LINCOLN'S WATCH INTENDED FOR MARY REAPPEARS AT HERITAGE SALE
18K gold, blue-enamel, diamond-studded timepiece sold for $71,700. Photo courtesy of Heritage Galleries & Auctioneers.
They came from different worlds. Mary Todd was young, highly educated, popular and a Southern belle. Abraham Lincoln was self-educated, insecure and a gawky young unknown.
In the end, they played their hands in a destiny neither one could have ever imagined.
For now, it was brand new. The year was 1841. The couple planned to marry soon and Lincoln searched for the perfect gift for Mary.
He settled on an 18K gold, blue-enamel, diamond-studded timepiece. It was an extravagant gift for a struggling, attorney to buy. But he loved Mary and it seemed like the ideal thing for his sophisticated lady.
On the inside, back cover Lincoln had the following engraved, “To Miss Mary Todd from A.L. 1841.”
As the wedding grew closer, Lincoln’s law partners say he grew moody and depressed. According to accounts of W.H. Hearndon, one of his partners, the bride and guests of the couple were gathered together on Jan. 1, 1841 waiting for a bridegroom who never showed up.
Another account of the same day says that Lincoln only broke off the engagement with Mary that day. The actual wedding date hadn’t been set.
One thing for sure, Lincoln never gave Mary Todd the watch he picked out for her.
Several weeks later Lincoln returned home to the boardinghouse where he lived in Springfield, Ill. Another celebrated Kentucky beauty named Mary Curtis was visiting.
Lincoln and Curtis met several times before. This time they sat in the parlor talking. With no warning Lincoln reached into his pocket and handed Curtis the watch.
Then he walked upstairs to his room. The woman was stunned.
The next day Curtis returned home to Louisville. When she took the watch out to wind it, she read the engraving inside. It was Mary Todd’s name, not her own. She realized Lincoln probably gave it to her to rid himself of some unpleasant memory.
She put the watch in a trunk and there it stayed for 31 years. In the meantime Lincoln and Todd finally did marry on Nov. 4, 1842.
When Curtis was dying, she gave the Lincoln watch to close friend, Mary DeWitt. In a letter dated June 7, 1872, she writes to DeWitt.
“Do you remember the beautiful blue watch with the diamond stones our beloved President Lincoln gave to me that memorable afternoon of January, 1841…I want you to accept it from me and keep it as a remembrance of me, dear Elizabeth.”
Over the years, the watch exchanged hands a number of times. In 1936, it was placed on display in New York City as part of an exhibit titled “The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln.”
For the first time in 50 years, the watch came up for sale at auction on Feb. 20. It was offered in The Henry E. Luhrs Collection of important American historical manuscripts at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas. Luhrs collected ephemera from American historical figures and had a particular fascination with Lincoln.
The watch sold for $71,700. It still works and came with a winding key and the original wooden box.
Here are current values for other Lincoln items sold in the auction.
Bust of Lincoln; bronze-finish; 53 inches high; no markings; $6,692.
Document; signed Abraham Lincoln; issues a draft call to Pennsylvania; one-page; 1863; $17,925.
Document; signed Abraham Lincoln; authorizing Sec of State to affix the Seal of the U.S. to document proclaiming Thanksgiving Day; one-page; 1863; $33,460.
Autograph letter; signed A. Lincoln; Lincoln advises Gov. Andrew Curtin on how to address growing secession crisis; one-page; 1860; $131,450.
Mary Todd Lincoln
Music box; desktop; with inkwell; elaborately carved walnut; in the form of an ear of corn; includes original key; 15 inches long; $7,170.
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