LINCOLN, Abraham. Partly printed check accomplished and signed ("A. Lincoln"), as President, drawn on the bank of Riggs & Co., Washington, D.C., 27 October 1862.
1 page, oblong (2 7/8 x 7½in.), printed in several bold decorative types, with a fine wood-engraved vignette of the bank's Washington headquarters, decorative border on four sides, numbered "12" by President Lincoln in top left-hand corner. Slight staining at left and right edges, cancellation slits, tipped.
LINCOLN WRITES A CHECK FOR FIVE DOLLARS TO "WILLIAM JOHNSON (COLORED)". Johnson was Lincoln's barber and valet for much of 1861 and Lincoln wrote two letters of recommendation for him (to Gideon Welles, 16 March 1861; and to Salmon Chase, 29 Nov. 1861), and a few Lincoln checks to him for modest amounts survive. Chase employed him as a messenger, but his work for Lincoln continued sporadically, and he accompanied the President to Gettysburg. That trip may have been the occasion for Johnson's fatal case of smallpox (see R. P. Basler, "Did President Lincoln Give the Smallpox to William H. Johnson?" Huntington Library Quarterly, 35:3, May 1972, 279-284). Johnson died in January 1864, and Lincoln paid for his funeral and tombstone.
Only two other Lincoln checks addressed to black people have appeared at auction in the last 40 years, both were also for $5 amounts: "Lucy (colored woman)," 24 March 1857, sold Christie's, NY 14 June 2005, lot 402; and "Colored man with 1 leg," 11 August 1863, sold Sotheby's NY, 31 October 1984, lot 138.