Cowan’s to Auction Abraham Lincoln Family Artifacts

Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati, Ohio, announces the June 11, 2010 auction of an extraordinary group of Abraham Lincoln family artifacts that illustrate important facets of the family’s history.

A collection of 24 lots of jewelry, White House china, rare autographs and other ephemera that passed through the Lincoln line to the last male descendent, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, will hit the auction block, along with an archive detailing Mary Todd Lincoln’s 1875 arrest and incarceration for insanity.

Highlights of the Lincoln family heirlooms, include a rare photograph (est. $15/20,000) and check signed by Abraham Lincoln (est. $10/15,000), two pieces of the official Lincoln White House china (est. $5/7,000 and $8/10,000), and a trove of family jewelry ranging in value from a few hundred dollars to $14,000. Several of the items – including a black parasol, fan and veil, belonging to Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln, are detailed on an inventory made at the time of their discovery in 1975 at Hildene, the Vermont estate of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving of the four children of Mary and Abraham Lincoln.

Mary Lincoln was known to be enamored of jewelry, and among the group is a 10ct diamond necklace (est. $12/14,000), a spectacular diamond and amethyst bracelet (est. $6/8000) and a Swiss watch – engraved “Jack”, the nickname of Lincoln’s grandson Abraham Lincoln II (est. $1500/2500).

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith (1904-1985), great grandson of President Abraham Lincoln, was the last of Lincoln’s direct descendants. At Beckwith’s death in 1985, the property offered in the June auction passed to his third wife, Margaret Fristoe (1901-2009). Fristoe’s sole heir consigned the property for auction.

Lincoln scholar Jason Emerson, author of The Madness of Mary Lincoln (Southern Illinois University Press, 2007) found the items to be “incomparably exciting” and commented, “This may in fact, be one of the last great caches of verified Lincoln family materials not currently housed in a museum.”

In addition to the Beckwith cache, An archive of documents pertaining to the 1875 insanity hearing and ultimate commitment of Mary Todd Lincoln into Bellevue Place, a private asylum in Batavia, Illinois, will be offered in the same auction. The archive is estimated to fetch $8/10,000.

The archive was found in the 1930s by the family of the second owners of Bellevue Place, and have been carefully preserved by their Louisville, Kentucky descendants since then.

Containing the commitment decree, the warrant for Mary Todd Lincoln’s arrest, and the ledger book signing her in to Bellevue, the archive serves as a brief, but relatively complete, paper trail of an embarrassing blemish in the Lincoln family saga.

Mary’s only living son, Robert Todd Lincoln, initiated Mary’s commitment and confinement to Bellevue in May, 1875, claiming that she was squandering her stipend and savings and was increasingly likely to take her own life. Mary decried her confinement, accusing Robert of trying to gain access to her money. She was released in September after after just four months at Bellevue. Just over a year after her arrest, Mary was determined to be competent to control her finances, and Robert was removed as conservator. She died in 1882 without ever healing the rift with her son.

The importance of this small clutch of papers is hard to understate. In the wake of the embarrassing incident, Robert ordered all correspondence and records related to this period in his mother’s life destroyed. For the official legal documents to have survived is remarkable.

Emerson commented, “At a time when Lincoln scholars believed that all materials related to this episode had been found, the appearance of these items is certainly a revelation.”

The full catalogue, complete with descriptions and photographs, is available online at

About Cowan’s Auctions, Inc.

As one of the nation’s leading auction houses with sales approaching $20 million, Cowan’s has been helping individuals and institutions build important collections for more than a decade. The company’s four divisions of American History, American Indian and Western Art, American and European Fine and Decorative Art, and Historic Firearms & Early Militaria hold semi-annual cataloged sales that routinely set records for rare offerings.

Through its extensive mailing list of more than 33,000 collectors, dealers and institutional clients, each Cowan’s auction typically attracts more than 1,000 bidders from across the globe. To learn more about Cowan’s visit our website at