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Letters to the Editor

Kepi Commentary

December 1, 2020

Dear Rail Splitter:

Let me begin by saying the descriptions of individual items you have on your website along with a picture is about as good as it gets. Extremely informative. Now to my reason for contacting you.  I have one of these kepis that was sold to me many years ago and like the one you have shown was given provenance based on the article about Al Fostell in North-South Trader Magazine. I paid around $500 dollars and you can tell it is an old kepi. In reading your article, you didn’t come right out and give your opinion, which I would like to know. You appear to be a “true” collector of Lincoln items, and I am not. It’s hard for me to think a collector such as Fostell (based on what I have read about him) would intentionally try to deceive someone. I know mistakes get made, and I could name you a few that I know about over the years with Civil War artifacts, but like yourself with the Lincoln items, don’t you think that Fostell did some research on these items? I guess  my question to you, which I feel you are an authority on Lincoln items: Does this kepi have any value? Also, if you ever run across any further info about these kepis, I would like to hear about it.

Thank you for your time.

Mike Nichols

Louisville, KY

Editor: Obviously, attributions are in flux. As new data becomes available, we are often forced to re-assess past attributions and revise them to conform with current known facts. A lot of times, we are presented with historical artifacts that have inadequate documentation. Often, there is an old note that accompanies the piece. That is sometimes all we have to go on. In those cases, there must be a “leap of faith” on the part of the collector. Either they dismiss the item as lacking provenance, or give it the benefit of the doubt and accept it on face value, assuming there are no glaring discrepancies. 

I think most of today’s collectors are skeptics. They look to poke holes in items. This is understandable, giving the value of collectibles and the proliferation of fakes. 

Fostell obviously lived in an age of limited scholarship and research resources. He also collected at a time when many of the people who sold him things were alive when Lincoln was president. That fact should account for something. I don’t know if he would purposely add false documentation to an object, simply to enhance its value or make it display-worthy for his traveling museum. However, that remains a distinct possibility. 

Regarding the two kepis from the Fostell Collection offered by Heritage, I think the red, white and blue example with the affixed sticker is probably legit, but I wouldn’t pay a lot of money for it because the possibility exists that the label was added after 1860, by parties unknown, and may not be accurate. It’s the type of kepi used in 1860, but the provenance is mighty thin. The other kepi, which I seem to recall is black & brown, is definitely not a Wide Awake kepi. 

I assume your kepi is the red, white and blue example marked “Salem, NY” on the interior that recently was offered on eBay. It may be a Wide Awake kepi, but it may have been worn by Bell, Douglas or Breckinridge partisans, or it may have been used in post-Civil War campaigns. If I was offering it for sale, I would represent it as a political campaign kepi, of the type used in the 1860-1880 period, possibly worn by a member of the Wide Awakes in 1860. There is just nothing there to connect it to Lincoln. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. It certainly has value as a political item but, as a Lincoln collector, I wouldn’t want to put it in my collection just based on speculation. 

Thanks for your compliments on our on-line journal.

Don Ackerman