Abraham Lincoln in Letters, Photographs & More

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With the 2016 US presidential election around the corner, Sotheby’s recalls one of the nation’s most beloved and memorable leaders: Abraham Lincoln. Known as the Great Emancipator, his progressive policies shaped modern America, his eloquent speeches continue to inspire, and his life story remains a subject of fascination. An American icon, Lincoln is celebrated in music and art, and his likeness was captured in sculptures and photographs. On 7 October, Sotheby’s Photographs will offer a rare salt print of The First Inaugural of Abraham Lincoln, 4 March 1861. Click ahead to see this photo as well as letters written in Lincoln's hand and other fascinating objects sold at Sotheby’s.  –Stephanie Sporn  

7 October | New York

Abraham Lincoln in Letters, Photographs & More

  • An extremely rare and historically important photograph of ‘The First Inaugural of Abraham Lincoln, 4 March 1861.’ Estimate $20,000–30,000. To be offered in Photographs at Sotheby’s New York on 7 October.
    When Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States, seven States had seceded from the Union, and the country was on the brink of divide. This image  is a landmark in the history of photography and among the most impressive examples of early documentary photography. Captured with remarkable clarity are the swelling crowds of thousands gathered to witness the inauguration. The atmosphere in Washington was tense as rumors swirled of a plotted assassination, and Lincoln would have stood with other officials under the wooden portico erected for safety. Extant prints of this historic image are scarce.  

  • The Kennedy-Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation. Sold for $3,778,500.
    In 2012, Sotheby’s New York had the privilege of selling Robert F. Kennedy's copy of the “Authorized Edition” of the Emancipation Proclamation , one of forty-eight copies printed, all signed by President Abraham Lincoln, to benefit the Great Central Fair for the Sanitary Commission in 1864. Lincoln said of the Emancipation Proclamation, “If my name goes down in history, it will be for this act.” This copy of the document inextricably links the Lincoln administration's movement toward the abolition of slavery with the Kennedy administration's efforts a century later to pass and enforce Civil Rights legislation. 

  • Banksy, Abe Lincoln. Sold for $68,500.
    This 2008 depiction of Lincoln by Banksy sold for more than double its high estimate in Sotheby's March 2011 Contemporary Art sale in New York. 

  • Abraham Lincoln, as sixteenth President, An Extremely Rare Manuscript Copy of The Thirteenth Amendment to The United States Constitution, signed and endorsed by Abraham Lincoln. Sold for $2,410,000.
    The language of the Thirteenth Amendment is as powerful and memorable as the President who signed it. In spring 2016, Sotheby’s also sold not only a copy of the Thirteenth Amendment but also another copy of the Emancipation Proclamation , which sold for $2,170,000. In addition to this Emancipation Proclamation, seven other copies are currently known in private hands. 

  • A bentwood hickory armchair from the James S. Copley Library. Sold for $4,688.
    Lincoln purportedly settled into this chair , during his frequent visits to the office of Simeon Francis, editor of The Sangamon Journal in Springfield, Illinois. “The journal paper was always my friend and, of course, its editors the same,” remarked Lincoln in 1864. It is also alleged that Lincoln learned of his nomination for the Presidency while occupying this chair. 

  • David Hockney, Myself and Abraham Lincoln. Sold for £15,000 ($23,597).
    From the estate of the late Maurice Cooke, this charcoal and chalk work was executed by Hockney in 1961. 

  • Alexander Gardner, Portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Sold for $98,500.
    Gardner took this portrait of Lincoln on 8 November 1863, just eleven days before the President delivered the Gettysburg Address. This photograph is one of only a handful of large-format ‘Imperial’ prints extant of this striking portrait. No other photographer took Lincoln's likeness as many times as Gardner. 

  • Ida M. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1900. Sold for $16,250.
    This limited edition set is number 28 of 75 copies of the Special Illustrators' Edition, extra-illustrated with the insertion of about 300 portraits, views, facsimiles, manuscripts, clipped signatures, and ephemera, including signatures or items signed by Ulysses S. Grant, William H. Seward, Charles Sumner, Horace Greeley, Stephen A. Douglas, Henry W. Longfellow, and William Cullan Bryant. 

  • Aaron Copland, Autograph Manuscript of Part of “A Lincoln Portrait for Speaker and Orchestra,” signed and dated. Sold for £9,375 ($15,403).
    Copland's “ Lincoln Portrait ,” of which the original first page of the short score is shown above, was by far the most often performed of his orchestral pieces. The work incorporates spoken excerpts from Lincoln's speeches, and nineteenth-century American tunes, with Copland's own preludes and accompaniments. Copland wrote: “My purpose was to draw a simple but expressive frame around the words of Lincoln himself.”  

  • Frank Pierson Richards, Abraham Lincoln. Sold for $187,500.
    From the American Folk Art Collection of Stephen and Petra Levin, this carved and painted pine standing figure was inspired by Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ monumental statue Abraham Lincoln: The Man, which depicts a thoughtful Lincoln standing in front of an elaborately carved chair, about to begin a speech. 

  • Broadside printed by New York: Geo. F. Nesbitt & Co., 1865. Sold for $62,500.
    This broadside was issued by the Washington War Department on 20 April 1865 to find Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and his accomplices. Given the US inflation rate, $100,000 would today equal more than $1 million. 

  • A good group of printed and photographic materials concerning the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Sold for $4,375.
    Reflecting the desolate fate of a nation's beloved leader, this lot includes original news stories relating to Lincoln’s assassination, as well as two original photographs of the hanging of the conspirators.  

  • Augustus Saint-Gaudens, A bronze casting after a life mask of Abraham Lincoln. Sold for $16,250.
    Sculptor Leonard Volk took the castings of Lincoln's hands at Lincoln's home in Springfield in late May or early June 1860. Lincoln had just won the Republican nomination for President, and Volk was already thinking of using these castings, in combination with his recently completed Lincoln bust, to fashion a full-length statue. That same year, Volk persuaded Lincoln to sit for a life mask—a cast taken by applying plaster directly to the sitter's face. 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 2011, Sotheby’s offered castings of Lincoln’s hands and life mask as separate lots. 

  • Abraham Lincoln, as sixteenth President, Autograph Letter Draft Signed (“A. Lincoln”), to General Ulysses S. Grant, “In the Field,” Regarding Grant's “Work” in Bringing The Civil War to an End. Sold for $575,000.
    In 2014, Sotheby's sold this important Lincoln letter , which came from a direct descendant of Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. Written just four days before Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Grant and just nine days before Lincoln’s assassination, the President gives pledges to Grant that “Nothing I have done, or probably shall do, is to delay or hinder or interfere with you in your work.” 

  • Gutzon Borglum, Maquette for Seated Lincoln. Sold for $100,000.
    This bronze work by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum, who sculpted Mount Rushmore with his son, features Lincoln beside his legendary top hat. 


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