Roger Kent, associate director for television at Western Illinois University, had a framed portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the wall. It was a picture on cardstock set in a cutout on a red matte. Across from the picture was another cutout around a signed note. Kent had had it hanging on the wall for nearly two years, after fishing it out of the university television station’s prop room where it had languished ever since the University Union Lincoln Room was redecorated and UTV received several of the Lincoln-themed artifacts for use as set decoration four or five years earlier.
Something inspired him to inspect it carefully this year, and that’s when he realized that the writing in the cutout was a note describing the enclosed as a war department document, signed A. Lincoln and dated March 20, 1862. He sent a scanned image of the note to the curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Dr. James Cornelius. Dr. Cornelius said that at first look it appeared authentic, but that of course he needed to see it in person to assess it properly.
On March 23, Kent drove 90 miles to Springfield with the portrait, where Cornelius and other curators and archivists carefully removed the document from the frame and matte. They saw then that the little note was written on the back of a document jacket that had once been folded into thirds, enclosing the document referred to in Lincoln’s note. Comparing it to other Lincoln autographs from the same period, they declared the signature authentic and estimated its market value between $15,000 and $20,000.
Naturally the curators at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum would have loved to have added it to their collection, but Roger Kent thought it should remain at Western Illinois University where it was found.
“I decided this was something that belonged in Western’s Archives, so I got in touch with Archives and Special Collections Director Jeff Hancks and Senior Library Specialist Kathy Nichols. Of course, they were more than happy to have this piece for WIU’s collection,” [Kent] added.
Nichols calls Kent’s donation “extraordinarily commendable.”
“Roger bothered to take an interest in something that probably narrowly escaped a dumpster at one time, and he salvaged a priceless piece of history. Then he took it upon himself to have the signature evaluated by an expert, and finally, he returned the engraving and signature back to Western,” she said.
Kent officially presented the document to the WIU Archives on Monday, April 11th, the day before the 150th anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter.