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Dear Fellow Lincolnists: In all my years as a student of Abraham Lincoln I have never found anything so moving and so compelling as Albert Kaplan's discovery of President Lincoln's earliest image. I did not need the research to convince me of its authenticity! One only needs to look at the 1841 picture next to the 1861 picture to know that they are the same man separated by 20-years time. But, indeed, the research is impeccable, scholarly, and proof-positive that the image is Lincoln. Never has so much been shown as to the probability of the sitter for a picture. It is my fondest wish that Mr. Kaplan's photograph be acquired by a worthy individual who can reward him for all his diligence over the past two decades, and help elevate Mr. Kaplan to a position of national importance that he so richly deserves! (Submitted by Stan Scott, Fredericksburg, Virginia)
"Those who see it note the sadness of the eyes. I have no doubt the likeness is genuine. My guess is that the date is close to the time of despondency, possibly 1842." Professor D. Elton Trueblood, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, author of "Abraham Lincoln, Theologian of American Anguish". (Personal letter dated September 1, 1977)
I would just like to say that your web-site regarding the early portrait (daguerreotype) of Abraham Lincoln and the investigation into its authenticity, is absolutely fascinating and has surely added an important piece of primary evidence to the American history books forever. One of the most intelligent and compelling web-pages I have ever seen. (Submitted by David Saunders, London, England)
I have been researching Lincoln's physical appearance as a young man (late 1830s - mid 1840s). I am particularly fascinated with the uniqueness of his facial features as so well detailed in Dr. Kempf's 1965 report on Lincoln's physical constitution (the ptosis of his eyes, his distinct philtral columns, cupid's bow and chin to name just a few).
I have found this website to be a comprehensive and in-depth source of information for my research. My initial examination of the Kaplan daguerreotype in comparison to other documented Lincoln portraits, including the circa 1848 Meserve #1, left me skeptical of it's authenticity. However, after studying Dr. Claude Frechette's detailed analysis; Mr. Grant Romer's examination report of the Kaplan daguerreotype; my personal consultation with noted Lincoln authorities on this subject along with my own independent studies, I am 100% certain that the Kaplan is indeed the earliest daguerreotype of our 16th President. I am also convinced that any person who takes the time to evaluate the evidence can arrive at no other conclusion. (Submitted by Betsy Mathisen, Verona, New York.)
The portrait identified as "Meserve #1" may be transposed. That is, Dr. Frechette claims to have used this portrait because it shows the left side of Lincoln's face, like the newly discovered daguerreotype. Looking at a picture of the original portrait on the Library of Congress website, it is clear that the portrait is of Lincoln's right side. For me, this throws into question the entire analysis, unless perhaps the Library of Congress website transposed it's photo. Would you please clarify this for me? Thank you. (Submitted by M. Sharp)
You have brought up an important point. Meserve #1 and the Kaplan daguerreotype are both laterally inverted, that is, mirror images of the original subject. The negative needs to be "flipped" in the printing process to produce the life image of modern photography. The Library of Congress website shows exactly what you would see if you held the Meserve #1 daguerreotype in your hand (the inverse of the life image). On the Portrait of Lincoln website both Meserve #1 and the Kaplan have been flipped so that the viewer sees the life image.
There are two details that raise concerns about your image being of Lincoln. First is the position of the ear relative to other facial features and the jaw line. Your image, I believe, shows the ear lobe placed lower relative to facial features such as the nose and closer to the place where the jaw line curves up. The two other known Lincoln portraits show the ear lobe higher. I doubt that aging could account for the difference. Second, there appears to be no hint of Lincoln's famous mole near his upper lip in your image, but that may be a limitation of just analyzing the images. Overall, however, I find your image analysis truly interesting. (Submitted by S. McGurk)
The first point you raise was a centerpiece of interest on the part of three distinguished American forensic scientists: Joseph P. Polski of the St. Paul Police Department, St. Paul, Minnesota; Curtis M. Shane, U. S. Naval Investigative Service, Norfolk, Virginia; and David L. Grieve, Editor of the “Journal of Forensic Identification”, Carbondale, Illinois. These three gentlemen examined the daguerreotype on the occasion of the 1994 International Association of Identification press conference at the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois. After the conference, and the audience departed, they removed it from the display case, passed it between themselves, and as I recall, employed a loupe to better see the objects of their attention. Several months later Vol. 44, Issue No. 5 (September/October 1994) of the "Journal of Forensic Identification," was published, and included the following statement which appeared on page 561:
“President Polski, Board of Directors Chair Shane, and Editor Grieve were given the opportunity to inspect the item personally. The plate is in excellent condition and reveals remarkable detail, including evidence that the high shirt collar covers part of the individual’s jaw line thereby distorting the appearance of the ear’s position on the head.”
I recall taking Dr. Frechette to the vault of my bank on one of his previous visits to the United States. There I brought out the daguerreotype for his examination. He too used a loupe magnifier. His remarks about the shirt collar covering the jaw line were essentially identical to the Journal statement.
You wrote about Lincoln’s prominent right mole, of which..."there appears to be no hint".... If you would have one of the photographic prints made by Michael Hager of Museum Photographics I am confident that you would be able to see a faint dark spot in exactly the right place. As I recall, Dr. Frechette was able to see it a little more clearly on the plate than the print. He was also able to more clearly identify one or two other points of identification which had interested him.
The electronic reproduction that you have seen is almost certainly not as detailed as the photographic print, and there are subtle details to be seen on the actual daguerreotype that can only be seen thereon.
If you will let me know your address I will be pleased to send you one of the prints.
As a reporter who has often covered the Police beat I was impressed by your analysis but one thing troubles me - not only do the eye areas look radically different in portraits only a few years apart, but the nose is completely different - try this yourself - block off most portions of the known Lincoln portrait circa 1848 and the alleged earlier portrait except for the eye and nose areas and ask yourself objectively if they are of the same person - it just doesn't match! (Submitted by D. Stephenson)
There certainly are discrepancies between the Kaplan daguerreotype and Meserve # 1. In the 1944 edition of "The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln" by Frederick Hill Meserve we read Mr. Meserve's statement concerning the origin of this daguerreotype. "Mr. Robert Todd Lincoln, who owned it, stated to the present writer that he believed it was made in Washington in 1848, when his father was a Representative in Congress." My understanding of the circumstances is that all the members of the House of Representatives were asked to sit for a daguerreotypist who set up his apparatus at the Capital. If I am not mistaken, this is also the understanding of the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington. It is a poorly made daguerreotype, lacking both technically and artistically. Moreover, it has become scratched and faded.
Grant Romer of the George Eastman House says, "Distortion is inherent in photography". "Furthermore", he says, "photographs are a reflection of reality, not reality." Photographs in all their forms are a reflection of reality, subject to the vicissitudes of the reflection. Early photography may be especially subject to these vicissitudes.
Interestingly, both before and after it was known that the daguerreotype had been in the possession of Robert Todd Lincoln, the genuineness of Meserve #1 was doubted by some of the leading Lincoln scholars. Let me quote from the October 3, 1955 issue of "Lincoln Lore". The writer is the distinguished dean of Lincoln scholars, Doctor Louis A. Warren, who died in the 1980s at close to 100 years of age.
"One is deeply impressed by the marked contrast between the portraits of Abraham Lincoln as a nominee for the Presidency in 1860 and those taken just before his death in 1865. It appears as if twenty five years had elapsed in the interval instead of five. Of course the growing of a beard contributed somewhat to this incredible change. However, a transformation almost as striking is revealed in the photograph made of Lincoln as a Congressman elect in 1846 or 1847 and those taken ten years later. During that decade Lincoln's appearance changed so much that many prominent Lincoln students have denied that the earlier daguerreotype is authentic.The controversy over the genuineness of the photograph did not arise until about 1925 and strange to say the earliest criticisms came out of Springfield, Illinois. Albert J. Beveridge was in the city in 1925 when a group of Lincoln students had come together at the Leland Hotel. According to one of the experts on Lincoln pictures, Beveridge "scoffed at the idea" that the portrait "was really a daguerreotype of Lincoln". He was supported in this contention by Jacob C. Thompson and other local Lincoln authorities. Apparently William Patterson, a miniature painter of Chicago who was then doing a series of studies of Lincoln on ivory, supported the Beveridge viewpoint and commented: "Seemingly it is a picture of some other man". The "Illinois State Journal" published a broadside setting forth these testimonials. The only one present to defend the genuineness of the photograph was Herbert Wells Fay. The editor of Lincoln Lore was also drawn into the controversy by correspondence and his comments supporting Mr. Fay's position were published in John E. Vaughn's column in the "State Journal".
There are over 100 known Lincoln images. The forensic identification scientist will want to examine each. While one or two images may reveal a great deal of information, I think you will agree that all the evidence needs to be examined.
For this purpose you will need to examine known photographs of Lincoln. The best Lincoln picture book is the 1979 Viking Press publication, "The Face of Lincoln," by James Mellon.
Hitherto, the 1848 daguerreotype you refer to, Meserve #1, was the earliest known image of Lincoln. To the forensic scientist searching for hallmarks of facial identification Meserve #1 provides little if any value. However, it provides very important forensic evidence of another nature--Lincoln's suitcoat, which may be the very same suitcoat worn in the Kaplan image.
I am curious if you sell prints of the Lincoln portrait. Thank you.
David Nir, New York City
I have a few very high quality prints made by the George Eastman House Museum lab technicians, 11 by 14 inches. Please click here for full details.
Question by Kaplan to Nir:
According to the UPS Tracking Service you received the print. Are you satisfied with it?
ANSWER by Mr. Nir:
Thanks for writing. I am quite satisfied with the print and am now deciding how best to frame it.
Rejecting the Cornerstone of the Temple - 6/25/2015
A close friend of mine suggested that it might be a good idea if I wrote, for the website, something about how the Lincoln "scholarship" community, has, with but a single exception, scoffed at the Lincoln daguerreotype image, emphatically declaring that it is not of Lincoln. Every living Lincoln "scholar" scoffs at the image. That fact defines them, and there is nothing more to be added. However, several especially revealing incidents have, over the years occurred, and I will now write a few words about those experiences.
In 1977 or 1978 I spoke on the telephone with Stephen Lorant, considered by some to be the father of photo-journalism. His approximate words were, "You mean to tell me that you walked into an antique shop in New York City, and for $27 bought a daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln?" I replied, "Yes, exactly." He then said, before abruptly hanging up, "That is impossible."
There have been three more instances of a similar nature, all involving supposedly knowledgeable people, one being the head of Christie's; another the Editor-in-Chief of Life-Time Corporation; and the head of the photographs department at Sotheby's.
The Christie's CEO examined the daguerreotype, (which I brought with me), and declared, "This is not Abraham Lincoln, and I speak as an expert."
I telephoned the Time-Life man, Mr. Kunhardt, to whom I sent a photographic print of the daguerreotype, (he the grandson of Frederick Hill Meserve). When I introduced myself, he grunted, and slammed down the phone.
And, lastly, I telephoned the head of Sotheby's photographs department to whom I sent a photographic print of the Lincoln daguerreotype. She refused to speak with me.