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A Cup Half-Empty

October 17, 2019

Skinner’s held a sale in Marlborough, Massachusetts on August 9th and 10th. The only item that piqued our interest was a relic of the campaign of 1860, described thusly in the catalog:

Small Walnut Carved “Lincoln & Hamlin” Commemorative Cup, possibly Illinois, after 1860, the square form with rounded corners and flared rim, one side carved with the words “Lincoln & Hamlin,” one side carved with Lincoln wielding an axe, one side carved with tools including an axe, and one side carved with crossed sticks and a bag, all on a square foot, ht. 2 1/2 in. Note: A small 20th century newspaper clipping is included with this lot, which tells the story of this piece. There, it is reported that the piece was carved from a walnut rail split by Abraham Lincoln himself. That rail, from which the cup was carved, was brought to Chicago in 1860, for the national convention at which Lincoln was nominated for President. Lincoln obtained a piece of that rail after the convention, and had three keepsakes (a cane, a mallet, and this cup) made for Mr. Ira Haworth, a delegate at the convention and friend of Lincoln. Upon his death in 1909, Mr. Haworth passed the cup to his niece, Mrs. Pearl Bartle, the owner at the time of the article’s writing. Estimate $3,000-5,000.

While we were intrigued by this relic, the first thing that we noticed was the cataloger’s disclaimer and dating, specifically “… possibly Illinois, after 1860…”. Maybe he knew something we didn’t. We provide images of all four sides, as well as the referenced newspaper article, written sometime after Haworth’s death in 1909.

It would seem, at first blush, that the item was probably produced in 1860. After all, it was inscribed “Lincoln & Hamlin” and had an image of Lincoln with a maul, split rails, a tree trunk, an ax, a maul and logs… all in keeping with rail splitter iconography.

Ira Haworth represented himself as a friend and colleague of Lincoln, as well as a founder of the Republican Party in Illinois. Sometime after 1885, he was interviewed by Walter Barlow Stevens, chief of the Washington Bureau of the “St. Louis Globe Democrat”. This interview, and others, would be published in the newspaper, as well as a separately issued book, “A Reporter’s Lincoln”. Stevens wrote: “In the vault in one of the Kansas City banks were long preserved as articles of great value a cane and a gavel, made of black walnut, handsomely turned by the lathe and adorned with metal bands. The cane was inscribed across the top, ‘Ira Haworth’, and around the head, ‘Abraham Lincoln’, with the word, ‘presented’… ‘Mr. Lincoln’, said Mr. Haworth, ‘obtained one of these rails of his own splitting and had made for me the cane and the gavel which you see. The two were sent to me at Danville by express.’”

Haworth claimed to be an Illinois delegate to the Wigwam Convention in 1860. He says that two of the original rails, supporting a portrait of Lincoln, were carried down the aisle by Richard Oglesby and John Hanks and placed upon the speaker’s platform. Lincoln then obtained one of these rails and had the souvenir cane and gavel made which were sent to Danville by express. When he met with Lincoln shortly thereafter, Lincoln told him that the cane was a gift for his old age, as the “wicked generally do not die young”. Furthermore, Lincoln directed him to organize and appear at campaign rallies with the relics and to relate the story of their manufacture and presentation.

There are numerous discrepancies in Haworth’s extended interview and self-glorification. He refers to John Hanks as Lincoln’s uncle, says that Lincoln sported short chin whiskers (even though he says he did not meet Lincoln again after the 1860 election) and he says the Oglesby-Hanks split rail stunt occurred at the Wigwam Convention in Chicago, whereas it occurred at the state convention in Decatur.

We can find no reference to Ira Haworth being an Illinois delegate to the Wigwam convention. He is not listed in the on-line reference site “The Political Graveyard”. That site does list the twenty-three Illinois delegates to the 1860 RNC and Haworth is not among them. O. L. Davis is listed as the delegate from Danville. There was a “J. W. Haworth” who was a delegate to the 1880 RNC, but Ira is nowhere to be found. We can also find no reference to Ira Haworth in “Lincoln Day by Day” (www.lincolnlog.com).

The idea that Lincoln who, though ambitious, was altogether modest and “proper”, would have souvenirs made from one of these rails and hand them out to friends and admirers, is far-fetched. Relic souvenirs were indeed produced in 1860 by various parties, either from portions of the “true split rail” or spurious substitutes. Hanks had a cottage industry selling Lincoln rails made of black walnut and locust. While he profited from the frenzy for such items, it is almost a certainty that Lincoln kept himself “at arm’s length” (or, “rail’s length”) from the enterprise.

The Stevens book references the cane and gavel, but not the cup offered by Skinner’s. which we find very strange. After Haworth’s death, the cup suddenly appears, and the newspaper article talks about the “cane, gavel and cup” that Lincoln fashioned from one of his rails and sent to his good friend Haworth.

In trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, we notice that the cup is made of black walnut (a good sign). Lincoln is depicted wearing a tall hat… a symbol not associated with him during his presidential campaigns (a bad sign). I can think of no campaign depictions of Lincoln wearing his famous stovepipe hat. We cannot confirm that Haworth was a delegate to the Wigwam Convention or had any personal contact with Lincoln. His recollections are full of discrepancies and implausibilities. When he moved from Illinois to Kansas City in 1870, he was probably asked: “You’re from Illinois. Did you know Abe Lincoln?” to which he doubt replied: “Did I know Abe Lincoln? Why, I was one of his best friends. Let me tell you…”

So, as far as this little cup offered by Skinner’s is concerned, we must agree with the cataloger. It was most certainly made after 1860. It could have been made in Illinois, or anywhere else for that matter. Haworth may not have even owned it, as it was not mentioned in his interview with Stevens. Spinning tall tales seems to have been a family trait at which Haworth’s niece, Mrs. Bartle, was equally adept. We have to wonder, though, whatever became of the cane and gavel that Abe Lincoln supposedly had made and represented to his “good friend” and advisor. By the way, the cup sold for $4,613.