Antiques dealer: Papenfuse is wrong; stolen pistols likely authentic, valuable

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – When a pair of 19th-century pistols — and another firearm — were stolen from the National Civil War Museum last weekend, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said they weren’t worth much anyway.

He said they might be fakes, and former Mayor Steve Reed shouldn’t have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for them.

But a collector in Gettysburg disagrees, saying he’s disheartened when something like that goes missing.

Sam Small, one of the owners of The Horse Soldier, an antique store specializing in Civil War-era artifacts, has collected and sold similar items professionally for more than 30 years.

Friday, he hit the books.

“This is every kind of Colt firearm that was ever made,” he said, flipping through one of several reference volumes.

In one of them, he found the kind of gun set Col. Samuel Colt gave as gifts, many of them to generals and other military leaders.

“And then to civilians,” Small read from the page, “E.S. Sanford and Simon Cameron.”

Simon Cameron, a Harrisburg native, was Lincoln’s first secretary of war. It’s his gift from Colt, a set of pistols apparently engraved to him, that was stolen from the museum.

Reed paid more than $250,000 for the guns and a few other pieces in 1996.

“I think the pistols were probably priced exactly where they should have been,” Small said. He thinks they’re probably worth at least $200,000 now.

“Somebody of his stature during the war would command a higher price than someone else,” he said.

But Papenfuse isn’t sure they’re even real. The seller, he told ABC27 News Thursday, might have off-loaded counterfeits.

“This person had a habit of misrepresenting his items as being things that they weren’t and charging exorbitant fees,” Papenfuse said.

That seller, Russ Pritchard III, plead guilty to fraud in 2001 after charging the city ten times what he paid for other artifacts.

“Ultimately it’s what someone’s willing to pay,” Small said. He defended Reed, a man he did business with.

He said there’s no doubt in his mind, given the history and paper trail, the guns are authentic, and he doesn’t fault the former city leader for wanting to display Harrisburg history.

“Having the pistols in Harrisburg, in their museum, was a great draw,” Small said.

Police have yet to track down the stolen firearms.

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