Collecting Abraham Lincoln memorabilia
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. Lincoln remains one of the most significant political figures in history, and one of the most collectible US Presidents. Wikicollecting examines his enduring appeal.Background
Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States on November 6, 1860. Despite a turbulent career during which he made many enemies, was accused of being too radical, sometimes of being not radical enough, and was the subject of great criticism, his deeds during his Presidency eternally assured his status as a national hero.
Lincoln is remembered as the President who led the Union through the American Civil War, as well as being the man responsible for possibly the most significant act in the history of American politics – abolishing slavery in the United States.
He also gave the Gettysburg address, the most famous and oft-quoted oration in American history.
In addition, he was the tragic victim of an assassination: the first President to be assassinated, transforming him into a national martyr.
These acts and events single him out as an American icon, a champion of human liberty who single-handedly altered the course of history, and thus ensure he is a firm favourite amongst collectors.
Collecting Lincoln memorabilia
A public fascination with collecting items relating to Lincoln began during his lifetime. He received his first request for an autograph, a ‘signature with sentiment’, in 1848. His campaign memorabilia was hoarded by supporters, and his letters assiduously preserved by their recipients.
Fervour for collecting intensified in the wake of his assassination, people hunting down relics related to the event, from theatre playbills to strands of his hair. The debate that followed concerning the meaning of his life, whether he was The Great Emancipator, or a cynical politician, a self-made man or an uneducated amateur, increased interest in amassing items relating to Lincoln. In addition, the debate produced yet more memorabilia, which was also collected by contemporary enthusiasts.
This past interest has proved essential to the level at which America has been able to preserve Lincoln’s memory, and retain so many artefacts relating to his life and deeds. Collectors are the reason so much of Lincoln’s writings, personal items, photographs, campaign memorabilia and more has not been lost to time.
Interest continues to this day, and this field of collecting even has its own name – Lincolniana.
In 1909, there were five big collectors of Lincoln memorabilia: Daniel Fish, William H. Lambert, Charles W. McClellan, Judd Steward and Benjamin Oakleaf. Their vast collections were eventually scattered across many museums and research libraries, with the rare exceptions of a few items falling into private hands. Thus the majority of Lincoln memorabilia is ensconced in institutions, and the rest can fetch enormous sums at auction, making this area of collecting quite elite.
Documents & letters
Just as Lincoln’s autograph was in great demand during his lifetime, and souvenir copies of the 13th amendment with Lincoln’s signatures became instant collectors’ items, a desire to obtain Lincoln’s own words, written by his own hands, endures.
Lincoln’s handwritten speeches, correspondence, and other documents have become the most sought-after items of Lincoln memorabilia. Abolitionist correspondence in particular is a focus for collectors, as well as Lincoln’s passionate words about equality and human rights, such as those that made the Gettysburg Address one of the greatest speeches in history.
Handwritten documents fetch the highest prices for Lincoln memorabiliaat auction, as evidenced by the top 10 items of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia. A signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, that significant document freeing all slaves including in the states rebelling against the Union, sold for $3,778,500 in 2012. His handwritten election victory speech achieved just shy of this price in 2009, $3,442,500.
It is though that there are fewer than 119 photographs of Abraham Lincoln in existence, and only 24 that picture him standing. Dating from the early days of photography, these weighty antique albumen cabinet photographs are wonderful evocations of the President’s personality and the era in which he led America.
Early photographs picture Lincoln with no beard, before an 11 year old girl told him to grow one as it would gain him more votes, and he took her advice. A signed beardless photograph of Lincoln sold for $180,000 in July 2008.
Personal possessions related to Lincoln’s life were preserved by those close to him after his death, at the time recognised as relics of his life. Thus there are several items that are seen in collections or that come up for auction. Three notable examples that sold at Heritage Auctions in 2008 are his personal inkstand, sold for $80,662, his folding brass dividers, sold for $83,650, and his spectacles, sold for $179,250.
In 2012, a lock of Lincoln’s hair inside a glass fronted gold locket sold for $32,500.
Following his assassination, people immediately started hunting down relics related to the event. Theatre playbills from the play he was watching, strands of his hair, posters offering rewards, were all snatched up. The opera glasses he was using when he was shot have come up for auction several times in recent years.
As the three week funeral procession travelled from Washington to Illinois, a wealth of funeral orations and eulogies debated Lincoln’s life, some depicting him as a saint-like martyr, others as a cynical politician – printed copies of these are also collectible.
By the time Lincoln was running for President, the use of campaign memorabilia was standard. Lincoln’s campaign saw the first use of the likeness of candidates put on ribbons and buttons, to show what they looked like to voters hundreds of miles away.
Collecting Lincoln campaign memorabilia may be a good option for a new collector, as it is more common and affordable than items relating more directly to the President himself. Campaign stick pins & buttons and silk campaign ribbons are often seen. They generally achieve prices from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, a step down from the millions that documents can fetch.