, Newburyport, MA

December 27, 2012

For sale: A link to Lincoln through lock of hair

By Will Courtney

---- — AMESBURY — Collectors often flock to auctions like those at McInnis Auctioneers in hopes of owning a piece of history.

On Monday, a most unique item will come up for sale — a locket that’s not only a piece of history itself but far more valuable for what it contains.

Called a mourning locket, the 3/8-inch, 14-karat gold piece has an inscription that reads, “A Lincoln, Obt. April 15, 1865” — the day President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

Inside the locket, underneath a glass bezel, is not just a part of Lincoln’s history, but a part of him — a lock of his hair.

“I’ve known about (the locket) for 30 years,” said Dan Meader, a Georgetown historian and antiques dealer who consults for John McInnis Auctioneers. “I’ve coveted it the whole time. It’s been passed down through generations.”

Mourning lockets were quite common in Lincoln’s time. Placed on a chain around the neck as a way to honor lost loved ones close to the heart, they were often the only jewelry worn during a time of mourning. Some people still wear them today.

While the original owner of the Lincoln locket must have been relatively close to the president, its true origin is unknown. The current owner putting it up for bid is from the North Shore, but is remaining anonymous.

The locket was definitely not owned by Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s widow. She wore a mourning locket for many years containing a photo of the president and her son, Willie, who died in the White House in 1863 at the age of 11. That locket was sold in 2010 at the famed Christie’s auction house in New York City for $10,000, according to the Christie’s website.

Similar to the locket to be sold in Amesbury, Mary Todd Lincoln’s locket had a weeping black flower on the front.

Given the renewed popularity of Lincoln stemming from a recent motion picture and the lock of hair contained within the jewelry, Meader believes the Lincoln locket could fetch between $10,000 and $15,000.

John McInnis, owner of McInnis Auctioneers, said it is that direct link to Lincoln that gives it so much value.

“It’s not an important historical piece, because it belonged to someone important,” McInnis said. “This was just a locket someone acquired at the time. … If it wasn’t a Lincoln memorial locket, it would probably be worth $200.”

Meader said it wasn’t uncommon for people in Lincoln’s era to hold on to a lock of a loved one’s hair as a keepsake.

A mourning locket containing a braided lock of Lincoln’s hair was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society. It was apparently owned by one of the physicians who attended to Lincoln after he was shot.

“Back in the Victorian period, people did save people’s hair to braid it or make it into a piece of jewelry,” he said. “They did that to be close to them.”

But while they were once very common, collectors covet mourning lockets because they rarely come up for sale, Meader said.

“It’s really a very small, historical piece, but you don’t find them very often,” Meader said. “There is a certain kind of collector that collects these sorts of things.”

The lot, which will be the first to be auctioned on Monday, also includes six early photographs from around 1865. Called carte de visite photographs, or CDV, they depict several images before and after Lincoln’s death. Two show the president with his son, Tad; two are of Lincoln’s funeral procession, one is of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and one is of a home fully draped in mourning silks after Lincoln’s assassination.

McInnis and Meader expect the auction house to be busy on Monday due to the Lincoln piece and several other interesting lots. A total of more than 500 items will be auctioned, including a painting by a Korean artist that could fetch more than $200,000.

A preview of the auction is being held tomorrow through Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. and on Monday starting at 8 a.m. at McInnis Auctioneers at 76 Main St. in downtown Amesbury.