CARMEL, Ind. - A rare Civil War weapon that sparked the imagination of collectors and historians across the country is going back home for what could be the first time in 150 years.
A first-model Morse carbine, one of only 200 built at the State Military Works in Greenville, S.C., was bought last week at a Carmel auction by a collector from South Carolina.
It sold for $18,000, plus a buyer's premium that pushed the actual cost above $20,000, making good on predictions that the sale price would easily eclipse its $12,500 opening bid.
"Civil War weapons are sky-high now," said Ed Higginbotham, a local gun expert who helped examine the weapon for the auction house, Wickliff Auctioneers. "Anything used by the Confederacy is really, really desirable now."
A .50-caliber breech-loading gun made for the state militia, the Morse carbine was one of the most technologically advanced weapons in the South, according to Webster Jones, curator of the Museum and Library of Confederate History in South Carolina. And it has familial ties to inventor Samuel Morse, known primarily for the development of Morse code and the telegraph. His exact relation to gun creator George Morse is a matter of debate - as is much about the weapon, only 1,000 of which were ever built, including the 200 built in that first batch in Greenville.
Auctioneers can't reveal the name of the Indianapolis family that sold it and don't know who owned the gun originally. Jones said guns changed hands often in that era.
The carbine for sale had "Bloomington, Indiana" scratched on its side, but it's not clear if it was put there during the war or by a subsequent owner.
Darin Lawson, president of Wickliff Auctioneers, said he couldn't divulge much about the buyer, either, only that it was a call-in bid.
"It did get a number of bids online" as well, Lawson said.
Adding to the carbine's mystique, the one for sale, as did all of the guns in the first batch, had a critical defect.
The gun's hammer, used to cock the weapon, also served as a catch to keep the trapdoor closed over the ammo chamber. But when the hammer was cocked, the trapdoor cover could pop open if the gun wasn't held level, spilling the gun's shell onto the ground.
Including a buyer's premium, the five other Civil War guns sold at the auction fetched a combined $7,900.
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