Published: June 26, 2007
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has acquired the Taper collection of more than 1,500 artifacts, manuscripts and artworks that span Lincoln’s entire life and provide insight into the forces that shaped the man who helped shape the American nation. The collection is celebrated for its holdings, which shed light on Lincoln’s dramatic personal life and his relationships with his wife and children, friends, colleagues and even his enemies and detractors.
The newly acquired objects will be seen in museum exhibits beginning July 3, with a small exhibition of items in the museum’s galleries. The Lincoln Library and Museum is also working to develop traveling exhibitions featuring key documents from the Taper collection. The Treasures Gallery, a designated exhibition space within the museum, will be renamed later this year in honor of Louise Taper.
The acquisition of this unique collection has been made possible through purchase by the Lincoln Library and Museum and a generous gift from the Taper family. The acquisition greatly enhances the museum’s outstanding and far-ranging collection of documents and artifacts, and advances its position as the foremost center for the study of Lincoln’s life, times and enduring relevance.
Among the highlights of the Taper collection are Lincoln’s iconic stovepipe hat; the bloodstained gloves and handkerchief Lincoln carried on the night of his death; a vast number of artifacts, personal effects and unpublished correspondence belonging to Mary Todd Lincoln; and an 1824 Sum Book page, which contains the first known sample of Lincoln’s writing.
The Taper collection also includes extensive holdings relating to the Booth family, including assassin John Wilkes Booth and his brothers, Junius Brutus Booth Jr and Edwin Booth †who ironically saved the life of Lincoln’s son, Robert, two years before Lincoln’s assassination. These artifacts offer a multifaceted portrait of the Booths, the first theatrical family in US history, and go beyond the terrible act committed by John Wilkes Booth to show a family torn apart by the Civil War, like so many others.
The acquisition comes during a period of growing national fascination with Lincoln, one of the most beloved and most misunderstood figures in American history. Unlike other major collections of Lincoln artifacts, objects in the Taper collection were acquired based not only on their use for scholars but on their emotional and intellectual value, providing new insight into Lincoln’s rise from poverty, his relationship with his wife and his despair over the death of two of his children.
Comprising an extraordinary number of high-quality artifacts and documents, the Taper collection is unparalleled in its breadth among all private Lincoln collections. The collection was carefully built by Louise Taper, who first began to collect Lincoln artifacts after being deeply moved by a biographical novel about the marriage of the 16th president.
Fascinated by Lincoln, “the human being, the family man,” she took a part-time job with a manuscript dealer in Los Angeles, forgoing a salary in exchange for payment in historical documents. After a year, she had earned her first piece †a message written to Lincoln during the Civil War, with the president’s signature at bottom. She has worked persistently since to acquire objects that not only documented Lincoln’s presidential career, but which shed new light on his personal life, on his relationships with those closest to him and on the unique circumstances of life during the Civil War.
Her interest in Lincoln was furthered by her 1985 marriage to Barry Taper, a member of the prominent Los Angeles Taper family and son of philanthropist S. Mark Taper. The resulting collection, which reflects Taper’s passionate investment in Lincoln’s history, includes the largest known (after the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum collection) assortment of correspondence belonging to Mary Todd Lincoln, as well as the most extensive archive of materials from the Booth family. In addition to its value in scholarly study, the collection provides the most personal and nuanced portrait to date of Lincoln’s rich and varied life.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum is at 212 North Sixth Street. For information, 217-558-8844 or www.alplm.org .
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