The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 22, May 31, 2009, Article 16


Nick Graver forwarded this Associate Press article about a letter returned to the National Archives relating to the San Francisco Mint. -Editor
The National Archives on Thursday added to its collection a short letter written by President Abraham Lincoln to help an ousted U.S. Mint director who was the son-in-law of a Republican senator.

In the new letter, Lincoln asked his treasury secretary, Salmon Chase, to allow the fired head of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco, Robert Stevens, to review the charges that led to his removal. Lincoln had appointed Stevens as a favor to Oregon Sen. Edward Baker, the ousted director's father-in-law.

"This letter, while seemingly routine, is an extremely important key to understanding President Lincoln's relationship with Sen. Baker," said James Hastings, director of access programs at the archives. "It shows his interest, even in the midst of the Civil War, in political issues on the West Coast."

The letter is written on yellowed stationary simply marked Executive Mansion, Washington, with a dashed line where the date — Nov. 14, 1863 — was filled in by hand. This was five days before Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address.

The archives says it was torn years earlier from a bound volume of Chase's correspondence with government officials. The removal occurred before the book of letters was inducted into the archives.

Specialists at the archives will reattach the letter to the place it was torn from the book.

"We will have this piece of the puzzle now where it belongs and scholars can now interpret its importance to this critical period," Hastings said.

To read the complete article, see: National Archives obtains Lincoln letter to treasury secretary about fired US Mint official (

Arthur Shippee spotted another article in the New York Times, and I saw a third in the Washington Post, each with an interesting take on the letter and its significance. Here are some excerpts. -Editor

Lincoln Letter Times The letter is part of a 141-volume series documenting letters received by Treasury secretaries from other government officials from 1831 to 1869. Archives officials are not certain exactly when the letter was lost, but said it appeared to have been before the 1940s. After learning that the letter had been offered for sale about three years ago, around the time Mr. Cutler bought it, the archives set about to track it down.

James Hastings, director of access programs for the archives, said the letter was the only piece missing from its volume.

“I can’t prove what happened,” Mr. Hastings said, stopping short of calling its removal from the volume a theft. “But it’s not a coincidence, I think, that a handwritten Lincoln letter was the only document removed.”

Mr. Cutler declined to say how much he had paid for the letter.

He said donating what he called the crown jewel of his collection was bittersweet, but added that he knew the letter belonged to the public.

“It may sound kind of corny,” he said, “but I consider myself a temporary custodian of what I collect.”

To read the complete New York Times article, see: Letter by Lincoln, Lost for Decades, Is Returned (

Lincoln Letter image

Even lionized super-presidents occasionally placed boneheads in prominent positions, and paid a price for it. A certain memo from Abraham Lincoln, donated to the National Archives by a private collector yesterday, reminds us of this.

Four days before he went to Gettysburg in 1863 to deliver a certain address, Lincoln made time to deal with an annoyance, a trifle compared with the Civil War. The secretary of the Treasury had investigated one Robert Stevens, the son-in-law of Lincoln's dear friend Sen. Edward Baker (R-Ore.), and charged him with corruption during his tenure as superintendent of the San Francisco Mint. Stevens wanted to see the evidence against him. To grease the bureaucratic wheels, Lincoln penned a letter to Secretary Salmon P. Chase.

The note is curt and quick -- maybe because Lincoln thoroughly disliked Chase, maybe because he was still smarting from the backlash to his appointment of his friend's son-in-law, maybe because he had more pressing persuasive writing to complete.

The memo seems a startling distraction to a president embroiled in a cataclysmic and bloody war. Thus it neatly illustrates one of the immutable laws of presidential politics then and now: Individual imbroglios fester at will, anytime, without regard for the deeper national crisis.

"Even though this item is seemingly routine, it is in fact very important," said James Hastings, director of access programs for the archives. "It shows his regard for [Senator Baker], and shows his political interest in the West Coast, even in the midst of the Civil War."

Lincoln, who wept at the news of Baker's death in battle in 1861, appointed Stevens to the mint that same year as a favor to the Baker family. When a delegation from San Francisco traveled to Washington to oppose this patronage, Lincoln flew into a rage and threw their written complaints in the fireplace. Stevens was eventually fired in 1863, but the president wanted the son-in-law of his friend to have access to pertinent information.

The note shows the president's core values of fair play, attention to courtesy amid chaos and reliance on political patronage, says Michael Burlingame, author of "Abraham Lincoln: A Life."

It was the cornerstone of my collection, the most expensive and dear item," Cutler said. "Certainly it's bittersweet, but knowing it's going back to the public is more of an honor than a consolation."

The archives gave Cutler a facsimile of the letter to show its gratitude for shedding a sliver of light on the ordeal, but that pales in comparison to the rest of Cutler's collection. He owns at least one document signed by every single president of the United States -- except one.

"If Mr. Obama is listening," Cutler joked at the news conference, "please send me a letter with your signature on it."

To read the complete article, see: We've Got Mail -- From A. Lincoln (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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