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Coup de Coeur : Abraham Lincoln by Samuel Fassett


The 19th Century Shop presents this salt print which is the earliest paper photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken from life and not made from an ambrotype or daguerreotype. Lincoln sat for this portrait at the Cook (often given as Cooke) & Fassett Gallery in Chicago on October 4, 1859. Lincoln’s unsuccessful 1858 Senate race against Stephan Douglas had won him some national recognition. It was not until the Cooper Union address in New York in 1860 that Lincoln would be regarded as a serious candidate for the presidency.

Samuel Fassett recalled, “I made then one negative and as that was in the beginnings of photography … one good result was thought sufficient….Mr. Lincoln told me that he had sat for daguerrotypes, ambrotypes, &c., but never before for a [paper] photograph; therefore to me belongs the honor of having made the first photograph of that great and good man … I can’t tell you how many prints were made from my negative of Lincoln. I began printing copies as rapidly as possible as the demand was very great …” The negative was destroyed in the great Chicago fire of October 1871.

Shortly after Lincoln’s death, Cook wrote the photographer: “Little thought we in October 1859, when, at my solicitation, Abraham Lincoln visited with me your gallery, for the purpose of sitting for his photograph, what a value five years would give to the picture! Mrs. Lincoln pronounced this the best likeness she had ever seen of her husband. It shows him as he was, previous to his first nomination, and just as his old friends remember him. Consequently no recent picture can be so valuable to many; and the public ought to be truly grateful that you have preserved the negative with such care. There are so many caricatures of Mr. Lincoln in circulation that a reliable portrait is invaluable, and should adorn every house in the land” (Browne, The Every-Day Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 135).


Samuel Fassett. Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1859)

salted paper print (7 ¼ x 5 ¼ oval)


19th Century Shop

10400 Stevenson rd, suite 100

Stevenson, MD 21153


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