Lincoln's Bicentennial Turns Into Lovefest
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
With tomorrow the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, celebrations across the country are honoring one of America's greatest presidents. There are new Lincoln pennies being minted as well, new Lincoln postage stamps and several new books out about Lincoln's life and times. Arguably, the greatest private collection of Lincoln books and artifacts is in Chicago, on sale at the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop. NPR's David Schaper takes us inside.
DAVID SCHAPER: There's never been a time like this for Abraham Lincoln experts, author, scholars, even Lincoln booksellers are in high demand.
Mr. DANIEL WEINBERG (Owner, Abraham Lincoln Book Shop): At times I'm pulling my hair out. It's crazy. It's a media frenzy.
SCHAPER: Daniel Weinberg owns the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop on Chicago's near north side.
Mr. WEINBERG: This is 71 years for our shop. And the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth is upon us, and we're very excited. I've been here for 38 of those years, and you can see that our shop is a bit like an archeological dig. You're going to find a certain strata of American history here.
SCHAPER: That strata contains everything and anything related to Lincoln and the Civil War era.
Mr. WEINBERG: We're not just books, of course, as you can see. We have statuary, original prints and photography, autographs, campaign memorabilia, and also assassination memorabilia.
SCHAPER: Weinberg says the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop tries to give customers a feel for who the 16th president really was, especially with items like one of the beds from the Lincolns' Springfield home.
Mr. WEINBERG: This bed was probably one of his kids' beds. You can see it's too small for Abraham…
SCHAPER: Hanging on the walls are all kinds of historic photographs and paintings of Lincoln and Civil War battles, as well as historic maps.
Mr. WEINBERG: Here's one of the Battle of Gettysburg by John Bachelder, a topographical map made the exact same year as the battle. And over here, you have a cast of his hand, early. Look at all the wrinkles. You can see a lot of information there.
SCHAPER: Weinberg says the items most in demand are those in Lincoln's own handwriting.
Mr. WEINBERG: Certainly, the letters are the things that have the most interest. I do have a Lincoln-Douglas debate signed by him, 1860. The Republican Party of Ohio published it, hoping to show off the candidate better.
SCHAPER: As for books, Weinberg has thousands.
Mr. WEINBERG: We're here for the buff and the reader and the collector to come in and be able to browse through innumerable studies on their subject and be able to lose themselves here. But we have, as far as books are concerned, everything from in-print books, 'cause we specialize in Lincoln and Civil War and presidents, to out-of-print and even the rare and those that are less accessible to most.
SCHAPER: As for essential Lincoln reading, Weinberg lists more than 160 titles on his Web site. If that's too many, for starters, he recommends two new books.
Mr. WEINBERG: The "Mrs. Lincoln" by Catherine Clinton and "A. Lincoln: A Biography," by Ron White. Each of them are eloquently written.
SCHAPER: Weinberg will be hosting both authors in the shop this Saturday for a discussion that he calls a Lincoln love fest. Prices for extremely rare Lincoln memorabilia can reach tens of thousands of dollars. As for Weinberg's favorite item…
Mr. WEINBERG: I have in my office the only known instance of Lincoln misspelling his name. The O and the L got turned around as Linc-lon, and he crossed it out and wrote it again underneath until he got it right.
SCHAPER: That, Weinberg says, reminds him that Lincoln was not a god, but a common man from humble origins who guided this country through its darkest years.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host
And I'm Linda Wertheimer.