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Lincoln Carried CSA $5 Note in His Billfold
By Fred Reed, Coins Magazine
October 01, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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On April 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln toured the surrendered Confederate capital of Richmond, Va., which fell a day earlier. He was accompanied by his young son Tad and a military escort.

Unbeknownst to many in the official party, Lincoln apparently acquired the Series 1864 $5 Confederate treasury note shown here, Series 5, position A, serial number 79501. Its issue lies beyond the scope of notes recorded in Thian’s Register. The note was photographed in a Library of Congress display.

This $5 bill was found hidden in a box containing the contents of Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated. The box had been sequestered out of public sight in the Library of Congress for a generation.

These artifacts were among items donated to the library in 1937 by Lincoln’s granddaughter, Mary Lincoln Isham. In addition to the note and other items found on the body of the slain president on April 14, 1865, Isham donated several books, daguerreotypes, a silver inkstand, Mary Todd Lincoln’s pearl necklace and matching bracelet.

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Lincoln was carrying two pairs of spectacles on the night he attended the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre with his wife Mary and guests. This was possibly because one of the spectacles was repaired with a bit of string fastening his left temple piece to the bridge of the glasses.

His other pair of spectacles that night, a patent model made by Burt & Hawley, featured small cups at the end of short shanks to clasp the temples instead of earpieces. These specs frequently appear in photographs of Old Abe taken during the period from August 1863 to February 1865, including in the famous Lincoln photograph (Ostendorf 93) of the president and his son Tad examining a photograph album in Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C. studio.

According to historian George Bancroft, “a pair of short-shanked gold spectacles sat low down upon his (Lincoln’s) nose, the shanks catching the temples, and he could easily look over them if he so desired.”

Also that night, Lincoln had a lens polisher; a watch fob of gold-bearing quartz mounted in gold; an ivory and silver pocketknife; a gold sleeve button with initial L” on dark blue enamel; an oversize white linen handkerchief embroidered “A. Lincoln”; nine newspaper clippings; and this note quarter-folded inside his small brown, silk-lined leather billfold.

The wallet had pockets for railroad tickets, U.S. currency, and notes, and hid a small pencil. The Confederate bill was apparently the only money in the wallet. These items had been handed down to Isham by her father, Robert Lincoln, the president’s eldest son, and kept within the family as “holy relics” for more than 70 years.

Lincoln’s gold pocket watch was accounted for separately. “It is quite unusual for the Library to keep personal artifacts among its holdings,” a spokesman noted. In 1976 then Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin thought their exposure “would humanize a man who had become mythologically engulfed.”

The Confederate note was featured in the Lincoln bicentennial exhibit “With Malice Toward None,” which also included bronze casts of Lincoln’s hands, and a bronze casting of the Lincoln life mask taken in early 1865, as well as the earliest known image of Lincoln, as U.S. congressman-elect from Illinois.

Boorstin was correct in believing that these items would arouse public interest when they were first unveiled to great acclaim in 1976.

Indie rock band Rainer Marie recorded a four-minute song, “The contents of Lincoln’s pockets,” on their “Anyone in Love With You (Already Knows)” album in 2004. Their song describes the pocket contents accurately, and an impressionistic scene of “Lincoln struck at the back of the head” falling forward onto the floor.

Library of Congress curator John Sellers explained the significance of these items to C-Span cameras during a tour through the exhibition on March 20, 2009.

You can see them for yourself in a History Channel-Smithsonian video clip at myloc.gov/Exhibitions/lincoln/Multimedia/LincolnsPockets.aspx.

Additional details are available in another LOC video posted on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsNvSmG_bCA.



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