Friday, June 20, 2008

Lincolniana on Auction: Everything that Says A. Lincoln is not a Lincoln

The Lincolniana on Auction beat is overflowing with examples today; however, I thought it might be fun to explore a couple potentially dubious items.

First up, let's start with a seemingly innocuous textbook, circa 1835 (pictured above). Though the owner provides very few
details about the book, I did a quick Google Book search of one of the pages and found a match. The textbook is probably Adams's New Arithmetic, by Daniel Adams (Keene, New Hampshire: J. & J. W. Prentiss).

Why is this book part of our Lincolniana
on Auction series? Well, take a look at this picture:

Signed by Lincoln?

Look closely at the signature at the bottom of the photo. The owner offers this explanation:

Signed on the bottom of the first page is the signature of our beloved president--Abraham Lincoln--the book has many anatations and inscriptions that we cannot make out but the history letter that comes with the auction states--"Given to my friend 1844--read this so you can outfigure them in Washington."

That's all the owner says; however, before you dismiss this item, consider this:

The item description mentions a number of intriguing dates. First, the year 1844 was an important one if we're talking about a textbook containing Lincoln's signature. Lincoln made a trip back to southern Indiana in 1844 to campaign for Henry Clay and the Whig ticket. This is pure speculation, but would it be out of the question for one of his old Indiana neighbors to give him a textbook he might have used as a boy in southern Indiana?

Second, the owner lists two possible publication dates for this book. First, the item description claims the book was published, circa 1835. This, of course, would have been too late for Lincoln to have used this book in southern Indiana. He was living in New Salem in 1835. However, later in the description, the owner claims to see the date 1827. This date falls well within the time frame of Lincoln's time in southern Indiana.

Third, if Lincoln did indeed sign this book and give it to someone heading to Washington in 1844, who might it be? Perhaps it was Representative John J. Hardin?

Again, notice how much speculation is involved with each of these points. Let me stress that point. The owner provides scant information and we have added in historical evidence to create a plausible scenario. Is it worth $775 to see if this Davinci Code-like scenario has any validity?

Let's take a look at another one.

The owner claims this torn piece of paper features the signature of Abraham Lincoln, 1865.

Here is the provenance, directly from the owner:

My daughter was bequeathed a box of family heirlooms from her God Mother which consisted of a book signed by Lincoln and sold to help pay for college expenses. In the same box there were old documents, a deed to land in California from 1910, a signature on a document signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, an old reel of film with footage of President Eisenhower and the lincoln signature on this tattered piece of paper.

When we know absolutely nothing about the original document, I would suggest we have no option but to be skeptical.

Without commenting on the handwriting, I wonder about the mere placement of the signature. For instance, notice the signature is on either the upper right or left corner of a sheet of paper. How ofen did Lincoln sign his name in this place? Moreover, when Lincoln took the time to affix the date below his signature, he usually wrote the month, as well as the day of the month. Simply writing the year seems out of character.

Shakespeare reminds us "all that glisters is not gold." I'd like to add that everything that says A. Lincoln is not a Lincoln.

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