[LINCOLN, Abraham]. The pair of brass opera-glasses carried by the President at Ford's Theatre at the performance of Our American Cousin, on 14 April 1865, the night he was shot.
3 x 4 x 1½ in. approximately. Man's opera-glasses of German manufacture (the original case, in the Ford's Theatre National Park Collection, is stamped "Gebruder Strausshof Optiker Berlin"): black-enameled telescoping ocular tubes, gilt metal central spindle with cast-iron focus gear, gilt metal fittings and inner ocular tubes, four ground glass lenses (two ½ in. and two 1 3/8 in. diameter), lathe-turned threaded eyepieces, one eyepiece with tiny chip, the other slightly askew and with a small crack in lens (as if dropped), but otherwise in excellent condition and still fully functional.
LINCOLN'S OPERA-GLASSES: AN EXCEPTIONALLY WELL-DOCUMENTED RELIC OF LINCOLN'S FINAL HOURS AT FORD'S THEATRE; PROBABLY THE LAST OBJECT EVER USED BY THE PRESIDENT
The fateful shot fired by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865, took the life of the sixteenth President and also created the nation's first martyr-President: "Lincoln's death sank into the hearts and captivated the minds of the generation that grew to maturity after the Civil War" (Merrill Peterson); it "produced shock-waves among the American people that were to be deep and lasting" (Thomas Reed Turner). After the shooting and Booth's dramatic escape, a group of physicians and Washington City Guards carefully carried Lincoln, bleeding and unconscious, from the theater to the Peterson House across 10th Street. On the way, a pair of gilt and enamel man's opera glasses that had evidently rested in Lincoln's lap during Our American Cousin fell to the street and were retrieved by Captain James M. McCamley, one of the stretcher-bearers. McCamley, a veteran of the Union Army who had served in the 70th New York Volunteer Infantry from June 1861 until July 1864, placed them in his pocket and forgot about them in the confusion. Captain McCamley remained at the Peterson House all night, until Lincoln's death at 7:22 a.m., then escorted the body to the White House "at which time being relieved of duty he returned to his quarters and went to sleep, when he discovered he had the glasses" (accompanying affadavit). The case which accompanied the opera-glasses was later found in the Presidential box, which was systematically stripped of its contents, furniture, carpet and wallpaper in the wake of the assassination. McCamley, a ranking officer of the Washington City Guard, later commanded the honor guard which accompanied Lincoln's remains to Springfield for internment (recorded in an accompanying 1890 act of Congress granting a pension to McCamley's widow).
Exhibited: Lincoln Exhibition, organized by Meisei University, Mitsuo Kodama, President, at Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi, Tokyo, August 1984.
Two copies of a sizeable dossier accompanies the lot, with detailed documentation including affadavits, copies of McCamley's military and pension records, a 1968 Smithsonian Institution report and a letter from Harold L. Peterson, Chief Curator of the National Park Service, in 1968, stating that "these glasses precisely fit the opera glass case in our possession."
1. Abraham Lincoln
2. Captain (later Major) James M. McCamley (d. 1 September 1878)
3. Sarah C. McCamley, widow of the above
4. Sarah M. Hartt, grandaughter of the above, by descent
5. Robert C. Hartt, son of the above (signed affadavit present)
6. The Roy P. Crocker Lincoln National Savings and Loan Collection (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 28 November 1979, lot 251, illustrated, $22,000, a record price at the time for any Lincoln artifact).