Archive for September, 2018

Tiny but mighty looted Thracian tomb excavated

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

A Hellenistic era Thracian tomb near the town of Rozovo has been found to be the smallest ancient Thracian brick tomb ever excavated in Bulgaria. It is a beehive tomb, known in Greek as a tholos (“domed”) tomb because of the progressively smaller stacked rings of bricks that create an interior false dome that looks similar to a beehive. The style and materials of the construction date it to the first half of the 3rd century B.C.

The Rozovo tomb is two miles from the Kazanlak Tomb, a 4th century B.C. tomb whose beehive dome is covered in elaborate murals depicting a funeral feast. The Kazanlak Tomb, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, is much larger and more expensively built and decorated than the Rozovo tomb, but they have one very important thing in common: they are the only beehive tombs ever found in Bulgaria whose domes are fully intact.

The Kazanlak Valley in central Bulgaria is famed for the great number of Thracian tombs in the area, most of them unexplored. There are an estimated 1,500 tumuli and only 300 of them have been officially excavated by archaeologists. All of those unmonitored, clearly distinguishable archaeological sites are frequent targets of looters hoping to find ancient funerary treasures which are eminently portable and in-demand goods on the illicit antiquities market.

The little beehive tomb slumbered undisturbed in the embrace of the burial mound above it for two thousand years or so until it was brutally assaulted by looters in 2010. Their filthy work was immediately noticed, but it another eight years would pass before the Kazanlak Museum of History was able to secure the necessary funding from the Bulgarian government for the urgently-needed salvage excavation of the tomb.

It was undoubtedly worth the wait. Even with all the wanton destruction wrought by those brutes in 2010 and their emptying the tomb of its contents, the architectural remains of the tomb itself are archaeologically priceless.

Lead archaeologists Georgi Nehrizov:

“It is curious that the treasure hunters’ digs were illogical and even a little. One of them was outside the burial chamber, and exposed its outer wall, which is totally pointless. Another dig came from the west, reached the burial chamber, and pierced its wall, which is also totally useless, destroying part of the dome room,” Nehrizov says.

He explains that the Ancient Thracian tomb near Rozovo is of the type of the Kazanlak Tomb, with a burial chamber and a small antechamber.

“This Hellenistic Era Thracian brick tomb is the second one after the Kazanlak Tomb to be discovered with a fully preserved dome. Several other such brick tombs have been found in the Kazanlak Valley [the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings] but they are less preserved, and material from them was used for other structures in later periods,” Nehrizov explains.”This is the smallest tomb of this kind to have been discovered so far. The dome’s top is covered with a stone slab. It consists of 23 rows of bricks of various shapes and sizes. There are rectangular, square, and sectoral bricks, and some of them are very thick. Our excavations lead to the conclusion that the bricks were baked here on the spot depending on the detail that the architect and builder needed, and everything was made to fit together,” the archaeologist elaborates.

In front of the burial chamber and the antechamber, there was a shed covered with Laconian – type roof tiles, large flat tiles which were pieced together with curved tiles.

“Apparently, the shed was a wooden structure. Such sheds have been found in other Ancient Thracian tombs in the Kazanlak Valley such as Shushmanets, the Griffins’ Tomb, the Helvetia Tomb, but here the shed seems better preserved. The treasure hunters didn’t dig from the south,” Nehrizov adds.

On the outside, the Rozovo Tomb was plastered with river stones shaping what the Bulgarian archaeologists refer to as a “coat”, which both solidified the structure and prevented atmospheric water from penetrating the tomb.


Stephenson’s Rocket in 3D

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

Stephenson’s Rocket, an iconic steam locomotive from the early days of train travel has been laser-scanned in all its 13-feet-long, three-ton glory. It is the largest object in the collection of the Science Museum Group ever to be 3D scanned.

Built in 1829 by Robert Stephenson and Company, Rocket won its manufacturers a lucrative contract with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway when it slaughtered the competition at the Rainhill Trials on Thursday, October 8th, 1829. It did 70 miles back and forward over a 1.5 mile track with an average running speed of 12 miles per hour and reaching a peak speed of 30 miles per hour. The competition favorite, Novelty, barely moved at all due to multiple joint failures. Sans Pareil was above the weight limit and guzzled fuel at triple Rocket’s rate and ground to a halt when its boiler ran dry.

Robert Stephenson, son of George Stephenson, aka the “Father of the Railways,” worked with his father and other partners to design innovative trains and railways. Rocket incorporated several technological innovations — a single pair of driving wheels, multiple boiler fire-tubes, pistons angled close to horizontal rather than vertical, etc. — which made it faster, more stable and more fuel-efficient than its competitors. These features would be replicated (and improved upon) in future steam locomotives.

Thanks to the 3D model, Rocket can now be studied in detail from anywhere in the world. Audiences can move this three-tonne locomotive around with ease on screen, peer underneath and explore the innovations which made Rocket the fastest locomotive of its time. […]

Working with Science Museum Group colleagues, a team from ScanLAB spent 11 hours recording every angle of Rocket to create the 3D model using over 200kg of camera, lighting and scanning equipment. Scanning and photography was particularly challenging due to Rocket’s colour, glossy texture and complex shape.

The 3D model was created from 22 high resolution LIDAR scans and 220 gigabytes of photographs (more than 2,500 individual pictures). The ScanLAB team processed the data for six weeks to generate a point cloud of spatial coordinates, color and intensity values for 750 million points. The 3D model is just the beginning. The point cloud information and scans will be set to other uses as well, including an augmented reality environment.


1903 Oldsmobile runabout still running about

Friday, September 28th, 2018

A 1903 Oldsmobile runabout, still running after 115 years, is going under the hammer at the H&H Classics Auction on October 17th. The pre-sale estimate is £34,000 to £37,000 ($44,361 – $48,275), double the car’s original sticker price adjusted for inflation.

Made by the Olds Motor Works, in Lansing, Michigan, it was exported to Australia soon after it was first purchased. The runabout went walkabout for six decades before making its way to England. Since the 1960s, it has been a regular in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, a fitting participant for a run that was founded in 1896 to celebrate the passage of the Locomotives on the Highway Act which raised the speed limit for “light locomotives” from four miles per hour to 14 and abolished the requirement that all cars be preceded by a pedestrian waving a red flag.

Previous Locomotive Acts, The 1896 act untied those chains and basically made driving cars on the roads possible. The draconian regulations that discouraged motoring were replaced with a more reasonable regulatory framework to ensure safety of pedestrians and other vehicles — the 14 mph speed limit, front lights to make the car visible at night, a bell to make its presence heard night or day, restricted access to bridges as determined necessary by local authorities, etc.

Mr. Hugh Luttrell of Tavistock proposed the new speed limit on the grounds that:

Unless there were some limit these carriages might travel at a speed dangerous to the public. For they would only come under the provisions against furious driving – and this law – was extremely difficult to carry out. Policemen were now largely influenced in their idea of furious driving by the amount of exertion a horse was making. It would be quite possible to drive a rapid horse at ten or twelve miles an hour without being had up for furious driving, while to whip a slow horse into ten miles an hour would very likely appear as furious driving. These carriages would go as smoothly at one rate as at another, and it would therefore be extremely difficult to say what was furious driving. For these reasons he contended for a limit of speed, and he thought 14 miles an hour a reasonable maximum.

Makes sense to me. You can tell easily if someone is attempting to whip a horse into a frenzy. Accelerating a car even to the danger point is much harder thing to detect. All of the notes from the parliamentary debate over the Locomotives on the Highway Act are a fascinating glimpse into the transition from animal-powered road transportation and steam-powered rail transportation to motorized road vehicles.

Automobiles were still in their infancy as modes of conveyance seven years later, a fancy for the rich rather than a practical means of transport (an issue raised in the parliamentary debate over the matter of how much tax to charge per vehicle). The average yearly income in the United States was $489 in 1903. The Oldsmobile runabout cost $650. So even though it was the bestselling car in the US between 1902 and 1905 with 4,000 sold in 1903, its 4.5 horsepower couldn’t come close to comparing to the popularity of the literal kind. In 1903, 900,000 horse-drawn vehicles were sold.


Painted 2 c. B.C. tomb discovered in Cumae

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

French archaeologists have discovered a vividly painted tomb from the 2nd century B.C. in the necropolis of the ancient of city of Cumae. Painted tombs from this period have been found before in the Cumae necropolis, but most of them were painted in bands of red and white. One had funerary boxes decorated in a painted marble effect. This one is the only tomb from the 2nd century B.C. that has been found painted with figures, not just in Cumae, but in all of the Campania region.

The wall to the right of the entrance to the tomb has a nude servant carrying a jug of wine. A krater, a vase used to mix wine and water, is on a stand on his left. Left of the door are a situla (a bucket-shaped vessel), a wooden table and an amphora of wine on a stand. The side wall is also painted but has suffered from plaster loss making any figures impossible to discern. It appears to be a landcape. Because elements of large meal are visible, archaeologists believe it’s a banquet scene. The pigments on the remaining plaster are in excellent condition.

Figural painting was popular in tombs from the late 4th, early 3rd century B.C., but had been out of favor for at least a century when this tomb was built. The motif of a funerary feast was also passé, something seen in the oldest tombs. The owners of the tomb must have had retro tastes, because they certainly had the money to buy whatever they wanted in tomb decor. Only the elite could afford such elaborate painted walls.

No human remains were found. There are three funerary beds, however, so there were probably three people buried in there, although it’s possible all of the beds were not occupied. The tomb was built in one fell swoop, not constructed in stages or added to over years. In addition to its elaborate wall paintings, the tomb structure itself is relatively complex, with a number of vaulted chambers built from volcanic tuff.

The fact that this unusual wall painting has survived is an incredibly lucky break given that the tomb was disturbed by looters, likely in the 19th century when many of the stone-sealed tombs in the 2nd century B.C. area of the necropolis were broken into and robbed. The treasure hunters left sufficient remnants behind — human remains, alabaster perfume bottles, gaming dice, bone and bronze fittings from a wooden box — to enable researchers today to date the tomb.

In order the preserve the delicate, rare fresco which would be endagered by the elements and people of ill-intent, archaeologists removed it from the walls and collected all the fragments they found on the ground. The work will be reassembled in the laboratory.

Cumae, about 15 miles west of Naples, was renown in antiquity as the oldest Greek colony in the West, founded in the 8th century B.C. It had particular importance to Rome because it was the residence of the Cumaean Sibyl, the prophetic priestess of Apollo who sold prophecies from an even more ancient oracle than she to Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, King of Rome. The Roman senate and later the emperors protected and consulted the sacred Sibylline Books for hundreds of years until they were destroyed in the early 5th century. Virgil gave the Cumaean Sibyl a key speaking role in the Æneid. Aeneas appealed to Apollo through her for prophetic tips about what he would face in Italy and for instructions on how to descend into the Underworld to speak to his father Anchises.


400-year-old shipwreck found off Portugal

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered a 400-year-old shipwreck off the coast of the port town of Cascais 15 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal, whose cargo attests to the thriving trade between Portugal and India in the 16th and 17th centuries. The find was made as part of a decade-long project funded by the town of Cascais, the Portuguese government and navy, and Nova University in Lisbon to explore the mouth of the Tagus river, an epicenter for wrecks from the heyday of Portugal’s spice trade with Asia.

The ship sank between 1575 and 1625 on the voyage back from India. It was found on September 4th 40 feet below the surface; the depth helped preserve the ship and its contents unusually well for the warm Portuguese coastal waters. Divers discovered nine bronze cannons bearing the Portuguese coat of arms, Chinese ceramics from the Wanli period (1573-1619), peppercorns and cowrie shells which were used as currency in the slave trade.

The mayor of Cascais, Carlos Carreiras, described the discovery as one of the most significant archaeological finds of the past decade. He said that although the cargo ship had yet to be identified, it could prove significant to the town.

“It’s an extraordinary discovery that allows us to know more about our history, reinforcing our collective identity and shared values,” said Carreiras. “That, in turn, will certainly make us more attractive and competitive.”

The discovery comes 24 years after experts found the wreck of the Nossa Senhora dos Mártires (Our Lady of the Martyrs), which also sailed the spice route and sank off Lisbon in 1606.

According to the survey team, who have been mapping the areas since 2009, the latest wreck is in better structural shape than the Nossa Senhora dos Mártires.

This Reuters TV story has wonderful film of divers exploring the wreck. The visibility is excellent so you can get a close look at the remains of ship and its contents. Also heads up for the outstanding photo bomb from an indignant cephalopod at the 27 second mark.


Lost Henry VIII tapestry found in Spain

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

A monumental tapestry commissioned by King Henry VIII as part of a set whose whereabouts have been unknown since the 18th century has been found in Spain. The tapestry was one of nine depicting scenes from the life of Saint Paul designed by Flemish master Pieter Coecke van Aelst and woven in his Brussels workshop in the late 1530s. Eighteen feet wide without its original borders and woven with gold and silver threads, the tapestry was of the highest quality available in Europe.

This tapestry is entitled Saint Paul Directing the Burning of the Heathen Books at Ephesus and it shows three episodes from Paul’s visits to Ephesus as reported in Acts of the Apostles. In the upper left Paul converts 12 men of Ephesus and the Holy Spirit descends upon them. In the upper right Paul resurrects Eutychus after he fell asleep during one of Paul’s interminable sermons and fell out of a three story window. The main scene in the center of the tapestry is Paul burning books of magic.

The Paul series was delivered to Hampton Court between September of 1538 and September of 1539. If those dates ring a bell, they should. That’s when Henry sent out his minions to dissolve the monasteries, take their stuff and destroy what they didn’t take. The tapestry was a big neon sign of support for Henry’s destruction of religious iconography, relics, “erroneous books and Bible translations,” so-called idols, etc. No less a Christian leader than Paul burned books, after all, so clearly the Bible and God were on Henry’s side in his fight to quash ungodly Christian denominations.

Tapestries were the ultimate artistic displays of wealth in the 16th century. They cost far more to make in materials, artisanship and work hours than paintings of any medium, and when the nobility and aristocracy were the customers, tapestries were literal treasures, made of precious metals, sumptuous fabrics and colored with dyes derived from expensive raw materials. The luxury-loving Henry VIII was an avid tapestry collector and assembled a collection of some 2,500 pieces of exceptional quality. Pieter Coecke van Aelst was one of his favorite designers.

Only a tiny fraction of that great assemblage is known to have survived. Tapestries went out of fashion in the 18th century and the royal collections were either split up, given away or pilfered or simply fell apart from age. The Paul set were listed in inventories through 1770, after which they disappeared from the historical record. The Burning of the Heathen Books at Ephesus was only known to art historians from a preparatory drawing surviving in Ghent and a fragment of the original cartoon in New York.

Detective work by leading tapestry experts Simon Franses and Thomas P Campbell has confirmed that this was one of Henry VIII’s commissioned treasures, taken to Spain in the 1960s. Mr Franses described it as “the highest achievement of tapestry weaving”. […]

He added: “The comparable pieces are at Hampton Court, the Abraham tapestries, which Henry VIII owned. But they’re very polite, tame Biblical tapestries, whereas this is a dynamic, energetic piece…It’s absolutely splendid. There’s nothing to touch it in the Victoria & Albert, the Royal Collection or the National Trust.”

Research reveals that a Spanish dealer sold the St Paul tapestry to a Barcelona collector in the 1960s. It was eventually sold to an anonymous buyer in Madrid, who has now sent it to Britain to be cleaned and conserved.

The collector first began to suspect a Hampton Court provenance in 2013. He applied to the Spanish government for an export license but was denied.

Now research has firmly established the link. Franses called on Spain to grant an export licence. He hopes that a UK public collection could then acquire it for considerably less than its value of more than £5m, if it came on the open market.

The tapestry is going on public display for the first time in its long, storied life at Franses in London from October 1st through the 19th. The exhibition, Henry VIII: the Unseen Tapestries, features three other Henrician tapestries, including the Russell Garter Tapestry which is the only surviving tapestry portrait of Henry VIII. On display with the tapestries will be two important textiles from the Tudor period — the silk Armorial Table Carpet of Anne of Cleves’ brother, and the chasuble of Edmund Bonner, chaplain to Wolsey and Henry VIII — that are also on loan to the gallery.


Europe’s earliest metal body part found in Bern

Monday, September 24th, 2018

The earliest metal representation of a body part in Europe, a hand from the Bronze Age, has been discovered in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland. It was cast from more than a pound of bronze and has a gold foil cuff around the wrist and dates to around 3,500 years ago.

The bronze hand, a bronze dagger and a human rib were found together by metal detectorists in 2017 near Lake Biel in the Bernese Jura. The finders handed them in (pun not intended but it stays) to the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern. Experts had never seen anything like the hand. There were no comparable artifacts to assess its age according to its style, but the archaeologists were able to date it thanks to the vegetable adhesive used to connect the gold cuff to the bronze hand. The organic material was radiocarbon tested and the results came back with an estimated date of 1500-1400 B.C.

The human rib dated to about a hundred years earlier than that and the dagger can be stylistic dated to the same general period as the hand and rib: the Middle Bronze Age. The alloys used to cast the bronze of the hand are also characteristic of Bronze Age metallurgy.

The Archaeological Service excavated the find site near the village of Prêles this spring and found the disturbed grave containing the skeletal remains of an adult male. Buried with him was a bronze clothes-fastening pin, a bronze spiral that was likely a hair tie and fragments from a gold sheet. There was also a single bronze finger. The gold sheet fragments and the finger identified the grave as the original location of the bronze hand.

Metal objects in Bronze Age burials are rare, and gold is almost never found in Bronze Age burials in Switzerland. As far as Swiss archaeologists familiar with the find can tell, a sculpture like this is unique in Europe, and perhaps beyond. “The fact that we know of thousands of Bronze Age graves and have never found anything like this shows it’s pretty special,” says Stefan Hochuli, head of the Department of Monument Preservation and Archaeology in the nearby Swiss canton of Zug.

Underneath the tomb was a stone structure that significantly pre-dated the death and burial of the adult man. It seems the individual was deliberately buried on top of the structure, singling him out as a person of great importance in his society.

It is not yet known whether the hand was locally made in the Lake Biel area or whether it was an expensive and rare import. Certainly nothing like it has ever been found in Switzerland before. Experts from Germany and France have also been consulted and they know of nothing similar found in their countries either. Its symbolic meaning and/or function are also unknown at this time. The gold cuff signals societal elite, or perhaps even a representation of a deity. The hollow cast of the bronze with a socket inside indicates it was originally mounted on a long, slender object like a stake or scepter. It could also have been part of a larger statue.

The hand is now on display at the Neues Museum Biel. It will be a brief stay. Visitors can see it there through October 14th, after which it will be removed for further study and scientific testing in the hopes of answering some of the lingering questions about this mysterious object.


Looted Amenhotep I relief found in London

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

A relief of the cartouche of Amenhotep I, second pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, has been found in London and is on its way back to Egypt. The relief was looted in 1988 from the Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor, an open-air museum so huge that it is conceivable someone could snatch a piece of limestone inscribed with the birth name of a pharaoh.

The object was rediscovered by an unnamed archaeologist who spotted it at a London auction a few months ago. He recognized it as the relief stolen from Karnak 30 years ago and alerted the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The Ministry stopped the piece from being auctioned and worked with British authorities to arrange for its repatriation. The relief was officially returned to the Egyptian embassy in London on Friday.

Very little information about the reign of Amenhotep I (r. 1526-1506 B.C.) has survived. There are only a few relevant inscriptions, one of which was found in the tomb of his architect Ineni. Ineni’s biographical inscription records that Amenhotep ordered the expansion of the Temple of Karnak with the construction of several new structures. None of them stood for long. The remains of some of them were found in the fill of later construction from the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386-1349 B.C.).

On a personal note, it just so happens that I was at Karnak in 1988. I swear I didn’t swipe any cartouches, though. I didn’t even buy my mother a pendant cartouche of her name from the local souvenir shop, something she was bummed about for 25 years or so until she and my father finally went to Egypt and she bought for herself the cartouche pendant I had so brutally denied her when I was a dumb teenager. (It was expensive! I didn’t want to spend such a large amount of my cash at the beginning of the trip! I thought I’d have another chance! Reasons!)


Gutenberg Bible gets new digs at Library of Congress

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

The Gutenberg Bible is prized as the earliest full-size book printed in Europe with moveable type. Johann Gutenberg and his colleagues Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer printed the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible written by Saint Jerome in the 5th century, in Mainz in 1455. Of that first run of the first printed book, 48 copies have survived, only twenty of them complete. It is so important and so rare that collectors spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on individual pages of a Gutenberg Bible.

The Library of Congress’ copy is especially rare. It was printed on vellum (animal skin parchment), not paper. Of the 48 surviving Gutenberg Bibles, 12 were printed on vellum and only three of those perfect, complete, intact copies of the Bible on vellum are known to survive. The LoC’s is one of the three complete ones and it is the only one of them to have been printed in three volumes. It is a spectacular example, the type deeply and cleanly impressed even though it was one of the first works produced on the brand-new moveable type printing press. The other vellum Bibles are at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris and the British Library in London.

For more than 350 years after its publication, the Bible belonged to the Benedictine abbey of St. Blasius in the Black Forest, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. In 1809, it was transferred to Abbey of St. Paul in Carinthia, southern Austria. It was bought by inventor, chemist and avid collector Otto Vollbehr for $250,000 in 1926. Vollbehr never actually held the book in his extensive collection. He planned to sell it in the United States — part of the sales pitch he made to St. Paul’s, in fact, was that he would sell it to an “American church prince” — but since he was hardly going to schlepp the precious and delicate three volume set all over the States, he made a sort of preview pamphlet and schlepped that around the country instead along with a collection of thousands of incunabula he was trying to sell.

In 1928 the incunabula went on display at the Library of Congress. Vollbehr offered to sell the collection and the Bible to the Library. It took some doing in the wake of the Great Depression, but on July 6th, 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed the act of Congress authorizing the purchase of 3,255 volumes and the St. Blasius-St. Paul Gutenberg Bible for a total of $1.5 million.

It has been on display in the corridor off of the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building, originally out in the open on a handsome wooden display, then in a closed case. The case is no longer up to snuff so it is being replaced with a new one custom designed to exhibit and protect one of the most precious books in history.

An 11-foot-tall vertical case has been designed for the Gutenberg Bible to meet exact specifications for its long-term conservation. It will be kept at a consistent, cool temperature of 50 degrees and a consistent humidity to help preserve the 563-year-old book, according to Elmer Eusman, chief of the Library’s Conservation Division. The case also includes a new early warning system for fire prevention that will constantly monitor the air.

Frosted mirrors and illumination within the display will create a special effect, emphasizing the Bible in a new way. Resting on a small cradle, the Bible will appear as if it’s floating. The design is meant to celebrate the historic book. Exhibition text will be presented on one side of the case for visitors.

On Friday, the Bible was taken off public view for the first time in more than 70 years to make the necessary arrangements for the installation of the new case. The case was built off site and will have to be broken down into component parts, moved to the Library of Congress and rebuilt The new case has been built by a vendor off site. It will be deconstructed, moved into the Library and rebuilt on site in the Thomas Jefferson Building. That will take place on October 29th. The Bible will move in to its new digs a month or so later after thorough environmental testing has been performed.


Is Lincoln’s iconic stovepipe hat really Lincoln’s?

Friday, September 21st, 2018

The most prized possession of many important artifacts in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois, is a stovepipe hat belonging to the president. The hat appears to have an impeccable provenance. Lincoln bought the beaver-fur stovepipe hat from a shop in Springfield in the mid-1850s, a period when he was active in state politics while aiming for national office, loudly voicing his opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and transitioning from the dying Whig party to the Republican party. He paid $4.00 for it.

Lincoln’s tall stovepipe hat is so strongly associated with him that the outline alone is an iconic representation of the slain president. It was a deliberate choice of Abraham Lincoln’s to wear an extra tall chapeau to emphasize his atypical height. He was 6’4″ in an era when the average height for an adult male was 5’7″ and the hat is seven inches high. That made him just shy of seven feet tall when he wore it, a veritable giant even today.

Only three of Lincoln’s stovepipe hats are known to survive and the Springfield museum’s beaver hat is believed to be the oldest. The only problem is there is no hard evidence that the hat really did belong to Abraham Lincoln. The museum acquired it at auction in 2007. It was one of 1,600 Lincoln-related artifacts from collector Louise Taper that were bought for $25 million. The hat alone cost $6.5 million.

You’d think at those nosebleed prices the non-profit Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation (ALPLF) would investigate thoroughly before going deep into debt to buy the collection. Louise Taper was on the board of the foundation in 2007. That may or may not have played a part in the acquisition. She isn’t talking and neither is the foundation.

Since the hat entered the museum collection, the story told was that Lincoln had given the hat as a thank-you gift to an Illinois farmer in 1858. A descendant of the farmer signed an affidavit in 1958 confirming the gift, only she said Lincoln had given it to him during the farmer’s visit to Washington after 1861. The person who appraised the hat for millions of dollars did no personal research, relying solely on a report of research done by the foundation, a report that is nowhere to be found today.

In 2013, experts at the Smithsonian and Chicago History Museum reported that there was simply insufficient evidence to claim it as Lincoln’s hat. The affidavit is basically all they have to go on, and it contradicts the museum’s own statements. Without documentation of the hat having belonged to Lincoln, the museum should strongly qualify its claim that it was Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, the report concluded.

With $9.7 million still outstanding on the sale price and much fundraising needed to pay it off, in 2017 the ALPLF secretly asked the FBI to DNA-test residue on the hat in the hopes it might confirm conclusively that it once had topped Abraham Lincoln’s noggin. The conclusion was … inconclusive. No period DNA could be recovered, only contemporary DNA from someone who had handled it in comparatively recent years.

The hat may not have recoverable DNA, but it does bear some evidence of its wearer. It bears the mark of a hatmaker who was working in Springfield in the mid-1850s. It is Lincoln’s hat size. The band is stretched out from having had important papers stuffed inside of it, a practice Lincoln was known to indulge in. The are wear marks from two fingers on the brim, indicating that it was worn regularly by one individual for a very long time.

Museum chief Alan Lowe expressed frustration over the foundation’s secrecy, but downplayed the DNA test results, saying it would be hard to get a perfect match from an 180-year-old item handled by many people.

“It is important to understand that neither of these initiatives produced new evidence about the hat’s origins,” Lowe said in a statement.

Thanks to the publicity, the museum will begin a new search for evidence about the hat’s past, he added.

“What we learn, no matter what it says about the hat’s origins, will be shared with the public.”

Meanwhile, the pride and joy of the museum has been removed from public display. Once the research is done, the museum will decide whether the hat goes back on display at Lincoln’s lid or remains in the shadows as a $6.5 million pig in a poke.





September 2018


Add to Technorati Favorites