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Reproductions of gowns worn by Mary Todd Lincoln and her social rivals
Courtesy Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

“The set has been moved around a couple of times; it was not shelved where it should have been,” says Cornelius, who recently thumbed through the 150-year-old set only to find another piece of Lincoln’s family life. “Look,” he says, holding it out for a visitor to see. “There it is, upside down, in the back.”

Sure enough, inked on the first volume’s final page, is a handwritten inscription: “R.T. Lincoln, Harvard Coll., May, 1862.”

The book demonstrates a literary connection between father and son previously unrealized, Cornelius says. Historians had never known that Robert, who studied at Harvard and went on to become secretary of war under President James Garfield, had also read one of his father’s favorite writers. The four Poe volumes are no longer kept in the library but in the museum’s vault, along with other personal effects that are known to have belonged to Lincoln and his family.

“For the serious historian and history buff, all roads lead to Springfield.”

Now You Know:
The Library began its life in 1889 as the Illinois State Historical Library.

Another recent find included five volumes of books once owned by Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Though the library a?lready had the books in its possession, their significance was overlooked until the library acquired an ornately bound copy of The Last Days of Pompeii in 2007 as part of one of the world’s most sought-after collections of Lincoln artifacts. Five years after the purchase, Cornelius noticed that the gold-and-black spine matched the other five books, which clued him in to their origin.

“It’s sort of like reuniting siblings,” Cornelius says. “I literally found this last week.”
The books, it turned out, are from a set of literary works acquired by Mary while her husband was president. The museum now has seven books from the set; nearly 40 still remain somewhere — on another library shelf, perhaps, or in the corner of an attic, or at a garage sale down the street.

That a museum would find treasures hiding in plain sight isn’t unusual.

“Absolutely par for the course,” says ?Holzer, who is senior vice president of external affairs for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “A good museum is always doing inventory. It’s amazing what they find.”