Flea Market Find Might Carry Lincoln's Last Signature After being ignored by historical societies for years, an antique note purchased at an Ohio flea market, signed "A. Lincoln" and dated April 14, 1865 — the day the 16th president was shot and killed — is now believed to be authentic.

Flea Market Find Might Carry Lincoln's Last Signature

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Here's a story that's bound to encourage flea market scavengers all over the country, or at least all over Northern Ohio. We first saw it in the Morning Journal out of Lorain, Ohio. A man goes to a flea market and sees a box of papers. He rummages through the box and buys a handful of the papers, including an envelope. And on the envelope are written these words: Let this man enter with this note, April 14, 1865, A. Lincoln.

Now, if you're thinking it can't be real, it's going to turn out to be Arlen Lincoln or Antoine Lincoln or some Abe Lincoln forger, well, Bruce Steiner was similarly skeptical when he first discovered the envelope three years ago. But that was three years ago. Bruce Steiner joins us now from his home in South Amherst, Ohio.

And Mr. Steiner, when you first saw that envelope, did you recognize right away the significance of the date?

Mr. BRUCE STEINER: Yes, that's what drew me to it was the date.

SIEGEL: What happened on April 14, 1865?

Mr. STEINER: Well, every American should know that. That's when we lost our president, President Lincoln.

SIEGEL: So, indeed, if this was an envelope with his message and signature, it would have been one of the last things he'd ever written.

Mr. STEINER: It possibly could.

SIEGEL: And did you assume it was, or did you think you'd gotten some…

Mr. STEINER: Well, when I picked it up - there was a bunch of articles in this box. Some of them I knew to be real, like a book and a - there was a receipt for the IRS at the time, where a man had to pay $1 for a horse carriage. But then at the bottom of the box was a little note, this note that we're talking about, signed A. Lincoln. And I thought at the time, the man wasn't asking such a high price. I thought I'd pick it up just for something to look at, something to enjoy.

SIEGEL: Well, what did you do to try to authenticate this document and find out…

Mr. STEINER: Well, the problem is I got it home, and I started looking, and like everybody else would do, and I started comparing it to other handwriting notes on the Internet. And the more I looked at it, the more I believed, well, I have a very nice copy, or possibly I might have something to be authentic. At the time, I contacted the Papers of Abraham Lincoln in Illinois, which Mr. Lupton is associated with, and he told me he was going to be at Oberlin College, which is near me - that's in Ohio, in Oberlin, Ohio, for - they have a manuscript in their college library of Abraham Lincoln's, and they were going to go make a copy of it.

SIEGEL: Now, you've mentioned John Lupton…

Mr. STEINER: Yes.

SIEGEL: …who is the associate director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project at the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. By sheer coincidence, he happens to be with us right now.

Mr. Lupton, what happened at that point?

Mr. JOHN LUPTON (Associate Director, Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project): Well, Bruce had contacted us. And when we first saw the document, we sort of viewed it with some suspicion. But as I compared it to more documents from April of 1865 that we know that Lincoln had written, I just found a lot of the similarities were there that led me to believe that it probably is a genuine autographed envelope written by Lincoln.

SIEGEL: Can you actually come to a 100 percent certain conclusion as to the authenticity of that envelope?

Mr. LUPTON: Not 100 percent. I mean, I don't feel comfortable going that far. I certainly believe that it's an original, not only from the signature. I mean, his handwriting is kind of sloppy, but the signature has all the characteristics that I'm looking for. But more importantly, it's the date that sort of threw me over the top in believing that it's genuine. Anyone can forge Lincoln's signature with a lot of practice. It's harder to forge handwriting.

SIEGEL: Well, Bruce Steiner, that's a pretty strong vote of confidence in this envelope that you own. What are you going to do with it?

Mr. STEINER: I would eventually like to sell it some time and pay off a lot of debts that I have. But at the moment, just to get it out there and have historians look at it is very amazing to me.

SIEGEL: Well, Bruce Steiner and John Lupton, thank you both very much for talking with us.

Mr. STEINER: Well, thank you, sir.

Mr. LUPTON: Thank you for having us.

SIEGEL: Bruce Steiner was talking to us from his home in South Amherst, Ohio, and John Lupton of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum was speaking to us from Springfield, Illinois.

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