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Rail Splinters

Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t

November 19, 2022

Oakridge Auction Gallery in Ashbury, VA recently offered a tintype purportedly depicting Tad Lincoln. Here is their catalog description:

Ninth Plate Image of Tad Lincoln in Uniform: This previously unknown and unpublished ninth plate tintype image depicts Tad Lincoln in his Union Army uniform about 1862. The image has some distinct characteristics in other know images of Tad; the shape and size of his ear, curve of his cheek, slightly peaked eyebrows and chin. Several photography experts who have looked at the image state it is very likely Tad Lincoln, because of this we are selling it as believed to be Tad Lincoln. Housed in period octagonal gutta percha case. Removed from the case for the first time by us during the examination. Dimensions are: image size, 2″ x 1 1/2″, case 3″ x 2 1/2″. All measurements are approximate. STARTING BID $5,000.00.

Everybody that looked at it agreed there was a strong resemblance. It came from the estate of a man who served in the Union army, became disabled and received an assignment to work in Washington, D.C. where, it is speculated, he acquired the portrait. The marks against it? All of the Civil War period photographs of Tad are in CDV format. Tad had uniforms custom tailored for him. An early photo shows him as a Zouave. Later photos show him as an officer with shoulder straps. In the tintype, he wears the uniform of a private. Some might argue that the head of the subject in the tintype appears less elongated than in comparison portraits. But, the photos may have been taken a year or more apart, and such a discrepancy may be explained by rapid growth in an adolescent. In the end, the buyers decide and, since no one was willing to pay the $5,000 opening bid, the item was passed.