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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Treasures from the Time of Abraham Lincoln

( Orginally published 1962 )

There is a missing letter which is worth $100,000 if you can find it.

On November 21, 1864, the Boston Transcript published an appeal to the general public, an appeal which was in the very finest newspaper tradition.

A widow needed help, and the paper was asking the general public to acknowledge her need. In sorrowful terms the Boston Transcript told the story of a woman who, before the advent of the war between the states, had had five sons. Now those sons were deaddead on the field of battle in defense of the Union.

The newspaper cried out for her, begging the people for their sympathy and their help in this, her time of need. Throughout the nation, people read the story and felt sorry for the grieving mother.

One person in particular read the story and felt deep sorrow because of it. This reader wrote a letter to the widow, telling her of his sympathy. In due time the letter was delivered to the widow, and, when she opened it, this is what she read:

Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 21, 1864

To Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Mass.
Dear Madam: I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you for the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully, A. Lincoln

Mrs. Bixby

Today, the original of that letter which the widow opened and read such a long time ago would be worth $100,000-if you could find it.

The ironic part of the whole episode of that letter is that Lincoln had been completely misled in his understanding of the situation. Mrs. Bixby's five sons were not killed on the battlefield, although it is true that two of them did die in battle; but there were also two sons who, instead of dying "gloriously on the field of battle," ignominiously deserted their army and their cause. Neither did the fifth son die in battle, yet he, at least, did not desert. Rather, he was honorably discharged.

On November 21, there had been the plea for Mrs. Bixby in the Boston Transcript, written by Adjutant General William Schouler. Lincoln had already had information about the widow at the time this item was printed, but on publication of the appeal Lincoln wrote to Schouler for additional details. With all of this, it seems rather amazing that there should have been such a mistake made, although it was certainly not Mr. Lincoln's mistake, but rather the mistakes of those around him.

But the ironic fact that the letter which Lincoln wrote was composed in error certainly does not detract either from the historical, moral or monetary value of the letter. The beauty of the letter will remain forever, and the monetary value of the letter today stands at $100,000. Yet, can you find it?

Where it is now, nobody knows. We do know that Lincoln himself did not mail the letter, because he did not have Mrs. Bixby's address. He gave it to Schouler, who had it delivered.

It would seem then that the letter disappeared almost immediately after Mrs. Bixby received it. Members of her family seemed to feel that she did not have the letter at the time of her death in 1878. Today no one knows where it could be; but the value of the letter was apparent almost immediately. Facsimiles and forgeries, both, have flooded the country time after time.

As early as 1891, one man with an eye for business, Tobin by name, registered an engraving of the Lincoln letter with the Librarian of Congress on April 25, 1891. He called it "Lincoln's Letter" and sold copies for $2 apiece-in a day when $2 went a lot further than it does today.

Sometimes, today, these old facsimiles are found, and thought, with all honest intentions, by hopeful treasure hunters, to be the original. They are, of course, disappointed to find they have what is only a facsimile. Yet the search continues for the original letter. The story of this letter is filled with legends like the one that the original of the Bixby letter is in the Library of Congress, but unfortunately (or rather fortunately for the treasure hunter) this is not so.

The original was, also, at one time supposed to be on exhibit at Huber's Museum in New York City-at least according to a copy of said "original" put out by Huber himself.

It has also been reported that the original letter was in the J. Pierpont Morgan collection, but the Morgan family reported that they knew nothing about the letter.

Many, many times it has been said that the Bostonian Society had the original, but the society has denied this emphatically.

The letter may have been destroyed-and if it has been then it is lost to the treasure hunter. Yet, I do not think so. As stated above, many forgeries and many honest facsimiles have been made. Copies of the letter were printed in the daily newspapers less than a week after Mrs. Bixby received the original.

It must be true, then, that somewhere along the line-at a time when the value of the letter was already apparent-that the original was in hands other than the Widow Bixby's. Otherwise where did the copies come from? You must have an original from which to make a copy. Somewhere along the line someone had the original and from that he made the first copies.

With luck, that original letter is still in existence, and you can trade it for $100,000-if you can find it.

IF you can find an autograph copy of the Gettysburg Address, you can almost name your own price for it. One copy known to be authentic sold for $54,000.

This is the speech which is common knowledge to every schoolboy. Any child can begin this famous oration, which begins with "Four score and seven years ago . . ."

The Address, which was given on November 19, 1863, was spoken at the dedication of the battleground of Gettysburg, a national cemetery. There are known, today, to be in existence five copies of the Gettysburg Address. The five extant papers include Lincoln's first draft, the reading text, and the revised copies made up after the speech had been delivered.

Yet besides these known copies are the stories of yet another copy -a copy which has never been found. This missing version of the speech was an autograph copy which was made up for judge David Mills and was evidently written the night before the Gettysburg dedication ceremony, since Lincoln stayed at Mills' home as a guest on that night.

No one knows where that copy is now, but if you can find it you can almost name your own price for it-perhaps even as high as the aforementioned $54,000.

Yet there are other things which belonged to Lincoln which today are missing-and which can be of value to the treasure hunter. The sport of hunting for missing Lincolniana heightens in furor year by year. The admirers of Lincoln increase by the thousands as each year passes, as they seek more information and more facts concerning the man who was probably America's greatest statesman. Accordingly they also increase their desire for the things which he owned, used or touched.

There was a pen which Lincoln allegedly had in his possession on the night he died. Today, no one knows where it is.

Originally, the pen had been one of a pair which had been presented to Lincoln at the time of his inauguration, but the penholders have a far older history than that. In a much earlier time there had been a desk which belonged to the captain of the Mayflower. Later the lid of that desk was made into a carved chest which held surveying instruments, and that chest was presented to George Washington. Then, in turn, the box was made over into the pair of penholders.

Lincoln presented one of these pens to a Mr. Isaac Reed, and he promised Mr. Reed that he would forward to him papers showing the authenticity of the pen-but three days later Lincoln was murdered. The papers had been filled out but were lost in the confusion of Lincoln's death.

Reed treasured his Lincoln pen and took it all over the world with him, asking various people to use it as they signed their autographs for him. One of those who did so, using this famous pen, was Queen Victoria of England.

The other pen was the one which was allegedly in Lincoln's possession the night he died. As to the value of this pen, if it could be found, there is no way of telling, without of course finding it and holding it for auction. At one time, Reed had the opportunity to sell the pen he owned for three hundred English pounds-quite a sum in those days.

Pens, of course, are not the only missing items of Lincoln. Even his watches are cause for diligent search. On many occasions Lincoln was presented with watches, a common form of official and semi-official gift in those days. Not all of these watches have been found-and they are well worth looking for.

Even his hats are items of value, but not in the way it might seem. While it is true that Lincoln hats are collectors' items, it must also be remembered that Lincoln used his famous stovepipe hats for convenient storage places. In these hats he put papers of all kindsfrom items relating to his law practice to official state documents. Almost anything, and possibly something of great value, might be found in one of these old hats.

Collectors ask for such items of wearing apparel as boots, socks, gloves, coats, and even his nightgowns. These items of course are not of great value, yet they are worth enough to have them checked by an expert.

Even Lincoln canes, rings and cuff buttons are sought. This Lincolniana frenzy extends even to items belonging to members of the Lincoln family. There is the story of Mrs. Lincoln's garnets-although this is a story which, heard many years ago, this author has been unable to verify.

It is the story of Mrs. Lincoln's need for hard cash and, like many other American women, she sold her jewels to raise some moneyin this case a set of garnets.

Although this story may not be true, Mrs. Lincoln did like jewelry.

Tiffany's in New York, for example, made for her a matching set of seed-pearl earrings and necklace to be worn at her husband's Second Inaugural.

Tiffany's today no longer has any records of the seed pearls, although, according to Mr. Wm. J. Fielding of Tiffany's, ". . . understand some of the institutions in Washington, D.C. have some of these pieces and photographs of them."

Garnets, powder horns and wallets! The mania for Lincolniana extends even to their furniture. Furniture from both the White House and the Springfield house are sought by collectors, with particular attention given to chairs, since the chairs of the family seem to carry more interest than other items of furniture.

Among the chairs associated with the Lincolns, and which are known to be missing, are a tall, hall chair and a set of plain, wooden chairs which had flowers painted on their backs. Chairs also worth watching for are those which Lincoln used in his law practice, because they seem to have a special appeal to collectors.

The value of a Lincoln chair is difficult to judge, since each item would of necessity be of different condition and make. Also the price of the item would vary according to how much part the chair had played in the history of the nation. For example, a chair which Lincoln had used at the time of a great historic event would be of far more value than just any chair which he had used.

However, I have seen prices ranging from $100 to $250 per chair: Chairs, hats, canes, or whatever, there is a chance of finding them -all except one item which is probably the strangest of all lost Lincolniana: an entire log cabin.

"Log cabin" is synonymous with the very name of Lincoln, and in 1830 when Lincoln's family moved to Illinois, Abraham pitched in to help clear the land, fence the property, and build the inevitable log cabin.

Years later, in 1865, this cabin was an item of much public interest when it was displayed as an exhibit of the Chicago Sanitary Fair. Following this exhibition, the log cabin was shown at Barnum's Museum in New York City. Eventually the cabin was loaded aboard a ship so that it could be exhibited in England. But the ship was lost at sea, carrying with it a piece of Lincolniana which can never be replaced. Surely, this must be the strangest of the lost Lincolniana.

The more everyday items belonging to Lincoln are, however, quite within the scope of today's treasure hunter, from the very valuable missing autograph copy of the Gettysburg Address to the satchels which he carried. Anything which he owned or used is worth checking-of course, being careful that you have all the proper facts.

Do not, above all, be like the person who tried to sell a piece of rail which he claimed Lincoln had split while he was still living on the family farm in Kentucky. He "forgot" the fact that when the Lincoln family left the Kentucky farm, "Little Abe" was only two years old-and not even Abraham Lincoln rated the title of a two year-old rail splitter.

But if you have anything at all which belonged to the Lincoln family, have it checked. It is bound to be worth something.