Published: February 15, 2022
DALLAS — An exquisite pocketknife presented to President Abraham Lincoln at the 1864 Philadelphia Sanitary Fair soared to $519,000 — more than double its estimate — to lead Heritage Auctions’ Lincoln and His Times Americana & Political Signature® Auction February 12-13. The knife was accompanied by its oak presentation box and Lincoln’s letter of acknowledgement signed (“A. Lincoln”) to the organizers of the Great Central Sanitary Fair that took place in Philadelphia from June 7-28, 1864.
The letter, which was written on a single 8-by-10-inch page of Executive Mansion stationery, was dated October 17, 1864, and signed “A. Lincoln,” reads in full”
“Mr A.B. Justice & others:
I have received at the hands of Wm. D. Kelley, a very beautiful and ingeniously constructed Pocket Knife, accompanied by your kind letter of presentation. The gift is gratefully accepted and will be highly valued, not only as an extremely creditable specimen of American workmanship, but as a manifestation of your regard and esteem which I most cordially appreciate.
Your Ob’t serv’t
The ensemble documents Lincoln’s support and attendance of the June 7-28 Great Central Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia, while the Union armies fought bloody battles across northern Virginia in Ulysses S. Grant’s spring offensive. The fair raised just over $1 million in aid of wounded soldiers. This was the last Sanitary Fair Lincoln ever attended. The organizers were well aware that the president’s presence had done much to aid their fund-raising efforts. “Of all the fairs Lincoln attended, Philadelphia’s occupied the greatest amount of his time…” (Martin C. Carlino, “The Sanitary Fair’s Gifts to President Lincoln,” in Railsplitter, Spring 2010, vol. 13, nos. 3-4, pp. 12-18). On his visit, on June 16, Lincoln was accompanied by Mary Todd Lincoln and their son Tad. After the fair, committee member Alfred B. Justice forwarded this knife with a flowery letter signed by 135 citizens, testifying to their “profound respect for you as a man and a statesman.”
The knife had been sold previously at Sotheby’s in 1989, where it achieved $99,825. Whether it resulted from impressive detective work or extraordinary good fortune, it is remarkable that a previous owner was able to unite this knife with Lincoln’s delightful thank-you letter, creating a beautiful grouping for display.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium. Watch for a longer sale review in a future issue.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm