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    The 1841 Abraham Lincoln Wedding Gift That Mary Todd Never Saw. January 1, 1841, by many accounts, was to be not only the start of a new year in Springfield, Illinois, but also the start of a new marriage between a gangly, insecure, self-taught attorney and a young, highly-educated, popular Southern belle. Their names were Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd and both had been born in Kentucky. Abraham, born to poor, illiterate farmers, had ended up in Springfield in 1837 after a succession of professions and moves; he was there practicing law and serving in the Illinois House of Representatives. Mary, born to wealthy, slave-holding parents, had moved from Lexington, Kentucky to Springfield in 1839 to live with her sister Elizabeth Edwards, quickly taking a leading position in local society. Her arrival apparently caused quite a stir among local bachelors as many courted her, including Lincoln, James Shields, and Stephen Douglas, the "little giant" of Illinois politics. She fell in love with Abraham Lincoln, though, and they were engaged in 1840. The relationship proved to be rocky; their tastes, ambitions, and backgrounds differed, causing frequent arguments. Lincoln grew increasingly despondent, fearing that they were incompatible, and that he would never be able to make her happy in marriage. With the date for the nuptials set, Lincoln set out to buy a wedding present suitable for his sophisticated young fiancée- something lovely and enduring.

    Lincoln purchased the blue enamel, diamond-studded, 18-karat gold timepiece offered in this lot. He had it engraved "To Miss Mary Todd from A.L. 1841" on the inside back cover. As the impending wedding grew nearer, Lincoln grew more moody and depressed, apprehensive of the coming event. According to accounts from W. H. Herndon, one of Lincoln's law partners, the guests and bride were present at the Edwards home on January 1, 1841, waiting; waiting for a bridegroom that would not show up. Others claim that this was only the day that Lincoln broke the engagement; no wedding was actually planned. Lincoln, in a March 1842 letter to his dear friend Joshua B. Speed, referred to this day, in part: "I am not going beyond the truth, when I tell you, that the short space it took me to read your last letter, gave me more pleasure, than the total sum of all I have enjoyed since that fatal first of Jany.'41. Since then, it seems to me, I should have been entirely happy, but for the never-absent idea, that there is one still unhappy whom I have contributed to make so. That still kills my soul. I can not but reproach myself, for even wishing to be happy while she is otherwise." Whichever is the true story, Lincoln never gave Miss Mary Todd the wedding present watch he had so thoughtfully picked out for her.

    Returning to Springfield from a trip on January 14, 1841, Lincoln was at the home of William Butler where he boarded. A celebrated Kentucky beauty named Mary N. Curtis was visiting there at the time. They had met on several previous occasions and, on this particular day, they sat in the parlor and shared a pleasant conversation. With no warning, Lincoln pulled out the watch and presented it to Miss Curtis, saying something to the effect of "Mary, I've got something for you." He went on up the stairs to his room as she sat there stunned. Mary returned to her home in Louisville the next day, probably thinking she was engaged to an up-and-coming Illinois lawyer and politician. It was some time later, when she took the watch out to wind it, that Mary Curtis noticed the engraving, then realizing that Lincoln possibly just gave her the watch to rid himself of an unpleasant memory. The timepiece was placed away in a trunk for 31 years. In the meantime, Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd did finally marry, on November 4, 1842. The rest of that story, as they say, is history.

    It was only when Mary thought herself to be dying that she passed the Lincoln watch along to a dear friend named Elizabeth DeWitt. In a letter dated June 7, 1872 that is included with this lot, Mary writes, in part: "Do you remember the beautiful blue watch with the diamond stones our beloved President Lincoln gave me that memorable afternoon of January, 1841, with the inscription inside...Well I want you to accept it from me and keep it as a remembrance of me, when I pass to the great beyond, dear Elizabeth..." Miss DeWitt then kept the watch for 18 years until financial difficulties forced her part with it. She found a buyer in an acquaintance named Hugh J. Grant, then mayor of New York City and a known Lincoln collector. On May 10, 1890 Miss DeWitt wrote to Mr. Grant in a letter, also included in this lot, in part: "...It gives me great personal pleasure to feel that the watch of our great President Abraham Lincoln, shall rest in your collection..." Another letter, also included, dated May 3, 1898, shows that the watch was, at that time, owned by John D. Simmons. The chain of ownership is unclear from that point until December 8, 1931, when an elderly woman walked into a local shop in Washington, D.C. with the watch and a few other Lincoln items. A victim of the depression, she sold it to the dealer with the proviso that her name never be revealed. A few weeks later it was purchased by art collector Mano Swartz of Baltimore, and then passed into the hands of Joseph Kruskal of New York City. In 1936 the watch was placed on display in New York City to great fanfare as part of an exhibit titled "The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln" held to benefit the Madison Square Boys Club. The watch's interesting history was printed in the local papers including the Times, the Sun, and the Herald Tribune (a file of clippings is included with the lot). Some years later, in their February 16, 1946 issue, Colliers featured a two page story with color photos on the romantic and historical background of this fine timepiece (full issue included in lot). It passed into other collections and through a Parke-Bernet Galleries auction before finding a home in Henry Luhrs' Lincoln Library collection in 1952. The Mary Todd watch was by far the most expensive item ever purchased by Henry Luhrs for this collection, costing $1800. To put this price in perspective, George Washington Autograph Letters were, at that time, readily available in the $150-200 range.

    Heritage Galleries is proud to offer this beautiful and historical example of the horological art to the general public for the first time in 50 or more years. The watch itself is in fine running condition and comes with a winding key and the original wooden box. Its overall diameter is approximately 1.5" and the watchcase is marked "Chrismann Sons & Brown", "Geneva", and "18K". The blue enameling is just a bit worn at the very edges on both sides. All but one of the diamonds are in their mounts (a few were replaced in the 1950s) and that one is present with the watch. The decorative wooden box is 6.5" x 4.5" x 3" and features an inlaid floral design on the top and a black velvet interior. It is rare to find a presidential relic of this age and importance with such a chain of provenance. Still, it is true, the chain goes back "only" to 1872. There is no direct, contemporary documentation, but there is no reason to presume that there should or would be. To doubt the veracity of this item, one must presume that Mary Curtis deliberately had the watch fraudulently engraved, and she would certainly seem to lack any motive to do so, inasmuch as she gave the watch away.

    An extensive file accompanies the watch, including correspondence indicating that some doubters had temporarily shaken Henry Luhrs' confidence in the authenticity. However, the last letter in the file makes it clear that these doubts stemmed from an absence of proof positive, rather than because of any specific reason to doubt the watch. Indeed, the eminent dealer in Lincolniana Ralph Newman had offered, after conferring with Paul Angle of the Chicago Historical Society, to act as an agent for the sale of the watch.

    Newman dealt in Lincoln items for over sixty years, beginning when he opened a shop in Chicago on Lincoln's birthday in 1933. Carl Sandberg was an early and regular customer. As a dealer he worked with a range of Civil War material, but was best as the leading Lincoln expert of his day. The fact that, at the conclusion of a flap of controversy over the Mary Todd watch, Ralph Newman was prepared to handle its sale should be, for sophisticated collectors, more or less the final word on the subject.

    While it may be impossible to prove the authenticity of this remarkable watch beyond a shadow of a doubt, the documentation is far more extensive and compelling than that accompanying most Lincoln artifacts. We are sure it will be treasured by its new owner, as is has been by several generations of owners who came before. From the Henry E. Luhrs Collection. 3" and features an inlaid floral design on the top and a black velvet interior. It is rare to find a presidential relic of this age and importance with such a chain of provenance. Still, it is true, the chain goes back "only" to 1872. There is no direct, contemporary documentation, but there is no reason to presume that there should or would be. To doubt the veracity of this item, one must presume that Mary Curtis deliberately had the watch fraudulently engraved, and she would certainly seem to lack any motive to do so, inasmuch as she gave the watch away.

    An extensive file accompanies the watch, including correspondence indicating that some doubters had temporarily shaken Henry Luhrs' confidence in the authenticity. However, the last letter in the file makes it clear that these doubts stemmed from an absence of proof positive, rather than because of any specific reason to doubt the watch. Indeed, the eminent dealer in Lincolniana Ralph Newman had offered, after conferring with Paul Angle of the Chicago Historical Society, to act as an agent for the sale of the watch.

    Newman dealt in Lincoln items for over sixty years, beginning when he opened a shop in Chicago on Lincoln's birthday in 1933. Carl Sandberg was an early and regular customer. As a dealer he worked with a range of Civil War material, but was best as the leading Lincoln expert of his day. The fact that, at the conclusion of a flap of controversy over the Mary Todd watch, Ralph Newman was prepared to handle its sale should be, for sophisticated collectors, more or less the final word on the subject.

    While it may be impossible to prove the authenticity of this remarkable watch beyond a shadow of a doubt, the documentation is far more extensive and compelling than that accompanying most Lincoln artifacts. We are sure it will be treasured by its new owner, as is has been by several generations of owners who came before. From the Henry E. Luhrs Collection. Accompanied by LOA from PSA/DNA.




    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2006
    20th-21st Monday-Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 20
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,471

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