On The Square

The Guitar That Held the Family Jewels

By Bidsquare

Sep 22,2016 | 10:00 EDT

It would be easy enough, when viewing Lot 155 in Material Culture’s September Estates sale, to see nothing more than a 150-year-old guitar. Made by C.F. Martin between 1855 & 1866 in a New York Parlor style, and sold with its original coffin case, the piece is blessed with the timeless appeal and elegance that handcrafted instruments always seem to possess. Its no secret they get better with age.

But a quick glance at the portrait being sold with the guitar offers insight into the instruments tragic and colorful past. Pictured is the original owner, Johnnie Campbell, who left his family plantation in Jackson, TN to fight with the Confederate Army in their battle to secede from the Union. That same year Campbell, just 16, was giving water to a Union soldier when he was struck and killed by a bullet from his own side.

Yet the Martin guitar still had an important role to play in the familys history. For as the Union Army invaded south and soldiers tore through houses in search of anything of value, it was inside the Martin guitar that the Campbell family jewels were hid. The soldiers killed and ate all animals and vegetables, then destroyed as much of the plantation as they could, shooting up all the family pictures save Lot 156 (below), a pair of antique portraits of Johnnies parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Campbell. The Plantation was sold in 1923.

The C.F. Martin guitar is just one of the many fine pieces set to go under the hammer at the 2016 edition of Material Cultures September Estates sale. Set down for Friday, September 30, the catalog contains 480 expertly curated lots, covering categories that include fine art, antiques, decorative arts, Asian and ethnographic art, antique Oriental rugs and textiles, and modern design.