IN 1864, THE PRESIDENT DONATED THIS SMALL PHOTOGRAPH TO BENEFIT ILLINOIS SOLDIERS’ AID SOCIETY
By Steve Lansdale
Sometimes it pays to aim high.
It certainly did in 1864 for Mary L. Westerman, an officer of the local Soldiers’ Aid Society in Tazewell County, Illinois. She wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln, urging him to support the cause with a donation to a Sanitary Fair that was held October 18 of that year.
Her letter, sent a little over two weeks before the event and available for digital viewing through the Library of Congress, paid off. A letter from former Secretary of State John Hay to Westerman confirms that the 16th American president sent six signed cartes de visite – one of which will find a new home when it is sold in Heritage Auctions’ February 25-26 Americana & Political Signature® Auction.
“This is an exceptionally rare item, a must-have for any serious collector of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia or presidential items,” says Curtis Lindner, Americana & Political Director at Heritage Auctions. “Lincoln is the most aggressively collected of all U.S. presidents, and to find something like this that he signed represents an exceptionally rare opportunity.”
This CDV is believed to be one of the six known that he signed for donation to the event, as evidenced not only by the text on its verso, but also by the display held by the Allen County Public Library in the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, framing Hay’s original letter with two of the six photographs sent – both images match the offered example.
Also featured in the auction is a double partner’s desk, circa 1857, from the U.S. House of Representatives that was designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, who is known best for also designing the dome in the U.S. Capitol. Manufactured by Doe, Hazleton & Co. of Boston, Massachusetts, for the newly opened House of Representatives chamber in 1857, this double desk is one of those believed to have been placed in a semicircular arrangement in the chamber, a design detail that accounted for the unusual obtuse angle at which the two sections of the desk are joined. Who occupied this desk from 1857-73 is not known, but it likely was acquired by Nehemiah G. Ordway of New Hampshire, who was Sergeant of Arms for the House from 1863-73, when furnishings were updated in the chamber during the final year of his tenure. It was sold early in the 20th century by an antiques dealer in Warner, New Hampshire – Ordway’s birthplace – and remained in the family of the purchaser for more than 100 years.
Other top lots in the auction include a compass personally owned by Daniel Boone, with provenance, which comes from the pioneer and frontiersman who was one of the legendary figures in American folklore. Included among the provenance that accompanies the compass are two newspaper articles from the 1930s that tell the story of the transfer of the compass from Boone to a young friend named Abraham Miller, who had learned to shoot from Boone. When Miller, at just 12 years old, killed a panther threatening his family’s cattle, Boone was so proud that he gave this compass to Miller.
The auction also includes two lots of silver from the Tumbaga wreck off of Grand Bahama Island in 1528. One of the lots, a shipwreck silver round, is a significant piece of Aztec history weighing 517 ounces (more than 32.3 pounds).
There is also a letter from Captain Leonard B. Blinn providing eyewitness account of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The letter includes three pages of text written by Capt. Leonard B. Blinn of the 100th Ohio Infantry. In the letter, Blinn wrote to his wife, telling her of the murder he witnessed and sharing the sorrowful effect the loss had on the city. It reads, in part, “Long before this reaches you. You will have heard of the Nations calamity in the assassination of that good man and the father of our country Abraham Lincoln. It has so happened that I was one of the spectators yesterday afternoon… I saw the President and his wife enter their private box… I heard the report of the pistol, the shrieks of Mrs. Lincoln, and saw the assassin jump on to the stage and disappear through the rear of the theatre… Such an excitement followed as I hope I may never witness again. It was found out instantly that the President was assassinated… I saw the President after he was shot also the pistol that he was shot with. Kiss little Carrie for me.”
STEVE LANSDALE is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.