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Detailed prints up for sale
Photographs taken for presidential campaign in 1860

Just in time for Abraham Lincoln's birthday Feb. 12, the Illinois State Historical Society is offering for sale two Lincoln portrait prints of unusually high quality and detail.

"They're probably the most detailed photographs of Abraham Lincoln anybody has ever seen," said Tom Teague, director of the state historical society. "They're both real stunners. ... The detail is just amazing."

The two photos - one a profile and the other showing three-quarters of Lincoln's face - were taken by Chicago photographer Alexander Hesler on June 3, 1860, for use in Lincoln's presidential campaign. Hesler made the original photos on 8-by-10-inch glass plates.

Later, about the time Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Hesler or an assistant made at least one full-size glass positive copy of each of the negatives as a precaution against loss or breakage.

The positives were later purchased by Lincoln collector King Hostick, who left them to the state historical society when he died in 1993. At the time, Illinois state historian Tom Schwartz, then curator of the Lincoln collection at the ISHS, said the plates were "very significant items."

The two photos show a "youthful, determined politician; he's really statesman-like," Schwartz said. "After he became president, you begin to see the wear of the office in his face. He became much more haggard."

Teague said the images are perhaps "the most human-looking" portraits of Lincoln he's seen.

Schwartz said in 1993 that the plates are significant in part because they "are the sharpest, clearest surviving images of the two photos." Most existing pictures are "copies of copies of copies," he said, and lack clarity.

The original glass negatives are owned by the Smithsonian Institution, but they were broken at some point and are useless for making quality prints. The glass positives owned by the State Historical Society are the only set known to exist.

Teague said the prints, which exhibit great detail in part because of the large size of the negative, are made on archival-quality "100-year paper with 100-year ink," so they should easily outlast anyone who buys a set. The positives were scanned into a computer file to make the prints, he said.

The prints come in a handcrafted frame of native Illinois walnut, and unframed, matted prints may be available at a later date.

The cost of the framed prints is $250 each, plus tax where applicable, plus $45 shipping and handling. Buyers may purchase both poses, or they may choose to buy a single portrait.

The prints can be seen at the ISHS offices at 2101/2 S. Sixth St.

Orders can be sent to the Illinois State Historical Society, 2101/2 S. Sixth St., Springfield, IL 62701. Checks, money orders and Visa or MasterCard may be used. When using a credit card, include the card's number and expiration date.

Doug Pokorski can be reached at 788-1539 or doug.pokorski@sj-r.com.

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