April 2017 Artifacts of the Month | Electrotype Copies of the Confederate Great Seal

By Robert Hancock
Senior Curator & Director of Collections

One thousand electrotype replicas of the original Great Seal of the Confederacy were manufactured in 1873. Coated in gold, silver, or bronze, they were placed on sale with all generated revenue intended for the relief of Southern widows and orphans. Lawyer John D. Pickett arranged for Navy Lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge, who was in possession of the original seal, to loan it to him for the purpose of having copies made. New York electrotyper Samuel H. Black completed the task for $778, and gave Pickett his Masonic oath that he would never divulge information about the seal’s owner. The amount that Pickett raised from the sale of the electrotypes is unknown.

Electrotyping is the process of using an electrical current to coat with metal a mold of wax or gutta-percha (a natural latex) suspended in a electrolyte solution such as copper sulphate and sulphuric acid.

Comments

Originals vs replicas

Were there originals that CSA representatives put on the doors to their offices? We have one that was purportedly used at a CSA office in England, but it looks like these. We have considered donating it but it may not be what we thought.

Answer from the author

The Confederate Great Seal was little known but for those few individuals who were responsible for having it made. The emblem was not used in any other form during the war i.e.: it did not adorn stationary, carriages, or doors, etc. Like the electrotypes, any other representations of the Great Seal are going to date from the post-war period. Robert F. Hancock Senior Curator & Director of Collections

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