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ALPLM gains new, rare pieces
Rantoul man sells portrait, books, letters

Published Friday, October 27, 2006

A new load of Abraham Lincoln artifacts - including an extremely rare 1860 campaign biography and a previously unknown painting - are helping to complete the picture of Springfield's favorite son and the nation's 16th president.

So said Thomas Schwartz, interim director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, on Thursday as he announced the library's acquisition of several new Lincoln items.

"You have to think of it that we've got a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and yet we've only got maybe 200 of the actual pieces," Schwartz said. "Anytime that we can add those missing pieces we get a better view of what that picture is."

Many of the artifacts are from Rantoul's Kent Tucker, a 35-year collector of Lincoln memorabilia. Tucker gave the library the 1860 campaign biography by author Reuben Vose, one of only four copies known to exist.

"It's always been my wish to have the state of Illinois have first refusal on all my items because it's not necessarily the native state, but the home state, of Lincoln," said Tucker, who was exposed to Lincoln history as a child through family connections in Kentucky and Illinois.

The library also purchased the following items from Tucker:

  • A portrait of Lincoln by artist George Peter Alexander Healy, presumably from life. Healy visited Washington, D.C., and the White House during the Civil War. The portrait is signed by Healy but not dated, Schwartz said.

  • Forty-five letters from Mary Harlan Lincoln, wife of Robert Todd Lincoln, and Mary Lincoln Isham, the daughter of Mary and Robert Lincoln.

  • Four typescripts of books by Lincoln biographer William E. Barton, which include Barton's notes and corrections in the margins.

    "It's a good home for them," Tucker said of the library. "The manuscripts are one of a kind, the Vose is very limited, the Healy is one-of-a-kind, as far as being an unknown. And the letters are probably one of the largest caches of family letters from the Robert Lincoln family."

    In addition, the museum purchased from a dealer a letter written by Robert Todd Lincoln about the impending death of his son, Abraham "Jack" Lincoln II, who was dying of blood poisoning from an infected cut.

    Dated Jan. 13, 1890, the letter was written to Henry White, secretary of the American Embassy in London and offers the first known indication that there was no cure for Jack's illness. Jack died on March 5, 1890, in London, where his father was serving as minister to the Court of St. James.

    The Vose biography has been appraised at $10,000, Schwartz said. The library paid about $30,000 for the remaining items.

    Schwartz thinks the dozens of letters in particular will be of value to researchers.

    "The letters humanize the family and also take the story beyond (Abraham) Lincoln and into the later generations," he said. "Those are the people who are probably the most obscure to us, and yet they lived very interesting lives themselves."

    Daniel Pike can be reached at 788-1532 or

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