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Center for Digital Scholarship Box A, Brown University Providence, RI 02912 The Museum Objects of the McLellan Lincoln Collection View into McLellan Lincoln rooms, John Hay Library. A lock of Lincoln’s hair. A hammer owned by John Wilkes Booth. A ruler used by Lincoln in the White House. A cane made from walnut rail split by Lincoln. A block of wood from the house where Thomas Lincoln married his second wife, Sally Johnston. A piece of wallpaper taken from Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater. These numinous objects are just a few of the many strange yet fascinating pieces which have found their way into Brown’s McLellan Lincoln Collection. In 1923, John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased the Charles W. McLellan Lincoln collection and donated it to the Brown Library. McLellan was one of the first great Lincoln collectors, and the acquisition of such an impressive collection instantly made Brown one of the foremost repositories for Lincolniana in the world. In addition to books and manuscripts, McLellan’s collection included a number of museum objects, mostly medals and badges from Lincoln’s presidential campaigns and from the Civil War. Unfortunately, however, Rockefeller never provided for a permanent acquisitions fund for the Lincoln collection. Purchases of books and pamphlets related to Lincoln could be folded into existing funds, but it was much harder to find money to acquire Lincoln objects. Luckily, as the word about Brown’s Lincoln collection began to spread, donations from alumni and others poured in. Many alumni offered their Lincoln relics, that is, pieces which have value because of their connection to Lincoln. These objects were more often than not accepted by the library with little or no provenance information. To this day, the library remains unsure about the authenticity of the majority of the relics in the collection. In 1969, alumna Mary Sisk Caulfield offered the library a desk owned by Abraham Lincoln. The desk had been purchased by her parents in 1940. At first, Brown accepted the desk. Once it was delivered, however, they brought in a number of experts to assess its authenticity. The library quickly realized that the desk had been made in the late 19th century, and therefore could not have been used by the late President. After this incident, the library attempted to develop a more selective acquisition policy when it came to the Lincoln collection, purchasing only those materials which would prove useful to scholars. The policy was only somewhat successful, and the eclectic collection of museum objects has continued to grow. Modern pieces related to Lincoln have also found their way into the collection, thanks largely to the work of former Hay librarian Mari-Jo Kline. Kline had a particular interest in how Lincoln’s image has been used in popular culture. A souvenir plate from Gettysburg, an ashtray shaped like the derringer which killed Lincoln, and “Lincoln Deep Woods” aftershave are just a few of the many items produced during the second half of the 20th century which were added to the collection. The museum objects make up a small but fascinating part of the McLellan Lincoln Collection. Much more than simply a testament to Lincoln’s continuing presence in American material culture, these objects are significant because of what they can tell us about the nature of historical memory. Whether real or fake, rare or common, these objects were considered important enough by the people who owned them to save and preserve. As the library continues to add to the McLellan Lincoln collection, it too is making choices about what deserves to be saved, and how Lincoln and his legacy should be remembered. — Ann Johnson, May 2008 References Cushman, Esther Cowles. The McLellan Lincoln Collection at Brown University: a Sketch . Providence: The University Library, 1928. Newman, Ralph Geoffrey. Preserving Lincoln for the Ages: Collectors, Collections, and Our Sixteenth President . Fort Wayne: Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum, 1989. Peterson, Merrill D. Lincoln in American Memory . New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Schneider, Stuart L. Collecting Lincoln . New York: Schiffer Publishing, 1997.
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