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Rail Splinters

What Happened to the Gillette Collection?

December 28, 2019

Anyone know whatever happened to the Gillette Collection? That’s an easy one, you say – sold by Heritage in 2008. That was ED Gillette. We’re talking about H. M. (Hezekiah) Gillett. Like Ed, H. M. Gillett was a successful lawyer, a resident of Bay City, Michigan. He graduated Cornell University in 1874, removed to Bay City in 1876, set up a law practice, married twice and was a pillar of the community. He apparently became a fan of Lincoln, having been a boy during the Civil War – he may even have seen Lincoln during this period or in 1860. In 1905, a book of cartoons was published containing portraits of “Our Michigan Friends As We See Them.” In keeping with caricatures, these portraits incorporate distinguishing things that are associated with the subject-at-hand. Through the courtesy of Ted Hake, we publish Gillett’s image. He is surrounded by a bunch of Lincoln relics! (Rail Split by Lincoln, Lincoln’s axe, Lincoln’s tooth-brush, “Lincoln stuff”, etc.) The guy was a Lincoln collector! The question is, whatever became of his collection. Who has it now? Was it dispersed? Was it passed down to descendants? The Bay City Historical Society could not provide any other information besides a brief biographical entry in a reference work. Gillett had four children (John, who worked in Cleveland, Gladys, Eleanor and Robert). Perhaps some genealogical research might locate their off-spring, rewarding the history detective with a treasure trove of… LINCOLN STUFF!!

In our last “hard copy” print issue of this journal, datelined Spring 2010, on page 65, we ran a story about the collection of Hezekiah Gillett who passed away in 1917. We knew “who had it then”, but wondered “who’s got it now?” We reprint a recent exchange of letters which answers that question to a great degree.

Dear Don–

My great-grandfather, Hezekiah M. Gillett, was 13 when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and that may have been the impetus for his collecting books, pamphlets, newspapers, and articles about Lincoln.  Attached to this email is a Catalogue (listed by author) of his collection, which is in my possession [ed. note: 143 books, pamphlets and scrapbooks]

I am sorry to be in the position where this collection cannot stay in the family, so I am looking for advice on how best to part with it.  While it would be nice to be able to donate it to an institution specializing in Lincoln, we must consider the financial value and ability to sell this collection too.  I do not know how to classify condition.  Some items appear to me to be in ‘great’ condition, while others are ‘poor.’  I have little idea as to overall value, but am hopeful because almost all of them are first editions, a few are signed or numbered, and some may be rare (Volck’s Confederate War Etchings; Nicolay & Hay Abraham Lincoln complete set; ???)

I would appreciate any counsel you can provide regarding this.


Tom Gillett

Zeke’s Great-Grandson

Hi Tom—

As an update, I am the editor of an online journal for Lincoln collectors, The Rail Splitter. We currently are an online journal only. Prior to that (1995-2010), we published print issues. Our web site has pdf files for all our past issues. If you download our very last print issue (Spring 2010), and go to page 65, you will see a picture and story about your great grandfather! I knew the name was familiar!  Did he collect other Lincoln items besides books? Anyway, we asked in the article “Whatever became of the Gillett collection?” Now we know.  

Don Ackerman

Dear Don–

Well I’ll be!!!  Thank you so much for alerting me to this article on Hezekiah and I look forward to perusing the rest of The Rail Splitter.

I am only aware of or heard about the items I sent you in the Catalogue (i.e. books, etc.), but  I only know Zeke’s great grandchildren sired through his son John (Zeke – John – John Ken – Me).  Based on this new info, I am going to try and track down his great grandchildren via his other children and see if some of the “stuff” mentioned is around or at least what happened to it.

Thank you again!


PS  One fun bit of info about Hezekiah … he was a Knight Templar.  Maybe hidden in that closet depicted in the caricature is the Holy Grail.