Note: This entry was updated on January 17, 2020.
Authentic Abraham Lincoln autographs are hard to find. And when one surfaces, it can often fetch a steep price at auction. These can vary from an Abraham Lincoln autographed letter on Executive Mansion stationary to signed military appointments to small pieces of clipped paper bearing just the signature of the nation’s 16th U.S. president. Or they come by way of rare, signed “Carte de Visite” (CDV) portrait photos taken of Lincoln during his presidency. Such is the case when the hammer drops on January 16, 2020, at University Archives in Westport, CT, for a signed CDV photo of Lincoln that measures 3.275” wide by 4” tall. Estimated to sell for upwards of $100,000, it’s currently at $40,000 after 13 bids with just two days remaining in the online auction. (The Lincoln-signed CDV wound up selling for $75,000, which included a 25% buyer’s premium.)
The rare piece of historical memorabilia was discovered within the pages of an old photo album that belonged to Hattie Rosson, the wife of Colonel Benjamin F. Rosson who served under Lincoln and defended parts of Washington, D.C., during the American Civil War. For his brave actions in leading the 147th Ohio Infantry Regiment during their 100 days of garrison duty, Rosson was personally thanked by Lincoln and received the signed CDV on August 23, 1864. The aged album was found by an astute consignor recently inside a “small and out of the way” antique store, according to University Archives Founder John Reznikoff. The autographed CDV was removed from the album for formal authenticating, grading and encapsulating by PSA.
WHAT’S IT WORTH?
“It could bring a fortune,” said Reznikoff, a recognized expert in assessing historical documents, handwriting and autographs. After confirming its authenticity himself, Reznikoff sent the signed CDV in to PSA on behalf of the consignor for further examination. The item – signed “A. Lincoln” in bold, dark ink – was determined to be not only genuine but incredibly rare.
Kevin Keating, PSA’s principal autograph authenticator, had this to say about the historic find: “Lincoln’s undeniable place in history as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – of all U.S. presidents continues to make his autograph extremely collectible. Fortunately, collectors can find a wide range of Lincoln material constantly circulating within the marketplace to include cuts, checks, military appointments, soldier pardons, letters, legal briefs, and other documents.
“However, owing to the very short overlap of his life and the advent of photography, there are only a scarce number of Lincoln-signed images known to exist. The condition of this pristine example is especially exceptional as it boasts a Lincoln signature that we graded as a Gem Mint 10.”
WHO TOOK THE PIC?
The photographer was Alexander Gardner. As the story goes, Lincoln promised to be Gardner’s first sitter on August 9, 1863, and chose a Sunday to avoid “curiosity seekers and other seekers.” History shows that Gardner took at least six photographs during the session, all seated, at his studio in Washington, D.C. In the CDV that’s currently up for auction, Lincoln holds his eyeglasses in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
Seven other auction sales offering Lincoln-signed CDVs have garnered prices ranging from $38,775 in 2010 to all the way up to $175,000 in 2016. Reznikoff believes there is no limit for this presidential offering.
“We feel the market will set itself for this signed Lincoln, which is the best of its kind,” he said. “It was given to a soldier who defended Washington, D.C., during the Civil War!
“It just goes to show there are still treasures out there awaiting discovery.”