It was the discovery, while out exploring with two of his sons in the summer of 1996, of a bullet dating back to the civil war, that lead Tom Liljenquist to begin a lifelong passion and family bonding experience. Prior to that moment, the President of Llijenquist & Beckstead Jewelers hadn’t given the Civil War much thought, but after the discovery of around 50 more civil-war era bullets, the family began collecting guns, swords and cannon shells from that period. A few months after the family’s initial discovery, Liljenquist came across an ambrotype of a solider in a store in Ellicott City, MD, and that’s when the war really came to life for him. For over 17 years, Lilijenquist and his three sons went on to collect these often haunting images on glass and tin. Seeing these soldiers, many of them barely out of boyhood, allowed the family a rare glimpse in the lives of the thousands upon thousands of often nameless faces who went on to became saviors of our country. The family methodically sought out these rare ambrotypes and tintypes at collectors shows, in specialty shops and on Ebay. Sometimes accompanied by letters, notes or locks of hair, each picture brings alive emotions that reach beyond the statistics of the war, and regardless of their uniforms, the faces all have similar qualities that belie the concept of “us vs. them.”
In March of 2010, the Lilijenquist family donated their collection of nearly 700 of these rare photographs to the Library of Congress. As told to The Washington Post, Liljenquist said his family donated the images to make them available to posterity, free of restrictions. And when “they digitize the photos,” he said, “that photograph will look exactly that way 20,000 years from now.” In 2010 alone, more than 300,000 visitors made their way to the Library of Congress to see the exhibit, and thousands more can continue to enjoy the exhibit online.
While the family continues to add to their collection, we can only imagine that their primary focus right now is in the opening of their new store in Tysons Corner. Best of luck to the entire Liljenquist & Beckstead family, and a heart-felt thank you for your generous donation to American History!