Wed, 25th Sep 2019 10:00

East Anglian, Antiques & Fine Art Sale

Lot 1300

Mrs Mary Todd Lincoln’s opera glasses, dropped in Ford’s Theatre the night of President Lincoln’s assassination

Mrs Mary Todd Lincoln’s opera glasses, dropped in her theatre box on April 14th, 1865, the fateful night that her husband the President was shot. In lacquered brass adjusting on a thread, with ivory mounts, engraved in a cursive script: ‘Mrs Mary Lincoln left these glasses in the box at Ford’s Theatre, Good Friday, April 14th, 1865, when our beloved President and Leader was cruelly assassinated, found by William Kent Esq.’, 10.5cm wide x 4cm deep x 6.2cm high

NB: Whilst the lineage of these glasses cannot be traced the supporting evidence is compelling. William Kent is a well known figure in the proceedings of the assassination. He was near the Theatre by chance on the night and assisted others caring for the wounded President. On later discovering that he had mislaid a key in the mayhem, he returned to the Theatre where he famously discovered the Derringer pistol which fired the fatal shot. His testimony was delivered on May 16th 1865 and published in the New York Times:

Judge Holt - ‘State whether or not the pistol you have before you was picked up by you in the box of the President on the night of the assassination?

William Kent ‘- Yes, Sir; this is the pistol’

Judge Holt - ‘What is it called?’

Willia Kent ‘A Derringer, I believe, and I see that name marked on it.’

Judge Holt - ‘How long after the President was shot did you pick it up?

William Kent ‘I do not know exactly how long. I suppose about three minutes after the President was shot I went into the box. There were two persons in there then. The Surgeon asked me for a knife to cut opon the President's clothes. I handed him mine, and with it he cut the President's clothes open. I left the theatre afterward. I missed my night-key and thought I had dropped it there. I hurried back to the theatre, and when I went into the box my foot knocked against a pistol lying on the floor. I picked it up and cried out "I have found the pistol." Some person then told me to give it to the police, but there was a gentleman who said he represented the Associated Press, and I handed it to him. The next morning I went round to the police station, and recognized it as the pistol I had picked up.’

William Kent was in the President’s box when he lent a knife which the physician Dr. Charles Leale used to loosen the President’s collar, the same blood-stained collar was later taken by William Kent’s friend Newton Feree when both men returned to the theatre box, it seems plausible that whilst William Kent recognised the importance of handing in the found pistol, that he may also have taken the opera glasses at this time as his own keepsake of the occasion.

The Ford’s Theatre Museum display an opera glasses case recovered from the theatre box and believed to be that of Mary Todd Lincoln. The case is property of the National Park Service and came into their possession directly from the National States Army where it had been kept as part of items used in evidence in the trial of the conspirators. The artefact is catalogued as follows:

"Leather Case. Mrs. Lincoln's opera glass case - 3 3/4" x 4 3/4" across the top x 2 1/8" (at inax.) Black soft leather with gilt clasp. It was said to have been dropped by Mrs. Lincoln in the Presidential box at Ford's Theatre. Case lined, in coral satin.”

The dimensions and style would appear to be a fit for the current lot. Correspondence in the National Park files cites historic reference to a pair of glasses in the possession of a Mrs Heath which purported to be Mrs Lincoln’s glasses and which fitted the case although it’s stated in the records that ‘Since this was a standard case and glasses, it is quite possible that other glasses will turn up to fit the case as well.’ The same records also show that at least three donors approached the National Park Service in the 1960s purporting to have Abraham Lincoln's glasses that were picked up by their ancestors on the night of the assassination. Other academics reference at least three pairs which purport to be Mary Lincoln’s opera glasses.

Various academics and Lincoln scholars have been consulted with reference to the current lot. There is a consistent harmony in the opinion that the glasses are of the correct period and style, the engraving is convincing, the script similar to dated scrimshaw work of the period. Lincoln scholar and author Ed Steers said of these opera glasses

‘There is no doubt in my mind that the inscription is authentic and of the period leading me to conclude that if the piece is a fabrication it was done a century ago quite cleverly. Having seen or handled dozens of alleged artifacts associated with Lincoln and his assassination, all bogus, I have a different feeling about your item.’

Sold for £9,000

Condition Report
Dimensions - width across top (eyepieces) 9.6cm, with at base (widest point) 10.6cm
height closed 6.3cm, height at maximum extension 8cm
depth at top (eyepieces) 3.1cm, depth at base 4.2cm

left hand ivory eyepiece has two splits, ivory slightly buckled, right hand eyepiece with one split top ivory, both ivory mounts to the body with a single split which is now quite open, split to ivory adjuster knob, tarnishing to metal, some discolouration and wear to ivory, viewing function ok, some misting to lenses.Please see multiple additional images on Reeman Dansie website


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Auction: East Anglian, Antiques & Fine Art Sale, Wed, 25th Sep 2019

Day one - lots 1 - 686 

Day two - lots 700 - 1459

Storage charges:- Please note that all lots of furniture, garden statues and rugs will only be available for collection at our premises until 5pm on Monday 30th September.  After which all items of furniture will be collected by R & D Schofield Removals at a cost of per lot of £10 + vat and £1 per day storage thereafter


Saturday 21st September 9am - 1pm

Monday 23rd September 9am - 6.00pm

Morning of the sale from 9am

View all lots in this sale

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