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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Autographed note by Abraham Lincoln inquiring about draftees. Sold for $4,850. Photo courtesy of The Rail Splitter
Abraham Lincoln was born at a time when one in five Americans was a slave. He was a commoner who grew up in a home with a dirt floor and log walls.

In the 1830s, Lincoln studied on his own for two years with borrowed books and managed to pass the bar exam. Then he entered politics. He possessed a self-deprecating sense of humor, wrote poetry, and was an eagle-eyed politician. Lincoln led America through the most ravaging experience in its national history, the Civil War.

He rose to the presidency at a time when the country was “being ripped apart at the seams,” says Jonathan Mann, publisher of The Rail Splitter, a journal dedicated to the interests of Lincoln collectors. At the end of that successful struggle, “he was martyred.”

That pretty much says it all.

Mann figures there are around 10,000 Lincolniana collectors in the United States. This includes the stamp, coin, button, badge, ribbon, ephemera, photography, and art collectors. “We all share one thing; a love of the man and who he was.”

Once a year, The Rail Splitter features a mail and telephone bid Lincolniana and Civil War auction. Its June 3, 1997, auction featured 565 lots including rare books on Lincoln and the assassination, period statuary, cabinet photos, newspapers, postcards, documents, letters, broadsides, and autographs.

“The sale was a success with 98 percent of the lots selling,” says Mann.

But don’t ask him how much it grossed. “If we figured that out, we’d probably realize how much more we spend on this auction than we earn. For us, it’s not about money. It’s about sharing and preserving the material culture of an era. We realize we’re temporary custodians.”

While interest in significant Lincoln documents and artifacts continues to draw media attention, The Rail Splitter offers a wide range of material accessible to all collecting interests and every size pocketbook.

Mann insists there’s still plenty of Lincolniana out there at flea markets and local auctions. “You have million-dollar collectors, and you have people putting together wonderful collections on a shoe-string,” he says. “It’s about time, knowledge, love and passion.”

A good example of an item commonly found under $100 is a Lincoln campaign medal, sometimes called a token. It retails for $50-$75.

Lots in the auction included a pair of 11-by-14 inch prints from “newly discovered” Lincoln negatives. The pair fetched $1,650. This same set brought $1,300 in last year’s auction. A 9-by-13 inch black-and-white lithograph entitled “Last Moments of President Lincoln” published by Bufford’s, Boston, 1865 realized $275.

A black-and-white steel engraving of “Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, Assassinated April 14th 1865,” with a photo by M.B. Brady and a border designed by W. Momberger, published by J.C. Buttre, New York, 1864, sold for $330. An 18-inch gold-finish, hollow plaster bust of Lincoln realized $110.

To have your Lincoln or Civil War item looked at by members of The Rail Splitter at no cost to you send a photo and accompanying information to The Rail Splitter, P.O. Box 275, New York, N.Y. 10044.

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