Two top dealers in American historic documents, Seth Kaller, Inc. and University Archives, debuted The Unique Abraham Lincoln, an collection of iconic Lincoln documents, at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair on April 7, 2011. Offered at $1,650,000, the collection contains a number of important and fascinating Lincoln pieces, highlighted by:
- A unique leaf from Lincoln’s homemade Sum Book, his earliest surviving manuscript. Here, as a boy, Lincoln teaches himself the rules of compound interest;
- Two unique pages from Lincoln’s final draft of his last State of the Union message, written less than five months before his assassination;
- The Lincoln Family copy of his inaugural addresses, messages to Congress, Emancipation Proclamation, and other key Lincoln documents.
“Lincoln’s writing has long been the most sought after of any president,” said Seth Kaller, “and iconic Lincoln items are especially coveted. Despite the financial crisis, new auction records were set for Lincoln documents in each of the last three years.” Kaller called this collection “the most important Lincoln group I have ever had the privilege of offering at one time.” Kaller has handled the manuscript of Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech, signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, and other notable Lincoln documents.
Written by Lincoln as a teenager, his Sum Book is a powerful testament to the roots of the future president’s greatness: tenacious drive, unremitting enterprise, and a limitless thirst for knowledge. Lincoln’s handwritten “Compound Interest” calculations cover both sides of the tattered leaf.
“We don’t usually think about Lincoln’s financial side,” Kaller points out. “But these compound interest exercises taught him a fundamental principal of investment. This was critical to Lincoln’s later success in confronting the economic complexities of the Civil War.”
Life in frontier Indiana was primitive and public education virtually nonexistent when young Abe created the Sum Book to teach himself math and finance in 1824-1826. His stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, later recalled that when paper was unavailable, Lincoln would write his calculations on a board. When that became too black, “he would shave it off with a drawing knife and go on again.” Lincoln eventually put together his Sum Book from paper obtained by cousin Dennis Hanks. It was preserved by Sarah and discovered after the war by William Herndon, his biographer and former law partner. The Library of Congress considers its leaf a rare and significant “American Treasure.”
Of the eleven known Lincoln Sum Book leaves (paper with writing on both sides), nine are now in museum and library collections. A tenth, in private hands, is not expected to ever return to the market. This leaf hasn’t been offered since 1953, and may be the last opportunity for a collector to acquire a document from Lincoln’s youth.
The two pages capture the heart of Lincoln’s December 6, 1864 Annual Message to Congress: that the Union will win the war and America will emerge a stronger nation. Lincoln was assassinated less than five months later, just short of seeing his vision realized.
Only a portion of Lincoln’s autograph manuscript is believed to have been saved by the printer. Just one other complete page (at Brown University) and five fragmented pages (most in institutions) are known to survive. These two pages descended in the family of William Dole, Lincoln’s commissioner of Indian Affairs, before being separated in the 1940s – 1950s. They are now reunited after more than half a century.
“The text of Lincoln’s message is readily available,” Kaller noted, “but these original manuscripts do more than just convey the text. In Lincoln’s cutting and pasting a paragraph he had written earlier, we see him taking an idea and using it where it would have the greatest effect. This captures Lincoln holding these pages, in the act of creation.”
This unique book contains the preliminary and final Emancipation Proclamations, and Lincoln’s inaugural addresses and annual messages to Congress, including his 1864 State of the Union address, as well as other key presidential documents.
These messages were gathered together and specially bound after Lincoln’s second inauguration. The president may have given them directly to his son. The book is signed by Robert Todd Lincoln, who identifies the contents as “All Messages & Inaug. Addresses ‘Letters & Proclamations.’” It was handed down through the Lincoln family, until the 1980s, to the last direct descendant, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith.
Several of the printings contained in the book are rare first editions, and bound together they are unique. Only one similar book has been identified: a copy owned by Lincoln secretary John Hay, now in the John Hay Library at Brown University. But the Lincoln family copy contains four titles the Hay copy lacks: the 1863 and 1864 annual messages, the “Arrangements” for the second inauguration, and the second inaugural address (“With malice toward none; with charity for all…”), one of the most valuable and sought-after Lincoln imprints.