GARDNER, Alexander,Photographer. A series of seven large albumen prints of the execution of the Lincoln Conspirators, 7 July 1865 in Washington, D.C. Seven prints, each approx. 190 x 234 mm., on contemporary 4o card mounts, 2 with imprints of "Kemp, photographer 137 S. Broad St., Trenton, N.J." printed on verso of the mounts. Titled as follows in neat manuscript beneath the prints: "View of the scaffold before the prisoners arrive", "Reading the Death Warrant", small chip to lower left corner of image, "Prisoners arrive and being seated", "Adjusting the nooses, Surratt, Payne, Harrold, Atzerot", "After the Drop", "Coffins and Graves", upper right corner clipped and "View of Prison, Grounds, Scaffolds & Coffins, Bodies still hanging", lower right corner of image clipped. But all are in very good condition aside from some minor chipping to the edges of the mounts; the images clean and unspotted.
GARDNER AND O'SULLIVAN'S FAMOUS EXECUTION SERIES: THE BEGINNINGS OF MODERN PHOTO-JOURNALISM
This set probably constitutes the most complete set of these grim, haunting photographic images to be offered at auction in many years. As Gardner's biographer Mark Katz writes, the series "of the Lincoln conspirators and their execution remain the most vivid images from the assassination of Lincoln. It was the longest picture-story recording of an event to date, capturing a complex, significant series of events. Gardner and O'Sullivan's execution series was a 19th-century precursor of the kind of photo-journalism that subsequently became so important..." (Witness to An Era, p.192.) Even single prints from the series are scarce, and there is little informed consensus on the actual number of images comprising the complete series. Not present in this group is the image immediately after the trap drops and the condemned sway in space, giving a blur of motion to the image of their death. Also not present here (but present in the group of 5 prints from the Joseph P. Laico collection (sold at Christie's 12 May 1999) is the seldom found image of the nooses hanging slack after the removal of the corpses. D.M. Katz, Witness to an Era, pp.184-191.
Although Mathew Brady is often credited with recording the scene inside the Washington Penitentiary on July 7, 1865, it was actually Alexander Gardner, assisted by Timothy O'Sullivan and operating two cameras (one for views and one for stereographs) who documented the grim proceedings. Gardner was the only photographer allowed access to the Lincoln conspirators after their arrests, being involved as early as two days after the assassination in producing copy prints of Booth and Surratt for use on the reward posters. The condemned were George Atzerodt, charged with the attempted assassination of the Vice-President, David Herold, who assisted Booth in his escape attempt, Lewis Payne, convicted for his attempted assassination of Secretary of State Seward, and Mrs. Mary Surratt, who kept a well-known boardinghouse where the conspirators met and stored weaponry. Up until the very last moments, it was generally expected that Mrs. Surratt would be pardoned, so that the officials devoted an inordinate amount of time in preparing the ropes. But every last minute effort to have her execution stayed failed and the unfortunate woman became the first woman executed under the authority of the United States government. (7)