Here's my take on the new Reed book, Abraham Lincoln - Beyond the American Icon.
John and Nancy Wilson have given us a good description of the book and its contents in the previous article. With the assistance of author Fred Reed I'll add a few comments and excerpts and images from the book. To the right is the central cover image, a colorful Lincoln portrait by artist Cat Clausen. It's a great choice as it shows the range of interpretations over the years while remaining instantly recognizable as the visage of our 16th President.
From the Foreword by Q. David Bowers:
If anyone is qualified to break new ground in Lincoln scholarship, it is Fred Reed. I have been a friend of Fred’s for many years, since the 1960s in fact, and have followed his award-winning career. A consummate researcher and a gifted writer, he has created standard reference articles and books on several historical subjects, his Abraham Lincoln: The Image of His Greatness being a recent example. Both broad and deep in its scope, that book was recognized with literary awards from national organizations representing several branches of numismatics. Beyond that, it has been embraced by the mainstream of the Lincoln research community, as well as by more casual armchair historians and Lincoln fans.
Now, in his latest work, Abraham Lincoln: Beyond the American Icon, Reed has created a perspective of Lincoln from a new angle: Lincoln seen not from the viewpoint of military history or presidential accomplishments, but as he was regarded by the American public in his time, followed by his legacy since 1865.
In many ways Fred Reed’s new book adds to the appreciation of Lincoln as a human being. In the years after the president’s passing, satire was rare, and appreciation, indeed adulation, was common. For an artist or sculptor to be commissioned to create a statue, plaque, coin, or other item depicting Lincoln was a high tribute.
Reed traces the shift in public opinion that has resulted in occasional contrarian depictions of Lincoln as secretly gay or racist, showing how the once universally revered president has become touched by controversy and parody, and yet endures as one of the most fascinating figures in our collective history.
Lincoln’s image has become so familiar to Americans that the beloved president has been increasingly called upon to serve any number of agendas, from the “Honest Abe” persona that advertisers and business owners appropriate in order to gain credibility and the public’s trust, to the rawboned pioneer scrapper, who is called upon to bodyslam evildoers in graphic novels and films.
From Fred Reed's Introduction:
Abraham Lincoln: Beyond the American Icon gives me an opportunity to amplify and extend on previous commentary; in short, to draw a finer point to the first book’s arguments. It also provides an opportunity to drill down on certain aspects treated cursorily in the first text, and present interesting additional data or details (such as the Henry Clay medal presented by Daniel Ullman to Lincoln, or the City of Lincoln, Nebraska, municipal scrip with Lincoln portraits), and to show interesting different varieties/types of previously illustrated Lincolniana. Furthermore, this book presents the opportunity to put down on the record a broad canvas of celebrations surrounding the Lincoln bicentennial. We might wish that someone had done as much a century ago, shortly after the Lincoln centennial!
Below are some selected images and captions from the book. Thanks again to Fred Reed and Whitman Publishing for their permission and assistance. A couple treats for numismatic bibliophiles are included.
Fig. 1.15. Today we know this famous image, generally credited to Peoria, Illinois, photographer Roderick M. Cole, as O-14. Reproductions of the image were very popular on campaign buttons (ferrotypes) and ribbons during the election of 1860. This print at the Library of Congress supplies this spurious information written in pencil on back: “This is the photograph from the original ambertype [sic] owned by the Latham family of Lincoln, Illinois. It was posed for by Mr. Lincoln at the time the city of Lincoln was named for him. The photographer is unknown and is called the lost ambrotype. [Signed] Gillespie, 7/5/35.” Lincoln, Illinois, was incorporated in 1853. Lincoln photograph historians now believe this likeness was taken circa 1858.
Fig. 1.28. Philadelphia diesinker Robert Lovett, who is also credited with the fantasy “Confederate” cent, created this marvelous campaign token (King-48) for Abraham Lincoln in 1860, proclaiming “Protection to American Industry / Free / Homes / For / Free Men,” both Republican planks. The portrait is an artistic rendering of the Hesler photograph, O-26. It is a 27-millimeter masterpiece. However, its concentric reverse design has only 32 stars, when there were 34 states at the time.
Fig. 1.41. Alfred Satterlee’s privately printed pamphlet An Arrangement of Medals and Tokens, Struck in Honor of the Presidents of the United States was the first publication to quantify and catalog the proliferation of numismatic tributes to Honest Abe.
Fig. 2.31. Anthony Paquet was a Philadelphia medalist with a close association to the U.S. Mint, having been an assistant engraver there from 1857 to 1864. He went into private business in Philadelphia but continued to enjoy Mint patronage, producing dies for a great many Mint medals, including the various small cent-sized (19 mm) Abraham Lincoln medals, and the Northwest Sanitary Fair medal depicting Lincoln. Non-Mint strikings using Paquet’s small Lincoln profile die are also known, but this is perhaps the most spectacular, struck over a U.S. $5 gold piece, with a diameter of 21.6 mm. This was most likely done either just after the Civil War or during the Civil War centennial, both times when a great many vintage dies were used to strike collector issues.
Fig. 2.68. New York collector Andrew C. Zabriskie created the first catalog devoted exclusively to medals struck to honor Abraham Lincoln. Only 75 copies were printed for the author in 1873. Examples are rare today.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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