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Suspect Lincoln

A Real Conundrum

December 1, 2019

We picture a broadside that recently sold for $900 at an auction in southwest Wisconsin. When we first saw this, our initial reaction was that it was no good. Like the ubiquitous Western reward posters, it had been mounted to a wooden board and varnished. It also had a distressed look about it with numerous areas of loss. The sale had a few Civil War vintage pieces and everything else in the sale seemed legit. We tried keeping an open mind on the subject and did a little research. Lincoln did, in fact, speak at the DeSoto House on July 23, 1856. And, he was a candidate for Republican Presidential Elector on the Fremont Ticket. If real, this was a piece of great historical importance, despite the flaws. We couldn’t view the item in person, so had to weigh the good and the bad. The good included:

  1. The size. The board measured 20″ x 24″. Reproductions typically aren’t this large.
  2. It didn’t look like it was printed on that crinkly parchment paper so often used with reprints, with artificial loss and singing around the perimeter, but no damage in the main body of the poster. The loss was scattered and random.
  3. The event in question is so obscure that it is an unlikely candidate for a reproduction or fantasy piece.
  4. Lincoln’s speech was a planned event, not an impromptu one. It is entirely plausible that it was advertised at the time in newspapers and through handbills or broadsides. 

Now, the bad points:

  1. Some of the type fonts, especially the “July 23, 1856” more closely resemble type fonts used in the 1930s.
  2. The use of the slogan “Rally Round the Flag!” was used extensively during the Civil War. We cannot recall any instances of it being used in the pre-1861 period. A more appropriate slogan might have been “Fremont and Freedom!” or something of that ilk.
  3. The paper used on broadsides in the 1856 period generally tends to be fairly thick with a high rag content. It is unlikely that such paper could deteriorate to such a point that mounting to a wooden board was deemed necessary. Wood pulp paper of the post-1890 period is more apt to be brittle and subject to chipping. 
  4. The ink spread on the large, block letters appears uniform. Because of uneven distribution of ink, the large lettering on original broadsides typically show lighter and darker areas. 
  5. There doesn’t appear to be any ghosting or bleeding, as sometimes seen on original broadsides. 

In conclusion, there are two possible scenarios. The first… the piece is authentic and a “Great Find!” The second… it is a total fantasy piece produced by residents of Galena at some celebratory event (possibly a 50th anniversary) to commemorative their day of glory when Abraham Lincoln came to town and gave a campaign speech. It could also have been copied from a newspaper announcement which it certainly “sounds” like. In that case, it truly belongs in the “Suspect Lincoln” category. Which one is it? We may never know. You “pays your money and you takes your chances.”

Update: Mystery solved! The distressed broadside we pictured in our initial article was based on a 23 3/4″ x 30 1/2″ broadside issued by the Galena Gazette Museum. Likely sold in their souvenir shop, it seems to be a fantasy piece based on an actual historical event. Although Lincoln was a “sucker”, you don’t have to be one!