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Marketplace Scratch Pad

Finding Lincoln at a flea market

Scott Jagow Aug 17, 2009

A guy buys a box of old papers at a flea market. He’s a history buff, so he’s into that kind of thing. He gets the box home and sorts through it. Lo and behold, at the bottom of that stack is an envelope with Abraham Lincoln’s signature on it. Turns out, it could be the last thing President Lincoln ever signed.

The envelope says simply: “Let this man enter with this note. April 14, 1865. A. Lincoln.”
From the Morning Journal of Northern Ohio:

“It was hard to get people to look at it,” (Bruce Steiner) said. “People can’t believe it’s real, and when I tell them I got it at a flea market, they sneer.”

Local historical societies refused to return his e-mails and phone calls, but Steiner may have the last laugh. An expert at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a preservation project at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., believes the item is authentic.

John Lupton, associate director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, said the handwriting analysis he performed on the sample isn’t an exact science.

“But there are a number of things about (Lincoln’s) signature that are very distinct,” he said. “This signature contains all the characteristics I look for. I’m pretty sure it’s genuine.”

The date helped to confirm his conclusion, Lupton said.

“That’s what throws it over the edge for me as a good document,” he said. “It’s one thing for forgers to practice his handwriting. But the numerals are almost identical to the way Lincoln was writing in April 1865.”

And April 14, 1865 was the day President Lincoln was assassinated. More:

Why did the 16th president sign this envelope on his last day, perhaps only hours before donning his stovepipe hat and climbing into a carriage for his ride to Ford’s Theatre?

“That’s the $64,000 question,” Lupton said. “I’ve talked to a few people who think it might have had something to do with getting into the White House. Lincoln had an open-door policy of letting people in to ask him questions.”

The experts say this flea market find could be worth $15,000 – $20,000. But Steiner says he has no intention of selling it.

Well, not at a flea market anyway.

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