In observance of our 16th president's 200th birthday Feb. 12, the George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film embarked on a project to restore the original transparency plate used to print Abraham Lincoln's favorite portrait of himself (above).
The project actually began in 2006, when the owner of a duplicate of the plate -- a collector who for years didn't realize he owned source material for the treasured 1860 portrait (and who wished to remain anonymous) -- sent the duplicate transparency to the Eastman museum, according to a story by the Associated Press.
The profile of a beardless, bow-tie-wearing Lincoln -- one of two frames available from that shoot -- was taken on June 3, 1860, in Springfield, Ill., not long after Lincoln announced his candidacy for the presidency.
Photographer Alexander Hesler recorded the images on a wet-plate collodion negative. It later was transferred to a high-resolution silver-gelatin interpositive glass plate (top left), then a new technology from which several thousand prints were made and sold in the late 19th century (top right).
Portions of the plate and the duplicate, however, were accidentally shattered during a shipment to St. Louis by parcel post in 1933.
The original glass plate and fragments ended up as an artifact in a Smithsonian Institution vault, but the duplicate disappeared mysteriously, only to end up years later in possession of the anonymous collector. It's the 8"x10" duplicate that was sent to the Eastman museum for repair and restoration.
"That looks better and expresses me better than any I have ever seen,'' Lincoln said of the Hesler portrait in a letter to the photographer. "If it pleases the people, I am satisfied.''
Other portraits of Lincoln are included here as well. The clean-shaven Lincoln (framed in oval above) also was taken in 1860.
The first bearded shot of Lincoln was taken on Nov. 8, 1863, by Alexander Gardner. While waiting for the shot to be set up, the president read a newspaper account of the speech that famed orator Edward Everett would make at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg. Lincoln would also speak at Gettysburg, of course, but he had yet to compose his remarks, promising only that they would be “short, short, short.”
The second bearded image was taken in February 1865, two months before his death. The negative was cracked after it was developed.
For the full AP story on the plate restortation project, visit the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph Web site by clicking on the link in this sentence. For more reading on the Lincoln portraits, visit these sites:
National Portrait Gallery: The Many Faces of Lincoln
Smithsonian Institution research on Lincoln portraits
Millikin University collection of two frames from the Hesler 1860 sitting