This Month’s Discoveries at Raab: Lincoln, Churchill, and Adams

A Partial List of Documents Discovered by Raab this Month that have Added to the Historical Record and Gathered International Attention


In the past several weeks, The Raab Collection unveiled three major historical documents that had been tucked away in private collections for decades, if not centuries: a Civil War letter written by Abraham Lincoln; a WWII-era photograph signed by both Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt; and an autograph album containing marriage advice by John Adams.

Wall Street Journal coverage of Lincoln discovery
The Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2023

For the three pieces highlighted here, experts at Raab worked with descendants of the original owners to bring these previously unknown historical documents to light. Just as many of us have heirlooms stowed in attics or basements, so do the relatives, heirs, and early collectors of famous historical figures.

Lincoln’s Unpublished Civil War-Era Letter

Uncovering an unpublished, previously unknown letter written by Abraham Lincoln is rare. On top of that, this one, from 1861, shows Lincoln at work as a wartime president, strategizing with civil engineer Charles Ellet, Jr. over the creation of a corps of civilian engineers.

Abraham Lincoln autograph letter signed 1861

Part of an ongoing correspondence between Lincoln and Ellet–some of which resides at the Library of Congress–the letter fills in a part of the historical record that had been missing. The content, regarding the need for engineers to survey terrain, disrupt Confederate supply chains, and defend the city of Washington, reveals some of the political tensions around such a proposal, with at least one general refusing to consider it, even at the president’s behest. In a private collection for at least a century, this letter had never before been published or examined by scholars.

The handwritten letter’s immediate sale to a private collector for $85,000 made headlines in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Guardian, Fox News, and elsewhere. 

New York Times coverage of Lincoln discovery
The New York Times, July 11, 2023

Signed by Churchill and Roosevelt

Earlier this year, descendants of British steel worker and later member of Parliament John Jones contacted us about a photograph they had found amongst their ancestor’s papers. It is an intriguing piece: a large photo of Jones’ family that he carried with him to America in 1943 during a unity mission and conference, where the likes of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and many others added their autographs, making it a very personal memento of an international wartime event.

This discovery received global media attention during our Winston Churchill Week.

John Adams’ Marriage Advice 

Just before the Fourth of July we announced the discovery and sale of a 200-year-old “Friendship album” containing marriage advice given by John Adams to his young Quincy, Massachusetts, neighbor.

John Adams Autograph in Album 1824

Until now, this message signed by Adams just two years before his death had never been seen by anyone outside of this family. The extraordinary artifact had been passed down through Ellen Brackett’s family continuously since its original owner and creator died in 1845. Additionally, Adams’ autograph is the earliest presidential signature in an album that public records show having reached the market.  

Several news outlets covered the sale of this remarkable album, notably Fox Business and The Washington Times, and from publications as far as India.

Discover More

Making historical discoveries is a thrilling part of the work we do, and one that Nathan Raab chronicled in his book, The Hunt for History

To keep up to date on Raab’s most recent finds, check out our stories and related videos

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