Collectors as Caretakers of History

A remarkable Lincoln document that Illinois’ Governor and First Lady recently donated to the Lincoln Presidential Library was once in the private collection of Raab Collection founder Steven Raab


Many collectors, particularly those of historical documents and artifacts, think of themselves as temporary caretakers of these pieces of history. For a time, be it a few years or a few decades, collectors safeguard pieces of history until the time is right to let another collector, or an institution, take the baton.

Last month, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and First Lady MK Pritzker donated to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum a key Civil War document that had, in the 1990s and early 2000s, been in the personal collection of Raab Collection founder Steven Raab. 

Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

The document titled “Order to Affix the Seal of the United States to a Proclamation of a Blockade” was signed by Abraham Lincoln on April 19, 1861, in the wake of the firing on Fort Sumter. The order put into effect a blockade of Southern ports, thus preventing the Confederacy from importing necessities or exporting cotton for profit. This document “catches Lincoln in the moment of making that decision, as he authorizes Secretary of State William Seward to affix the presidential seal to the proclamation,” writes Dr. Christian McWhirter, a historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.      

Steven Raab bought the document in 1990 from autograph dealer Catherine Barnes at a book fair. “I saw its importance and bought it on the spot,” Raab recalled. “As for what it meant to me, it was the essence of the Civil War. Nothing could be more exciting. Just holding it in my hand was a thrill.” 

The document remained with Steven for about two decades before its sale to a collector. 

Now the document has reached a new home. It is currently on display in the Lincoln Library & Museum’s Treasures Gallery until February 2025.

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