Lot 941
  • 941

(Lincoln, Abraham, sixteenth President)

10,000 - 15,000 USD
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  • Mask of Abraham Lincoln, 1860
  • Signed Copyright 1886 by Leonard W. Volk on edge; inscribed on back:  This cast was made for Allen Thorndyker, a subscriber to the fund for the purchase and presentation to the United States government of the original mask made in Chicago, April 1860, by Leonard W. Volk from the living face of Abraham Lincoln. This cast was taken from the first replica of the original in New York City, February, 1886.
  • Patinated bronze

  • Height: 10 inches
A bronze casting by Augustus Saint-Gaudens after a life mask of Abraham Lincoln cast in plaster by Leonard W. Volk, (9 x 8 in.; 220 x 180 mm), New York, February 1886, inscribed on the obverse "This cast was made for Allen Thorndyker, a subscriber  to the fund for the purchase and presentation to the United States government of the original mask made in Chicago April 1860 by Leonard W. Volk from the living face of Abraham Lincoln. This cast was taken from the first replica of the original in New York City February 1886"; copyrighted by Volk, 1886 on the rim of the chin.  


Allen Thorndyker

Catalogue Note

Upon his return from abroad, Volk set up a sculpture studio in Chicago, where he first met Lincoln in 1858. They met again in April 1860 and Volk persuaded Lincoln to sit for a life mask—a cast taken by applying plaster directly to the sitter's face. Lincoln found the process of letting wet plaster dry on his face, followed by a skin-stretching removal process, "anything but agreeable." When Volk was unable to remove the mask, Lincoln motioned that he would pull it off. He tugged so hard that it finally came off with hanks of hair from Lincoln's temples and tears in his eyes.

Volk used the cast to create a carved bust of Lincoln and later a full-length statue of the president. In 1886 a group of artists and intellectuals who wished to see Lincoln's memory preserved commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a prominent American sculptor, to produce bronze replicas based on the earlier plaster castings. In offering a set to the Smithsonian, the group asked that they be treated not "as mere curiosities" but rather as "most valuable objects." In 1886 sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens cast a bronze bust of Lincoln from Volk's life mask and presented it to the Smithsonian Institution.

In February 1886, a group of three men organized a plan to purchase the casts of both Lincoln's face and hands (for a cast of the right hand, see previous lot) and present them to the National Museum in Washington, D.C. (now the Smithsonian Institution). Allen Thorndyker was one of 33 men who subscribed to the plan, and for his donation of $85, he received bronze versions of the casts, which were delivered to him in May 1886. The original plaster casts were presented to the National Museum in 1888.