Monday, July 2, 2007

Who Does This Look Like?

This story has me scratching my head.

The Nest Egg Auction Gallery is hoping to make national headlines. The Connecticut-based company will auction off a previously unknown ambrotype photograph (the one pictured above). It can be yours this July 28th, but it won’t come cheap. Bidding starts at $100,000.

Whose picture would command that kind of money?

They claim the individuals in the photograph are: Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln (seated), and Elizabeth Todd Edwards. That’s right, they say this is the only photograph Lincoln and his wife had taken together.

The auction house doesn’t say why Mary’s sister appears in the photo, but they do explain how they acquired the photograph. The owner bought it from “an antiquities dealer in Bath, Maine who in turn purchased it from a Brusnwick, Maine banker. The banker told the dealer that he obtained the item when Rosamond Allen, the granddaughter of Union Civil War General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg, sold the family’s home in Brunswick in 1939.”

I think this means we are supposed to believe that Gen. Chamberlain once owned this photograph, but what does that mean? For the sake of argument, say Chamberlain did own the photograph—did he think Lincoln was one of the people in the photograph? The press release doesn’t say.

Instead, the press release lists three reasons why they believe this is a Lincoln photo:

First, “Lincoln” is “wearing his trademark stove pipe hat.”

Second, they have enlisted “facial recognition experts,” who have “used a variety of forensic techniques and computerized analysis to verify the identity of the people in the picture.” These unnamed experts have compared the photograph to 15 other Lincoln known photographs and found “at least 8 points that matched.”

Third, and this appears to be their smoking gun: “The most striking similarity to Abraham Lincoln in this ambrotype photograph is the left hand shown draped down. It is a known fact that Abraham Lincoln suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome. In close examination of this hand, is that of a person suffering from this ailment,” the analysis states.

Simply amazing. How do I put this…I don’t think this photograph is the real deal.

Lincoln wasn't the only person in 19th Century America to wear a stove-pipe hat, but there is a bigger problem with this picture. I know it doesn’t sound very scientific, but the man in the photo simply doesn’t “look” like Lincoln, nor do the other two ladies resemble who they are supposed to be.

And what's the deal with the “facial recognition experts?" Why are they not identified by name?

One final point: It is not “a known fact that Abraham Lincoln suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome.” It is simply a theory, not a fact—big difference there! But even if I concede that Lincoln had Marfan's, what does that mean? Nothing. You simply cannot diagnose Marfan's Syndrome simply by looking at a man's hand in a photograph.

Let’s just say I won’t be bidding on the recently discovered photo.


Amanda said...

The owner and I did the facial recognition on this Lincoln photo. I reviewed Dr. Frechette's study of a Lincoln daguerreotype from 1998 as my basis for this comparison. There is nothing scientific about this analysis other than that I used the correct terminology to describe the obvious similarities. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about this photo - but there is no way that you can say this is not Lincoln, just because they didn't site who did the analysis - or because Chamberlain didn't mention if he got the photo from Lincoln himself. I wholeheartedly admit that I do not have any credibility in regards to Anthropomorphic Analysis - but I have spent a substantial amount of time with this photo, and other known photos of Lincoln and Mary Todd. If you look at that flash animation presentation on Nest Egg's site you will see that it is almost alarming how much the known photo of Mary Todd fits so well over the photo we have. Just wanted to throw my two sense in. Thanks.

Samuel P. Wheeler said...

Hi Amanda,

Thanks for reading the blog and for weighing in.

If the analysis was based on the Frechette daguerreotype, that may help explain where the process went off track. Believe me, scholars would love to have another Lincoln photo, but after weighing the evidence, it simply is not convincing.

In the case of this photo, the burden of proof is on the owner of the photograph to make the case in favor of Abraham Lincoln's likeness. The press release cited unnamed "facial recognition experts" who tried to make the case. I eagerly read the press release, watched the animation, and weighed the evidence. I am not convinced. And the part about Marfan's Syndrome was simply too much.


Deb Goodrich said...

Simply put, if this REALLY is Abe, Mary, and her sister, I'll eat my computer.

don said...

I have 2 genuine lincoln photographs, a daguerreotype , ambrotype, and a ferrotype of mary Todd listed in my ebay store. I think the Hoffmann Daguerreotype is real Lincon. I doubt the Dr Kaplan Daguerreotype is Lincoln. I do not have any doubts this family photo fraudulantly marketed as Lincoln is a common ancestral portrait of no historical value .Its not even worth the kind of debates given to the previously mentioned photos. Niether of the woman look like mary Todd other than their hair style which millions of women used at that time. Faces not round enough. The mans face is far too covered by shadow to make a professional facial judgement and the chin shown is very wide compared to Lincoln. Most americans farmed at this time. Working a plow and shovel make the fingers stockey. I will say the auction house did an excellant job at PR.; They must have spent a lot of money to get their 2 minutes of fame on the local newscast. Its a shame how easily broadcasters will copperate with a con artist for just a few pieces of silver, while the people selling genuine historical items get no press.

fotojb said...

Yes, the Hoffman Lincoln daguerreotype has all the provenance you can ask for starting with John Hays daughter Alice.

Terrie said...

Why on earth do they think this IS Lincoln. A stove pipe hat? You've got to be kidding me! The Kaplan is more beleivable than this. I have a photo of my Great Great Grandfather that looks a lot like this. But I wouldn't try to sell it as a ambrotype of Lincoln. People are getting ridiculous. If it's Lincoln I'm going to help Deb eat her computer.

Dan Buchan said...

For an exhaustive forensic analysis of this (and other) phony Lincoln photos, see:

Joseph Buberger said...

The Hoffman Lincoln daguerreotype was verified by the best forensic scientists in the world, Dr. Henry Lee & Dr. Albert Harper!

Joseph Buberger said...

Deb Goodrich, do you really have a daguerreotype of Lincoln???