Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Hand of Lincoln

Sheet of nineteen Abraham Lincoln signatures on White House stationary from 1861
We had the distinct pleasure of welcoming the administrative unit from the Thayer School of Engineering to Special Collections this week. In the process of looking for materials that might be of interest to them, we discovered a thrilling item that we hadn't previously realized was in the stacks: nineteen original signatures by Abraham Lincoln. The autographs are written consecutively on a sheet of stationery from the "Executive Mansion" in Washington, D.C., and date from December 20th, 1861. At the top of the page is written the statement, "I certify that the signatures written below are genuine. John Hay."

John Milton Hay served as one of Lincoln's private secretaries and personal assistants for the entirety of his presidency, and it is likely that this sheet of signatures was generated at Hay's request to fill a high demand for the president's signature by autograph-hunters. Autograph collecting was a hugely popular pursuit during the 19th century; famous people in particular were asked for their signature ad nauseam. John Hay not only had the distinction of serving as a private secretary to Abraham Lincoln until the bitter end. He also served under President Garfield as Assistant Secretary of State and under both President McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt as Secretary of State. This career statesman's long tenure in the corridors of power finally ended in the summer of 1904, when he died in Newbury, New Hampshire.

To see Abraham Lincoln's signature nineteen times in a row, come to Special Collections and ask for Codex 002138.