THE DEN – There is never an ashtray around when my cigar ash is about to dive. So I use coffee cups, beer cans, the floor. Ah, here is a convenient receptacle: a blue plate. Actually, it is a white plate with lots of blue designs – drums, flags, in the center are two mid-19th century artillerymen next to a huge cannon, and an officer on horseback. All are dressed in fancy, Napoleonic uniforms complete with fuzzy bearskin hats for the enlisted men and a cocked hat with ostrich plumes for the officer. Vintage Texas tacky. This flowery plate was given to me by my mother who explained that the fad in the past was to make dinner plates to celebrate historic events. This one noted the Mexican-American War, but the European artists, not knowing what U.S. soldiers, especially Texans, dressed like, drew them in European-style uniforms. Hence the Mounted Texas Rangers look like the Grand Duke’s Wachovian Grenadiers. I am examining this knick-knack today because a friend just dropped by a page out of an auction house catalogue. The top reads: “Texas Campaigne China.” Below is a photo of my plate, same drums and flags around the edge, except that in the center is a general on horseback. The info says this ho-hum kitchenware was marked on the back “Texian Campaigne” and was produced in England between 1846 and 1852. The plate pictured in the catalogue is stored in a glass-faced box in a vault in New York City. Mine is not of that rare sort, because on the back on my blue plate special it reads – let me find it -- “Texian Campaigne.” Huh? But the authentic plates were marked with the initials J.B. My plate is only marked by…uh…”J.B.” And here’s the going price for my blue ashtray: TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS! Don’t panic, I tell myself. Stop trembling. And put down the plate. Then I snuff out my cigar in something nearby and less valuable. I opt for my left palm. Look at this magnificent and adorable piece of artwork which, obviously, is the work of talented geniuses. To paraphrase Capital One, what’s in your attic? You see, there is a veritable treasure trove of what we antiquarians refer to as “old stuff” lying about. Remember Michael Sparks, a music equipment technician in Nashville, Tenn. In 2007, Sparks bought a yellowed, shellacked, rolled-up document in a thrift store for $2.48. It turned out to be a rare 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence, which Sparks later sold at auction for $477,650. In 1989, Donald Scheer of Atlanta bought a painting at a Philadelphia flea market because he liked the frame. When taking it apart, out fell an original copy (about 500 were printed) of the Declaration of Independence. Scheer sold it for $2.42 million, but he got taken. In 2000, that same piece of paper was sold for $8.14 million. Texas is loaded with old stuff that’s better than can be found on PBS-TV’s “Antiques Roadshow.” I have a cannonball from the San Jacinto battleground that was dug up miles away and years later. It’s a long story. You may be familiar with the de la Pena diary. It was allegedly written by Lt. José Enrique de la Peña, an officer in Santa Anna’s army when it invaded Texas in 1836. The faded, yellowed book is the cornerstone for those who quote the diary as saying Davy Crockett did not go down swinging ol’ Betsy at the Alamo, but was taken prisoner and executed. The diary was supposedly discovered by an art dealer, Jesus Sanchez Garza, in a Mexico City market in 1955. Garza paid a few pesos for the book. It was auctioned in 1998 for $387,500 and now resides at UT-Austin. Antique Texana is a growing, golden market, but you don’t have to be a Crockett scientist to see a lot of old stuff ain’t really old. For example, the de la Pena diary itself is suspect. Experts say it was written by five different hands, there is no record that the alleged author ever kept a diary, and there are several eyewitness accounts that Davy went down fighting. The Alamo flag – the defenders’ only banner -- wasn’t found until 1934 in a drawer in Chapultepec Palace. Proof that Moses Rose was the only defender who fled the fight wasn’t discovered until about the same time. One of Santa Anna’s artificial legs was found on display in the office of the Illinois adjutant general. The Twin Sisters, the two cannons the Texas Army had at San Jacinto, wound up with the Confederate Army, but were rescued from a Yankee scrap heap by some returning Rebel soldiers. They dug a hole near Buffalo Bayou, rolled in the two artillery pieces which were never seen again. George R. Brown (of Brown & Root) had me offer a $25,000 reward for the cannons’ return. No takers. In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry proudly announced that the Texas State Historical Commission was going to pay $550,000 for a letter penned by Crockett from East Texas on Jan. 9, 1836, to his son and daughter back in Tennessee. An accompanying gushy on-line press release said the letter had been discovered by a Houston documents dealer. Experts questioned the letter’s authenticity, and the deal was quietly cancelled. Some Texas documents at the University of Houston, gifts from donors, were found to be forgeries. There are also documents and artifacts which have been stolen. A few years ago I saw in an auction catalogue that a letter from Gen. Sam Houston to the Texas government just before San Jacinto was for sale. Shouldn’t such a letter be in the possession of the current Texas government? Turns out the document was missing from UT. And don’t buy any Republic of Texas stamps. Texas never issued stamps. So, again, what’s in your attic? As for my $12K blue plate special, I’ve really got to start smoking better cigars. Ashby is richer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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