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Posts Tagged ‘Mathew Brady photographs’

From The New York Times, June 15, 2009:

$431,000 Paid for Envelope and Its Stamp

An envelope from an 1873 letter bearing a scarce 90-cent stamp with Abraham Lincoln fetched more than $431,000 at an auction in New York City on Saturday.

The envelope, or cover, as collectors call used envelopes, was sold by Siegel Auction Galleries.

The 1873 letter bearing the scarce 90-cent Lincoln stamp

The 1873 letter bearing the scarce 90-cent Lincoln stamp

Known to collectors as the Ice House Cover, the envelope, which traveled by ship from New York to India, is the only one collectors have found still bearing the red and black stamp with Lincoln on it. Last traded publicly in 1943, then stolen and long thought to have been lost to philately, the cover was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2006 and returned, after a court battle, to the heirs of J. David Baker, its last owner.

The letter was sent from a New England ice merchant to one of his ice warehouses in Calcutta, then part of Britain’s East Indies colony. It was franked with a total of $1.12, a large sum of money in those days, which paid the two-ounce foreign letter rate.

Markings on the envelope reveal that it traveled across the Atlantic, by train through Germany and Italy, by ship to Egypt and again from Suez to Bombay, and then by train across India. Before the advent of the Universal Postal Union the next year, the sum reflected rates negotiated between the United States and Britain to encourage growing international trade. Indeed, the commercial success of sending ice from winter ponds in Massachusetts to the sweltering cities of India was part of this progress.

90-cent Lincoln stamp issued in 1869. Image used was provided by photographer Mathew Brady.

This 90-cent Lincoln stamp was issued in 1869. The image was provided by famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

Early collectors mainly sought to fill their albums with stamps that had been soaked off their envelopes, and an item like the Lincoln, issued in 1869 in a run of fewer than 50,000, would have been no exception. When, at the end of the 19th century, collectors began saving entire envelopes — on account of the fascinating tales they revealed about their trips through the world’s postal systems — it became apparent that covers with the Lincoln were no longer to be found.

In 1914, a New York collector traveling in India did come across one. He sold it to a dealer in New York for $50 or $100 — accounts vary — and by the 1960s it had been sold to Mr. Baker, a steel executive and prominent collector in Indianapolis, for $6,500.

One night in 1967, a prized group of about 250 rare covers, including the Ice House Cover, was stolen from his home. The F.B.I. found most of those covers a decade later, and Mr. Baker was able to buy them back from his insurance company. But the Ice House Cover was missing.

In early 2006, however, an elderly couple walked into a stamp shop in Chicago to ask about the value of some old envelopes they had found while cleaning the home of a deceased friend. The store owner recognized the Ice House Cover and alerted the police. After an investigation by the F.B.I. cleared the couple, the cover was returned by court order to Mr. Baker’s widow and daughter. In May, the Philatelic Foundation, a nonprofit organization in New York, examined the cover and declared it genuine.

The buyer on Saturday was Dr. Arthur K. M. Woo, who is renowned in philatelic circles for his worldwide exhibits of rare covers. He paid a total of $431,250, including buyer’s commission.

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Confederate General Robert E. Lee, seated, with 2 of his officers, photographed by Mathew Brady in April, 1865, following Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Richmond, Virginia.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee, seated, with 2 of his officers, photographed by Mathew Brady in April, 1865, following Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Richmond, Virginia.

At daylight on April 10, 1865, the firing of 500 cannons spread the news throughout Washington, D.C.,  that the War Between the States was over and the Union preserved. The cannons were so loud that they broke windows on Lafayette Square, the neighborhood around the White House. (1) “Guns are firing, bells ringing, flags flying, bands playing, men laughing, children cheering – all, all jubilant,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells. (2)

Expecting the president to make a speech, several thousand people gathered outside the White House. President Lincoln was not sure what to say as he was planning on giving a formal address the following evening.Just then, his twelve-year-old son Tad appeared at a second-floor window, waving a captured Confederate flag. It gave the president an idea. He asked the Marine Band to play a favorite tune of his, “Dixie,” the unofficial Confederate anthem.

“I have always thought ‘Dixie” one of the best tunes I ever heard,” he told the surprised crowd. “It is good to show the rebels that with us they will be free to hear it again.”

True to the promise he made in his second inaugural address, Lincoln was already trying to bind up the nation’s wounds.
 
Now let’s hear Elvis Presley sing “Dixie.”

(1) White, Ronald C. A. Lincoln. (New York: Random House, 2009)

(2) Fleming, Candace. The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. (New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2008)

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Willie Lincoln

Willie Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was deeply interested in psychic phenomena. Following the death of his eleven-year-old son, Willie, (1850-1862) of typhoid fever, Lincoln was consumed with grief. He was persuaded by wife Mary to participate in several séances held in the White House. Mary believed that professional mediums could pierce the veil between this life and the next, thus allowing her and her husband to communicate with their dead son. Once Lincoln attended a seance in which a piano lifted up and moved around the room. It was in the opinion of the mediums who worked with President Lincoln that he was definitely “the possessor of extraordinary psychic powers.” (1)

Séances became popular during and after the Civil War as Americans longed to reconnect with their many loved ones killed in the violence of the Civil War

Séances became popular in the mid-to-late 19th Century as Americans longed to reconnect with their many loved ones killed in the Civil War.

The day after his first election to the presidency in 1860, Lincoln called his good friend journalist Noah Brooks (1830-1903) into his office. He had been startled by a vision of seeing two of his faces at once in a mirror and wanted to tell Brooks about it. Brooks made a written record of the conversation, later including it in his White House memoirs, Washington in Lincoln’s Time (1895). Adapted from Brooks’ work, these are Lincoln’s words:

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Mathew Brady, February 27, 1860

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Mathew Brady, February 27, 1860

It was just after my election in 1860, when the news had been coming in thick and fast all day and there had been a great “hurrah, boys,” so that I was well tired out, and went home to rest, throwing myself down on a lounge in my chamber. Opposite where I lay was a bureau with a swinging glass upon it (and here he got up and placed furniture to illustrate the position), and looking in that glass I saw myself reflected nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again, I saw it a second time, plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler — say five shades — than the other.

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Alexander Gardner, February 5, 1865

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Alexander Gardner, February 5, 1865

I got up, and the thing melted away, and I went off, and in the excitement of the hour forgot all about it — nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang as if something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home again that night I told my wife about it, and a few days afterward I made the experiment again, when (with a laugh), sure enough! the thing came back again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was somewhat worried about it. She thought it was a “sign” that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term. 

(1) Wallenchinsky, David and Wallace, Irving. The People’s Almanac (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1975)

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