were given to specialists in the objects be it buttons or boots for authentication. Specialists who got stumped had to don a dunce cap.

Vendors, who rented a space in the warehouse for $85 for the weekend, could sell war-related items or just display their collections.

"Most people don't realize that every dealer here is probably a collector too," said Frank Wilkens, a retired school principal who displayed revolvers priced close to $2,000 and photos of anonymous soldiers for about $200. "We are saving all these artifacts for the country. You can't possibly put all these artifacts into a museum."

Mr. Wilkens, who also has a private collection in his home that he began when he started teaching social studies, said his artifacts will be passed on to other collectors and his grandchildren. Mr. Wilkens described the hobby as part of a cycle.

"I take care of [the artifacts]. I preserve them, and when I die other collectors will do the same to preserve the history of this country," he said. Others said they collect and sell artifacts as an investment.

"I've done real well this year," said Paul Charder, who is a third-generation antiques dealer. "I think when the stock market goes down, people turn to antiques because they do not lose value. They may not gain value very quickly, but they never lose value."

Within the rows of rusty badges and leather-bound canteens, some tables held posters and pamphlets that focused on a narrow Civil War topic.

"I've been doing this since I was a kid because my parents are into it," said Northern Virginia Relic Hunters board member Juanita Leisch, whose display focused on the role of women in the war. Miss Leisch, like several other vendors, has written books on the Civil War, among them "Who, War, What" and "Introduction to Civil War Civilians."

The customers were as enthusiastic as the vendors.

Some people paid the $5 entry fee just to look, while others sought to fill out their personal Civil War collections. One man purchased a Confederate $50 bill with a picture of George Washington for $395.

"I have a collection of about 30 bills," said Bob Fern, a pilot who also collects buttons, guns and coins. Mr. Fern, who has been collecting for more than two years, had a three-sheet checklist that described Confederate currency.

"This particular bill is hard to come by because George Washington is rarely on Confederate currency, so it's worth it," he said.

Others came just to look with their children and grandchildren.

This year's crowd was thicker than last year, when 1,700 people attended over the two days, said John Hale, treasurer of the 250-member club.

Proceeds from the event will sponsor other events held by the Northern Virginia Relic Hunters and will be donated to Civil War museums, he said.

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