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    [Abraham Lincoln] The Famous "Grimsley Trunk", Originally Owned by Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. Wooden and undressed-cowhide trunk, about 33" x 17" x 14", bearing wrought iron reinforcements, lifting rings, lid chains, hinges, tacks, and lock, which retains its original, palm-sized iron key. The trunk shows signs of very heavy use, with some of the hide abraded, worn off or peeling, but nevertheless it is quite sound and strong. The interior, lined with period newspaper stenciled in a vine-and-leaf pattern and bearing the mounted trade card of William Judson, trunk maker of York, is considerably worn and stained.

    This trunk may have been used by the Lincolns on their eastern and southern trips during his tenure as a Congressman (1847-49). It is possible that this is the "old sole leather" trunk Mary Lincoln once persuaded him to leave at home in favor of one of her own, because his was "very dilapidated..." As they prepared to moved to the White House, one can easily imagine that Mrs. Lincoln did not want anyone to see her and her husband in possession of a shabby old trunk -- they bought new ones for the trip -- and since there were clothes and other articles they wished to keep but not take along, it was an obvious choice to pack it all in this well-traveled trunk. Sometime during the week before leaving Springfield, Mr. Lincoln delivered trunk and contents into the safekeeping of Elizabeth Todd Grimsley (later Mrs. Brown), the favorite cousin of Mary Lincoln.

    He also gave her a carpetbag full of his personal papers, and authorized her to dispose of everything should it not be reclaimed, which it never was. In later years "Cousin Lizzie", as Lincoln called her, apparently gave away or used up the trunk contents, and while some of the papers were handed out as souvenirs, the balance were notoriously thrown into the fire by a maid who thought they were trash.

    In 1919 Lizzie's son John Todd Grimsley gave this trunk to Harry E. Barker, a Springfield dealer in books, manuscripts and relics. In 1929 the distinguished Kentucky collector William H. Townsend, who had been looking for an "authentic relic associated with Abraham Lincoln's life in Springfield", learned of the trunk through his friend Dr. William E. Barton, the renowned Lincoln scholar. Townsend traveled to Springfield to see it, interviewed Lizzie's granddaughter Mary Donaldson, thoroughly satisfied himself as to the trunk's history, and bought it. It remained with Townsend until he sold it in 1963 to Justin G. Turner.

    The trunk is heavily documented, with the relevant material mounted or laid into a slim, large folio volume, bound in gilt stamped blue cloth, which bears on its endpapers the bookplates of William H. Townsend, Justin G. Turner, and Nathaniel Stein. The documentation includes a sweet, personal Autograph Letter Signed of Lizzie Grimsley, 1892, to "Emily" (Todd Helm, Mary Todd Lincoln's sister); an Autograph Letter Signed of John T. Grimsley, 1919, outlining the history of the trunk; an Autograph Manuscript Signed by William H. Hayden, n.d., attesting Mrs. Grimsley's gift of some of the carpetbag papers; a typed letter and a notarized affidavit, both signed by Harry E. Barker, 1929, concerning the trunk's history; a lengthy typed account of its acquisition, signed by William H. Townsend, 1929; and other miscellaneous documentation about the trunk, the Grimsley family, and related matters. Together with a copy of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, winter 1973, containing a detailed article about the trunk by Turner. An outstanding Lincoln relic, which has had only a handful of collector-owners. Few Lincoln family possessions of such magnitude and irreproachable provenance remain outside of institutional holdings, and this is one of the most delightfully evocative of them.

    Lincoln and Grimsley families; Harry E. Barker; Townsend; Turner, lot 36; Nathaniel Stein; to Dr. Lattimer, 1970.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2008
    20th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 4,192

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