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Exhibiting An Original Lincoln Document at Central Library

Posted In: Behind the Scenes, Collections, State Library Resource Center
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By Michael Johnson

Last Tuesday (February 12) was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and in celebration we decided we wanted to try something new. The Library has always been lucky enough to have gracious supporters, and over the years they’ve given us some very cool things. One gift in particular fit perfectly with Lincoln’s birthday; back in 1940, Mrs. William F. Bevan donated an original presidential appointment signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln Presidential Appointment

One of the top perks of working in Special Collections is the opportunities I get to actually touch history. It’s a privilege to be able to get this close, and to help others get close, to a document that actually crossed the desk of one of our greatest presidents, something that was actually in his hands. It’s what people mean, I guess, by bringing history alive. The actual original stuff of history makes it real, especially if you’re only kind of interested in it. For example, to me, history is the ancient Greeks and the Romans. I love them. I love the period, the philosophy, how radically different life was to them. I’ll read almost anything about them. But other time periods aren’t quite as real to me. That’s where primary sources make the difference.

I can’t say I’m overly fascinated by the Civil War period beyond its obvious and undeniable importance, but I also can’t deny the amazing moment I experience when I realize this document must have been in Lincoln’s hand less than a month after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, or perhaps just moments after thinking of the terrible costs of the war. Looking at the real thing brings all that to me in a moment.

I’d love to be able to exhibit this longer, but because of the age and nature of the paper it’s really best to limit its exposure. In order to exhibit a document like this we had to protect it from the light as much as possible. The Main Hall in the Central Library has enormous skylights, so we knew we would have to limit the display to one day; but even for that short a period of time it needed to be properly kept. So here’s a hearty thanks to Martha Edgerton who was able to use a frame with ultra violet (UV) protection and build a wonderful box for its exhibition. I think it came off nicely.


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