Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Here's a fun little story from the Springfield, Illinois Journal-Register concerning the arrival to Springfield of the team from "The History Detectives" television show produced by PBS. The team, including the show's host, Wes Cowan (seen on the Antiques Roadshow as a specialist in Americana) came to Springfield to investigate whether some old song sheets discovered by an Oregon couple might have belonged to Abraham and Mary Lincoln. It seems that a couple of the sheets contain what appear to be a couple of Lincoln signatures. The photo I've included depicts Cowan (on the left) interviewing Jean Baker, the prominent Mary Todd Lincoln scholar.
Sadly, the historians believe the signatures aren't real and that the provenance provided to the couple who bought the sheets is bogus. Still, the story is intriguing and I hope I catch it. Just last season, the show experts came to Springfield to investigate whether a letter supposedly written by Lincoln and purchased at a garage sale in Florida was real. Amazingly, it was. That's the kind of story that keeps someone like me, a Lincoln buff and an antiques nut, searching for the next treasure out there.
I've actually had a couple of dealings with Mr. Cowan, one a good outcome and one less than good. About 10 years ago, I purchased an original 1865 broadside announcing Lincoln's assassination, published by a Canton, Ohio (my hometown) newspaper. I was thrilled to get it. Just a couple of years ago, I actually called Wes to have him check what appeared to be an original Department of War notice that John Wilkes Booth had been shot. The notice was coming up for auction the next day in a town not far from me. He told me the notice "looked good" and then asked me where the town was. BIG mistake. The next day, I attended the auction and the buyer (certainly not myself) didn't hesitate to spend $2,000 on the winning bid. I was suspicious that it might have been a representative from Cowan's business.
I was correct. I next saw this wonderful "Booth Shot" broadside was listed for auction on Cowan's business (Historic Americana) website. It brought over $8,000. So by calling him, I inadvertently led him to a treasure which he made a killing on. Perhaps slightly unethical, but all is fair in the collectibles trade. Still, I love watching his shows.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 5:54 PM