|By Jim Rutledge
FREDERICK, Md. — As a young boy at age 4 or 5, James L. Kochan, became fascinated with the stories and military battles associated with the War of 1812.
Today, he is one of the country’s leading historians on the war, and holds one of the largest private collections of American and British uniforms, accoutrements and related military and maritime artwork and artifacts of the 1700-1850 period with a focus on the War of 1812.
At Kochan’s Fine Art & Antiques gallery tucked between a variety of shops and antique stores in historic downtown Frederick, he is featuring a personal exhibit and sale of period pieces on the War of 1812, this year’s bicentennial celebration of the war between British and American military and naval forces.
With more than 200 paintings and artifacts on display, and historic memorabilia selling for a few hundred dollars to nearly $100,000, Kochran is shedding some of his pieces to institutions and museums around the country where these artifacts will be shared with a larger audience.
“A number of museums are planning major exhibitions, and are searching for key pieces to fill voids in their collections,” Kochan said, “so I’m in hopes that some of the more important pieces will find new homes in such institutions.”
According to a recent poll by the Canadian research firm Ipsos Reid for the Historic-Dominion Institute, a little more than a third of American’s polled say there was no significant outcome to the War of 1812, while just 17 percent of Canadians claim it was the most historic war, significant for the formation of Canada’s identity.
But to Kochan, the former director and curator with the U.S. Army Museum System, and the National Park Service, Free Trade and Sailors Rights and the War of 1812 era has been the focus of his life for more than 25 years. Kochan said this exhibit is the largest single, private sale of War of 1812 art and artifacts.
Soon to be released to the public is Kochan’s 88-page colorful exhibition catalog of 83 entries, several with groupings of historic manuscript letters and documents, including one group with 35 related papers. This catalog is part one of two, titled: Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights: The War of 1812 and the Shaping of America.
The catalog is dedicated to “The Eastern Seaboard and the War at Sea.”
One of the highlights of the exhibit, Kochan points out, is a series of ship drawings and logbooks by a 14-year-old seaman, Horatio Nelson Head. There are two folio volumes, each bound in leather with gilt lettering and decoration and insets, vellum panels on the front and rear covers. Each log consists of 140 pages with the first entry period March 17, 1813, to July l8, 1814, with 12 drawings. The second log period is July 19, 1814, to Sept. 15, 1815, with four drawings. The price for the logs and drawings is $85,000. Kochan said he will not break up the grouping of this or any other groups in the sale.
A dramatic 18-inch-by-24-inch paining (with original carved frame) of a naval battle between the ship Mount Vernon of Salem engaging French privateers, by Neapolitan artist Michel Felice Corne, is priced at $60,000, and is accompanied with a long detailed account of the battle. Corne is considered to be the first professional marine painter working in America after arriving from Naples, Italy in 1800. Corne sailed on the Mount Vernon and paid for his voyage by painting several views of the ship for its captain, Elias Hasket Derby, a leading merchant ship-owner.
A second marine painting, the original pen and ink drawings on woven, heavy paper, (23 3/4 inches by 51 5/8 inches) are drafts of the 74 gun-ship USS Washington, by naval architect James Hutton.
In 1813, the drawings were in the original possession of Thomas Willing Francis, who was a personal friend of naval architects at the time, passed down the drawings through four generations of his family until sold by Francis’s great-great-great grandson.
The ship designs are signed in lower left corner, “Jas: Hutton June 21st. 1813,” and conservation mounted within an ebonized walnut frame. The estimated price is $50,000.
Displayed on the wall of Kochan’s gallery is the painting An Unidentified U.S. Artillery Field Officer, 1812-1813, the full-length, watercolor portrait of a handsome military officer, attributed to Nathaniel Rogers, one of the best known miniaturists working in New York during the early 19th century. The estimated price is $25,000.
Two of the most historic exhibition items of “importance” Kochan says, are eyewitness accounts of the Chesapeake (Bay Region) campaign, including the burning of Washington and the Battle of Bladensburg, “that are known to exist and have never been cited or published in any history of the War of 1812 to date.”
One version is An Eyewitness Account of the American Defeat Written by a Leatherneck Officer, and is described by U.S. Marine Capt. Samuel Bacon of the Battle of Bladensburg, written within weeks of the action.
He wrote the account to Maj. Moses White, the father of a young Marine. It was written Sept. l6th, 1814, in an eight-page account. The estimated price is $35,000.
The second account is a manuscript journal or diary in two parts: one describing life with the Duke of Wellington’s 1815 army in France; the second records the vivid, personal description of the 1814-1815 Chesapeake and Louisiana Campaigns, by the Chaplain of the British Army. The 181-page account was written in ink on a smaller page size paper, 8-inch by 6 1/4-inch. The estimated price is $55,000.
Some of the other items in the exhibition include A Harpers Ferry Musket of the Louisiana Militia for $12,000; the Undress Uniform of a British Major General, $14,500; an Infantry Musket of the Royal Americans Army, $12,000; Light Dragoon Coatee, $7,500; A British Sergeant’s Pike, $655; Royal Marines Sergeant’s Sword, $2,250.
A number of items have already been sold but will remain on exhibit until September.
A flipbook catalog version is online and available for browsing at www.jameskochan.com. A printed version will be available soon for $25.
Kochan is working on a new War of 1812 book that will contain information on pieces in his exhibition.
This will be his fifth book. The James Kochan Fine Art and Antiques gallery is located at 218 N. Market Street in Frederick, Md.
The gallery may be contacted at (301) 228-2588. The exhibit is open daily, Friday thru Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 9.
In Washington, D.C., the National Portrait Gallery is featuring 1812, A Nation Emerges exhibit of historical portraits and open to the public, at no charge, until Jan. 27, 2013.
The Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore is honoring the War of 1812 with an exhibit titled: The Full Glory Reflected, Maryland During the War of 1812. The museum is located at 201 W. Washington St. in Baltimore, Md.
The National Museum of the U.S. Navy is featuring a mini-exhibit of the War of 1812 in a traveling exhibit to 200 cities and towns for the new 12 months.
In Boston, The USS Constitution Museum is hosting an exhibit in the 1812 Discovery Center aboard the ship in the Charlestown Navy Yard.