Uni employee finds Lincoln signature on his wall

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.

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7 Comments »

Comment by Grrrr
2011-04-25 03:17:06

What IS she hiding under that purple frock? Something… verrrry interesting no doubt.

 
Comment by edahstip
2011-04-25 06:44:41

That is a cool find and a cooler donation.

 
Comment by Puking
2011-04-25 11:56:59

Oh, dear God.

See what happens when you burn your bra?

:eek:

 
Comment by Mr. Murphy in VA
2011-04-25 14:38:46

Theft by staff (and others with access) at institutions with undocumented artifacts is a huge and continuing problem. This type of “find” would have been particularly easy to appropriate with little to no danger of detection. I applaud Mr. Kent for his honesty and loyalty.

 
Comment by cf
2011-04-25 16:07:32

A good guy doing the right thing.

 
Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-05-12 03:11:42

An historic artifact “narrowly escaping the dumpster” due to a “good guy doing the right thing”? THAT is the apparent main theme of this story.

However, there is an equally relevant subtext: An historic artifact very nearly landing up in the dumpster–or on e-bay–due to comatose people who should have known better. I am refering to the alleged curators of the University Union Lincoln Room at Western Illinois University.

So, kudos to Mr. Kent and anti-kudos to everyone else!

One of my personal hobby horses is the “Silly Servant Theory of Cultural Devastation”. Most works of artistic and historical relevance are destroyed NOT by war, natural disaster, iconoclasm or even changing taste. RATHER, they are liquidated by idiot housemaids or idiot manservants who put the candles too near the Rembrandt over the mantelpiece. Not to mention idiot owners (“acting curators with property rights”) who hang the Turner water color in the bathroom on the wall next to the shower because it matches the shower curtain.

In regard to which: Are there any “before” and “after” pictures of the redecorated Lincoln Room at WIU?

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-05-14 17:11:25

Testify, Brother Goldberg! I looked but was unable to find any before and after pictures of the Lincoln Room.

 
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