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The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 16, April 18, 2010, Article 14

THE MESERVE COLLECTION OF LINCOLN IMAGES

Dick Johnson submitted this report of a recent museum visit. Thanks! -Editor

BradyPhotoLincolnCooperUnion My partner in Signature Art Medals, Mark Schlepphorst, and I visited a museum this week to view the Meserve collection of Lincoln images. It was at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, a charming little museum of exquisite taste sitting atop a gentle knoll. Don't expect this to be a country museum with great grandmother's quilts and pottery. This is a first class museum with a highly professional staff that mounts 14 major exhibitions a year!

We met with the director, Peter C. Sutton, to show him three of our Lincoln numismatic items, including our latest -- modeled from one of the very Lincoln images on view in his own Arcade Gallery exhibit. "Very attractive," he said, as his hand lowered from the weight of the cast plaquette.

"It was modeled by Don Everhart of the U.S. Mint," I said, going into my pitch about how he had achieved exactly the image of that Brady photograph. Mark told how Lincoln had posed for the famed photographer before he gave a talk at the Cooper Union that same day. I had to apologize, I was more familiar with Ostendorf numbers of Lincoln photographs rather than Meserve numbers, since I had met and interviewed Lloyd Ostendorf and had cataloged a Lincoln medal he had designed that was struck by Medallic Art Company.

These two authorities had cataloged Lincoln images much like we catalog and number items in the numismatic field. There are Ostendorf numbers and Meserve numbers. For example, Victor D. Brenner used a carte-de-visite made from a Lincoln photo which I had always known as O-61. I had to learn this was Meserve 1864-2A. I wish someone would compile a concordance between the two numbering systems.

The Meserve collection was formed by a New York City merchant in the early 20th century. He acquired 15,000 Brady's glass negatives. In a lifetime of collecting he added to those as photographs of Lincoln by other photographers became available. The collection grew with about 100 studio photographs, a dozen outside photographs of Lincoln and hundreds of related photos of cabinet and family members, news events, Civil War photos and such.

The collection stayed in the Meserve family until today, it is the property of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation with third and fourth generation family members in control. The foundation furnished the Bruce Museum over 400 objects which curator Robin Garr, and guest curator Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., had to winnow down for exhibition. Along with bronze statues by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Charles Keck, the photo presentations are perfect. Negatives, for example, are placed in one case where you press and hold a button to back light the negatives. Images instantly come alive.

Another feature was life-size enlargements of every Lincoln facial portrait. These were mounted above the exhibit cases on the wall in chronological order. A viewer can sense the change in the man over the years -- from the first 1847 photo in Springfield, Illinois to one 1865 fuzzy photo of the dead president lying in state -- more so, than the obvious change of clean-shaven to bearded candidate and president. Events such as the death of his son, his struggles with Civil War generals, and mounting war casualties are reflected in the president's visage.

Mark and I obtained great pleasure from viewing the 2 x 3-inch original Brady print of that Cooper Union day photo of Lincoln, a print of which we furnished Don Everhart to model for our cast medal. Everhart nailed it! His model is exactly like that Brady print!

The Bruce Museum exhibition, Lincoln, Life-Size, is the first public showing of this famed Lincoln image archive. While the foundation may select other museums to exhibit the collection, anyone near Greenwich should take advantage and visit while the exhibit remains open, until June 6th. More details are available at the museum's web site: www.brucemuseum.org

Since The E-Sylum is about books, I can only state I could not leave the Bruce Museum without visiting the gift shop. True to form I bought the most expensive book, Lincoln Life-Size by three Kunhardt authors, and the cheapest "book" an album of Lincoln post cards reproduced from objects in the Library of Congress collections.

Wayne Homren, Editor

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