[LINCOLN, Abraham (1809-1865), President]. Oval portrait photograph INSCRIBED AND SIGNED, showing a beardless Lincoln, probably taken in Peoria, Illinois, by Roderick M. Cole, 1858. Albumen photograph, 7 7/8 x 9½ in. including original mount, pencil rule encircling the image, BOLDLY INSCRIBED IN INK IN LOWER MARGIN: "Yours truly A. Lincoln." C. Hamilton and L. Ostendorf, Lincoln in Photographs, O-14. J. Mellon, The Face of Lincoln, p.34.
"THE HOMELIEST MAN IN ILLINOIS": ABRAHAM LINCOLN AS HE APPEARED AT THE TIME OF THE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES
A very fine early Lincoln portrait, one of the best-known of the beardless portraits and one which Lincoln seems to have particularly favored, perhaps for the suggestion of resolute determination in the lips, which appear tightly compressed. The future President is shown from the waist up, in vest, coat, shirt and tie, with part of a curtain and tassle visible at his right. There is considerable uncertainty as to the identity of the photographer, and several cities in Illinois, with Ohio and Missouri proposed as the site of the sitting, but the image is now most convincingly ascribed to Roderick M. Cole, a daguerreotypist and photographer who operated in Peoria from about 1857 with a brother, Henry. Peoria (where Lincoln had delivered one of his key early addresses in 1854) was visited by Lincoln at least twice in 1858 during his famous campaign for the Senate seat against Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln arrived in Peoria on 18 August; the following day he attended a Republican congressional convention, delivered an address at the town square, then went on to Ottawa, where the first of the eight scheduled debates with Stephen A. Douglas took place on 21 August. Lincoln was again in Peoria just prior to the fifth debate, on 7 October. If Cole was indeed the photographer, the image was probably created on one of those occasions.
Additional evidence for Roderick Cole's claim is a letter, cited by most authorities, from Cole to Judge McCullough in 1905. In it, Cole explains that the photo "is a copy of a Dagueratype [sic] that I made in my gallery in this city [Peoria] during the Lincoln and Douglas campaign. I invited him [Lincoln] to my studio to give me a sitting...and when I had my plate ready, he said to me, 'I cannot see why all you artists want a likeness of me unless it is because I am the homeliest man in the State of Illinois.'"
But as Mellon observes, Cole's recollection raises a puzzling question: "if the original was a daguerreotype, then all the surviving albumen prints are copies. However, the extraordinary clarity of some of these prints convinces the compiler that they could not be copies and that therefore this portrait must have originated as a collodion negative made for printing" (Mellon, p.34n). Whatever its origins, the image was extensively employed on campaign ribbons in the 1860 Presidential campaign, and Lincoln "often signed photographic prints for visitors." (Hamilton & Ostendorf, p.29). In all four examples of the Cole portrait known to us, the inscription is identical: "Yours truly A. Lincoln." (Several additional inscribed copies in institutional ownership are illustrated in Hamilton & Ostendorf, p.249).
Provenance: Anonymous owner (sale, Sotheby's, 31 October 1985, lot 152).