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Flag controversy could hit collectibles business

The ongoing controversy over the Confederate flag has at least one large seller of Civil War memorabilia on edge.

Reignited by the killings of nine black worshipers at a church in Charleston, S.C. last week, retailers including Walmart (WMT), Amazon.com (AMZN), Sears (SHLD), Alibaba (BABA) and EBay (EBAY) quit selling Confederate flags. Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old accused of being behind the shootings, was shown posing for photos with the flag.

States throughout the South, which have displayed the flag for generations, are now having misgivings. Legislators in South Carolina have said they plan to remove the flag from the state's Capitol grounds while officials in Mississippi have said they want to change their state's flag that features the Confederate symbol.

Even ahead of the mass killings, the prices paid for authentic Confederate flags from the Civil War have been on the decline, according to Marsha Dixey, in the Americana collectibles business for nearly three decades.

"What you would expect to pay today is probably less than you would have paid eight or nine years ago," Dixey, a production manager at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, said. "There has been in the Civil War marketplace in general a softening on the Confederate objects. Flags in particular are not bringing not what they were."

Confederate flags tied to a specific battle or regiment currently net between $40,000 to $50,000, down from the $70,000 to $100,000 several years ago, Dixey said.

In 2006, a flag that belonged to General J.E.B. Stuart, a confidant of General Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, sold for a record $956,000 at Heritage.

Whether the current popular sentiment against the flag will hurt the market for historical Confederate items overall isn't clear, Dixey said. "We are kind of anxiously watching to see exactly how it will affect us."