LINCOLN, Abraham. Partly printed check accomplished and signed ("A Lincoln") as President, Washington, D.C., 6 September 1861. 1 page, a narrow oblong (2 11/16 x 7 9/16 in.). Finely engraved and printed in bright blue ink, the name of the bank ("Riggs & Co.") prominent in bold gothic letters; to the left a detailed engraved view of the two-story bank building, a horse-drawn carriage parked in front of the building's high arched doorway, the whole within an elegant engraved border of linked diamond shapes, accomplished in ink by Lincoln, who has numbered the check "42" at the top left, added the date, the receipient, the amount ("one gold") and his signature. Clean slit cancellations without loss, upper left-hand corner slightly defective, affecting portion of decorative border.
"ONE GOLD DOLLAR": LINCOLN WRITES A CHECK FOR "MASTER TAD"
A highly unusual check written by the 16th President on behalf of his son Thomas, affectionately called "Tad," the youngest of the Lincolns' three sons, who would have been only 8 years old at this date. It is especially noteworthy that Lincoln specifically directs Riggs & Co, his Washington bankers, that the dollar for Tad was to be paid not in currency--greenbacks--but in gold, or specie. The reason for his request is unknown, but it is quite possible that Tad himself had requested to be paid gold, rather than coins or currency from his father, whose tendency to indulge his young son's whims is very well documented. While this is the only recorded bank-check Lincoln wrote for Tad, there are extant a number of brief handwritten notes by Lincoln, usually on small blank cards, requesting a favor on his son's behalf. To cite one recent example, Lincoln's note to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles asking him to "Let Master Tad have a Navy sword" was until recently part of the Forbes Collection (sold here at Christie's, 27 March 2002, lot 102, for $52,875).
It is also conceivable that Lincoln's payment order for "one gold dollar" may be related to the turbulent state of the American monetary system as a direct result of the Civil War. Since 1792, the U.S. had been on a bi-metallic standard (tied to the value of a fixed quantity of gold or silver in the free market), but in December 1861 (three months after this check) redemption for specie was suspended. Since the outbreak of the war, the Federal government had issued about 450 million dollars in paper currency, dubbed "greenbacks"; the Legal Tender Act, passed in February 1862, mandated that this paper currency was to be accepted as legal tender for the payment of all debts and obligations, though the currency was not tied to a specific gold or silver standard and no redemption date was spelled out. (Not surprisingly, the Legal Tender Act was bitterly opposed by Wall Street.)
This is the only recorded check from Lincoln to "Tad," who died presumably of tuberculosis in 1871 at age 18. Published in Basler 8:476; noted in E.S. Meirs, Lincoln Day by Day, 3:65.
Provenance: Roy P. Crocker, Lincoln Savings and Loan Association (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 28 November 1979, lot 184).