Rare Print of Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Address Up For Auction

A rare photograph of Abraham Lincoln being sworn in as the 16th President of the United States will be auctioned off tomorrow by Sootheby’s New York.

The picture, taken on 4 March 1861 at the Capitol building, depicts the crowded masses gathering to witness Lincoln’s first inaugural address, as he stands beneath the protective wooden portico alongside other officials – a clearer image can be found here.

At a time when the country was on the brink of divide, Lincoln tells the people, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Lincoln’s speech paved the way towards unity during a period of civil conflict and amidst swirling rumours of a planned assassination attempt against the President himself.

The rare salt print picture, an original from the time of the negative, was recently rediscovered in a private archive and showcases one of the earliest examples of documentary photography. “To capture a scene of this elegant composure out of doors, in the elements, was still extremely rare at the time,” says Emily Bierman, a senior specialist at Sotheby’s. The photograph is assumed to have been taken by Alexander Gardner as only he would have had the technical and aesthetic mastery to create a bravura large salt print.

Original prints of this historic image are difficult to come by. The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division possesses a salt print; The Smithsonian Museum of American History, Division of Political History has a period albumen print; and the Jack Smith Lincoln Graphics Collection at the Indiana Historical Society has a gelatin silver print. Sotheby’s salt print is believed to be the first time the image has been listed for auction.

The first inaugural of Abraham Lincoln, 4 March 1861 will be open for bidding on 7 October and is expected to net between US$20,000 – US$ 30,000.