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Philadelphia auction house assists with recovery of Mercer Museum artifacts


The Mercer Museum, operated by the Bucks County Historical Society, has recently recovered two sets of long-missing artifacts from its collections.

These objects are two pairs of military officer’s epaulets – indicators of rank – once worn by General Joseph Morrison (1794-1880). Morrison, a Bucks County militia officer in the 1840s and 1850s, also served in various county offices, including Recorder of Deeds, Treasurer and Associate Justice of the courts.

The epaulets were given to the Bucks County Historical Society originally in 1904, by Edward Cadwallader of Brooklyn, New York. With them, Cadwallader also donated a bicorne officer’s hat worn by General Morrison. While the hat has remained in the Society’s holdings, the epaulets have been missing in museum inventories since the late 1950s.

“Morrison was an important figure in early 19th century Bucks County and his artifacts reflect the golden age of well-regulated, citizen militias,” said Cory Amsler, Vice President of Collection & Interpretation. “Between the 1820s and 1840s, these volunteer companies preened and paraded at every opportunity, but also trained to play an important role in the county’s military preparedness.”

In March, Mercer Museum staff members were alerted that two sets of epaulets were listed for sale in an online auction by the Barry S. Slosberg Gallery in Philadelphia. The object descriptions included the presence of their original Historical Society tags, which noted their history, the donor, and the museum’s catalog number, “1805.”

A thorough check of museum records confirmed their connection to the Society, but failed to explain how they had left the museum’s holdings.

Due to the fact that museum records did not indicate the epaulets had been formally relinquished or “deaccessioned” by the Historical Society, staff had to assume they had been removed at some point unlawfully and outside of professional practice. Slosberg, however, had purchased them unknowingly with a large collection of other materials, and it was clear they likely had passed through multiple hands prior to arriving at the auction house.

In an effort to recover the artifacts, Historical Society staff contacted both Slosberg and local law enforcement agencies. Learning more fully of the epaulets’ history and significance, Slosberg quickly arranged to withdraw the objects from his sale, slated for April 30.

“The Bucks County Historical Society is profoundly grateful to Mr. Slosberg for his assistance in recovering and returning these objects to our collections,” said Amsler. “After perhaps more than half a century, General Morrison’s epaulets and his hat again rest securely together in our collections.”

Amsler also expresses his appreciation to the Central Bucks Regional Police Department, and other law enforcement agencies, which were contacted in an effort to recover the artifacts.

“These agencies were extremely helpful and supportive of the Historical Society and its desire to see the objects returned to Bucks County.”

After being outside of the museum’s walls for many years, the epaulets do require some conservation treatment. Once conserved, it is anticipated that they, and General Morrison’s hat, will be placed on view in the fall of 2021 as part of a planned exhibit of the museum’s textile collections.

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