Raab in Forbes: Abraham Lincoln

The below piece was first published on Nathan Raab's blog on Forbes at http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanraab/2015/08/05/this-presidential-candidate-would-send-you-his-autograph-by-mail/.

This Republican Presidential Candidate Would Send You His Autograph By Mail

In May of 1860, a lesser known politician from Springfield, Illinois, a small town lawyer with rural roots, and one-time Congressman, won the Republican nomination for the Presidency.   The man?  Abraham Lincoln.  He was inundated with letters from around the country from supporters, all of whom wanted a piece of the future President.  Their request?  Simple.  They wanted his autograph.  Surely, he was too busy to respond.  Most of these must have ended up in the trash pile, lost to history.  In fact, the opposite is the case: he obliged, and some of these survive.

“You request my autograph, and here it is,” he wrote a supporter on May 30, 1860, in a letter that was passed down in the family and that our firm, The Raab Collection, sold years ago.

In fact, Lincoln was generous with the gift of his response, and these letters do reach the market .  Some reveal campaign strategy, such as a letter from September 1860 to a Pennsylvania ally, just a couple months before the general election.  “Inclosed I send you a copy of a letter from New-York, stating a matter which, if true, deeply concerns our interests in Pennsylvania. The writer does not wish to be known; but some revelations of his in a former letter have subsequently been verified.” This letter, which we sold and which told of a private fundraising meeting against his interests, is now in a private collection.

But perhaps the most revealing are the shortest, the missives he sent to the masses seeking a personal connection with him.  Sometimes he wrote and signed these letters; other times, if his schedule did not permit, a clerk in his office wrote the letter and he simply signed. But many (if not most) people who wrote him a letter received a response.

Lincoln knew that his autograph could also be used as a weapon against the political opposition. Consider this autograph request.  A local newspaper editor and supporter, Charles Fairman, wrote him in late May, “At the request of a friend – a gatherer of autographs – but a hopeless Democrat who dare not ask the favor himself, I beg the honor of receiving your autograph.”

Rather than deny a political opponent his autograph, Lincoln responded with a willingness to accommodate. On June 2, he wrote: “Dear Sir: Below is an autograph for your Democratic friend. Yours truly, A. Lincoln.”  Short. Sweet. Effective.

The process of getting a campaign autograph in the lead-up to the Lincoln Administration was personal, and one can picture future President Abraham Lincoln crouched over his writing desk in the evenings responding to Republicans, Democrats, schoolchildren, and autograph collectors.  This is a far cry from today, or even the late 20th century, when autograph seekers must generally meet the candidate in person, at an event or a book signing, and even a personal note may not have an authentic signature or comes via email.

So what do these Abraham Lincoln historical documents cost?  Brief letters like these sending his autograph generally range from $8,000 to $14,000.  Of course, letters with great content can reach 6 figures.

Follow Nathan Raab on Twitter or at www.raabcollection.com

More From the Newswire

Join Us

Stay informed about new historical documents, historical discoveries, and information for the educated collector.

Collect. Be Inspired.