BOOTH, John Wilkes. Partly printed document (a check), accomplished and signed twice ("J. Wilkes Booth"), Washington, D.C., 14 January 1865.
1p., an oblong (2 9/16 x 7 in), neat slit cancellations without loss, "orange revenue stamp at left-hand edge. In very fine condition.
ONE OF ONLY SEVEN CHECKS BY BOOTH, DRAWING ON FUNDS SUPPLIED BY CONFEDERATE SPIES TO FINANCE HIS CONSPIRACY AGAINST LINCOLN
A very provocative relic of the last few months before Booth's conspiracy crystallized in decisive and murderous activity. Booth orders payment of $75.00 to himself, from his account with Jay Cooke & Co., Bankers. In the top left-hand corner, Booth has numbered the check "5." The actor's account with Cook had been opened not long before; a nearly identical check payable to M. Conway, dated 16 December 1864, is numbered "1" by Booth (illustrated in the catalogue of the Kadlec Collection, [Spring 1991], item 62, priced $15,000). It is known that Booth, we know, wrote a total of seven checks on the account.
In fact, Booth's Cook bank account was a part of the preparations for Lincoln's kidnapping and later, assassination. "Booth was back in Washington on 9 November [not long after Lincoln was re-elected]...A week later he opened an account with the Washington office of Jay Cooke..." Initially, Booth deposited $1,500 plus a further $250 on January 5. Booth had also opened a Montreal account, in case an escape to Canada became necessary, and secured £63 in English money. "He now had funds in place to finance his conspiracy and, if need be, to escape abroad, into the Confederacy, or within the United States itself. The source of Booth's substantial deposits cannot be established. He had not been acting. His oil investments had only lost money. The timing however, suggests that he had been given the cash, some of it in U.S. gold coin, by the spies in Montreal" ("Right or Wrong, God Judge Me": The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, ed. J. Rhodehamel and L. Taper, p.119, 133 and cf.p.30).
It was in January that Booth's active recruitment of conspirators accelerated: John Surratt (for whom he purchased a rowboat, to cross the Potomac), George Atzerodt, David Herold, Thomas Harbin and Lewis Powell all were brought into the scheme. By the time of Lincoln's inauguration--which Booth witnessed as part of the crowd--the substantial funds in the Cooke account had dwindled alarmingly, but his deadly plans had by then begun to take concrete shape. VERY RARE: only five of Booth's seven checks on this account are traceable, and one of those has been unlocated since 1902.
Provenance: Sang Collection (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1978, lot 47).