Dear Helaine and Joe:
This has been in my family for over 100 years. My father-in-law was a collector and may have gotten this when he lived in New York. I am interested in knowing the value.
Dear B. C.:
The note on lined paper reads: “Let the prisoner be released on taking the amnesty oath of December 8, 1863.” It is dated in lower left March 11, 1865, and signed “A. Lincoln.”
The amnesty oath referenced in this note begins, “I, – – – – – – – – , do solemnly swear in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect & defend the constitution of the United States and the Union of the States there under; and that I in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all acts of Congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves…”
We will not judge the authenticity of the small piece of paper bearing the handwriting and signature of our 16th president because there are so many excellent fakes and facsimiles out there. Although we have had a great deal of experience with Lincoln memorabilia, we feel strongly that an in-person examination by a specialist in the field is required to establish the worth of this small piece of American history.
But we are willing to address some possibilities and discuss a past sale result or two. Abraham Lincoln memorabilia that can be associated directly with the president can be quite valuable. Lincoln, who lived from Feb. 12, 1809, to April 15, 1865, is considered by many to be at the pinnacle of those who occupied the office.
Collectors avidly seek any significant and authentic item that relates to the Civil War, and the small piece of paper rings the bell to a certain extent. The prisoner mentioned in the note was probably a prominent Confederate military officer (someone above the rank of colonel in the Confederate Army or lieutenant in the Navy), politician or diplomat.
There is some indication the note may have been taken from a larger letter or document, and other similar examples do exist and have been sold. One dated Feb. 20, 1865, reads: “Let this man take the oath of Dec. 8, 1863 & be discharged.” It too was signed “A. Lincoln.”
This document measured 31/2 by 11/2 inches and sold at auction in 2003 for $5,000. If the example in today’s question proves to be genuine, we feel prices have risen just a tad in the intervening years. It is our opinion that — if genuine, and that is a big if — the example belonging to B. C. would bring less than $6,000 at auction and the figure would more likely be around $5,500 or so.
On a good day it might bring a bit more, on a bad day, a bit less. As for insurance replacement, we feel that would be in the $10,000 to $12,000 range — again, if it proves to be authentic. Incidentally, we think it has a decent chance of being genuine.