Disputed Sale of Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant's Coat and Cup Prompts Legal Battle, Fraud Claims by Gettysburg Antiques Seller, Matt Miller, Patriot-News' Penn Live Web Site, November 29, 2013.Nearly 150 years after it ended, the Civil War is still big business. And the sale of some property of one of its key figures is now fodder for a federal lawsuit. A legal battle just begun in U.S. Middle District Court centers on claims by the owners of a military antiques shop in Gettysburg that they are owed a share of a $1.6 million to $1.85 million sale of a coat and cup once owned by Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, one of the war's top commanders and a former U.S. president.There is a bit of North-South friction as well.
The owners of The Horse Soldier on Steinwehr Avenue contend that a Virginian, Donald Tharp, defrauded them out of their cut on the sale of the Grant artifacts. The Horse Soldier owners, Patricia, Sam and Wesley Small, fired their first shot in the fight by suing Tharp in Adams County Court in late October. Tharp is now seeking to have the dispute moved to the federal court in Harrisburg.
In their complaint, the Smalls claim that in 1995 they discovered several Grant artifacts were up for sale. The Smalls and another man approached Tharp with a proposition for a joint financing deal to come up with the money to buy Grant's coat and cup.
Under that oral agreement, Tharp was to receive 10 percent interest annually on his investment, but no more than $160,000, until the artifacts sold, according to the suit. Once they sold, Tharp was to get 55 percent of the profit, with the Smalls receiving 25 percent and 20 percent going to the other investor, the Smalls claim.
The Grant pieces were in the Smalls' store for about three weeks before Tharp asked to borrow the coat and cup to display at his home. The Smalls claim they agreed to turn them over because they'd had dealings with Tharp before and trusted him. However, the Smalls claim in their suit that, without telling them, Tharp sold the items for at least $1.6 million to more than $1.8 million, with Grant's coat going for around $1.5 million. The suit does not state when the sale took place, but the Smalls claim that they didn't learn that the artifacts had been sold until 2010.
They contend that Tharp has refused to pay them the money they are owed for the sale, and has ignored a June 2011 arbitration decision that found in their favor. They want the court to rule that their agreement with Tharp is binding and that he must pay up on claims of breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Specifically, the Smalls are seeking $380,000, plus interest and legal fees.
Tharp's attorney, Ralph J. Kelly, and Steven E. Grubb, the lawyer representing the Smalls, weren't immediately available for comment Friday.