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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 11, March 16, 2008, Article 12

LARGEST LINCOLN NUMISMATIC COLLECTION IN LIMBO

Dick Johnson writes: "It couldn't come at a worse time. With
the approach of the 2009 Bicentennial of Lincoln's Birth (and
the centennial of the Lincoln Cent) the Lincoln Financial Group
has opted to close the Lincoln National Foundation's Lincoln
Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana as of June 30 this year.

"The Lincoln Museum has one of the world's largest collections
of Lincoln numismatic items, with perhaps a greater number of
Lincoln items than even the J. Doyle DeWitt collection of
Political Americana at the University of West Hartford or the
Robert Hewitt collection (which was donated to the Smithsonian
in Washington, D.C.).  Robert King based his 1924 catalog on
Hewitt's collection and it has remained the standard work for
80 years.

"In addition to coins and medals, the Fort Wayne collection
contains an extensive library of books on Lincoln and vast
holdings of related material. If an object was associated with
Lincoln in any phase of his life, and was an artifact worth
having, it ended up in the Foundation's museum. Its holdings
are valued at $20 million.

"Among what the Museum calls its 79 key artifacts are one
of Lincoln's canes and his rocking chair. It also holds a
copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln,
and one of 13 known copies of the 13th Amendment.

"The collection began with a few shelves of Lincoln books in
the basement of the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company
in the late 1920s. Under the directorship of three Lincoln
scholars, beginning with Louis Austin Warren, who took the
reins in 1928, the collection grew. Robert Gerald McCurtry
became director on Dr. Warren's retirement in 1956. Mark E.
Neely Jr. served for two decades from 1972 until 1992. Joan
Flinspack was named director in 1993.

"The Lincoln Museum was closed for six months in 1995 when
it moved from Clinton Street in Fort Wayne to its present
location at 200 E. Berry Street. It is housed in a landmark
location in Renaissance Square Building.

"The Lincoln Foundation was created in 1928 and was first
called the Lincoln Historical Research Foundation. It was
entirely supported by the Lincoln National Life Insurance
Company. Recently the insurance company reorganized and
changed its name to the Lincoln Financial Group.

"The reason for the closing of the museum, in the words of
Priscilla Brown, vice president of the Lincoln Financial
Group, 'This is not at all in the interest of saving money.
We will not be in the business of managing a museum.'  This
is PR Speak for 'it IS about money.' The news story then
goes on to relate the museum's income was $458,000 last
year and its expenses were $1.6 million. Yes, it is about
the money.

"Lincoln National Life Insurance Company renamed itself
Lincoln Financial Group and within the last 20 years has
been divesting divisions, such as property casualty and
reinsurance operations, and acquiring other insurance
companies and financial services companies. The museum
apparently did not fit into this mold so it must go.

"The closing announcement has caused one museum official,
Marilyn Moran-Townsend, a board member of Friends of the
Lincoln Museum, to resign and to speak out rather strongly.
In a guest column in the Ford Wayne News-Sentinel she states
the closing would 'leave a hole in our community's heart.'

"In 1963 the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company issued
its own Lincoln medal. It had among its collections a bronze
bas-relief of Lincoln, reputedly one of the most lifelike
reliefs of the 16th president. It was signed 'Pickett 1873'
but despite research no one had identified the artist.

"Because William Louth, then president of Medallic Art Company,
was a board member of the New York City Group of Lincoln National
Life Insurance, he suggested that the relief could be rendered
into an attractive art medal. The Museum shipped their bronze
relief to Medallic Art, and this served as a pattern whose image
was reduced to a 3-inch oval size die and art medals struck. The
insurance company reproduced an illustration of the medal on
its calendars the following year.

"While I was researching in the New York Public Library a
decade later I came across an entry to a 'Byron M. Pickett'
in an 1873 auction catalog. Further checking ascertained this
was indeed the artist who had created the enigmatic 'Pickett
Head of Lincoln' relief in the Lincoln Museum's collection
and replicated on that 1963 medal. Director McMurtry was
delighted to learn Pickett's full identity. 'You have made
an important discovery,' he wrote.

"I fondly remember visiting the Lincoln Museum and was
escorted to it by Kenneth Hallenbeck, now interim director
of the American Numismatic Association. He was living in
Fort Wayne at the time and employed by Lincoln National Life
Insurance Company. After dinner at the Hallenbeck home, my
family slept in their driveway (well, actually in a motor
home). The anticipation was great for the trip to the museum
the next day. Ken introduced me to Director Mark Neely then
he crossed the street to his office in the Company's main
building.

"My notes tell me I did see in the museum that bas-relief
by Byron Pickett. It was displayed with a plaque that stated
this image was also the model for a United States postal
card. It was engraved and issued in red ink on a cream card
(philatelists call it UX23), although the image is flipped.
Lincoln faces right on the original relief, left on the
postal card. It was reissued in the same design in 1913 in
green ink (UX26).

"Over the years the museum has published 'Lincoln Lore' a
periodical that the Chicago Tribune has called one of the
top 50 in the nation. Future status of the magazine remains
unknown. About forty American museums have a strong interest
in Abraham Lincoln memorabilia. It is likewise unknown if
the museum's holdings will pass to one or more of these museums.

"To read one of five related articles (they are all linked
herewith) see: Full Story"

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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