Abraham Lincoln has become more prominent lately in the public eye, probably because of the recent Oscar-winning movie Lincoln. But what about the history behind his eyeglasses, one of which is shown above right, in an 1864 photo taken with his son, Tad? The Library of Congress holds artifacts recovered from the President’s pockets after his 1865 assassination, including two pairs of spectacles. According to David A. Fleishman, MD, creator of antiquespectacles.com, the one in the photo above left, deserves specific attention because they are one of the rarest, most historic pair of eyeglasses over the past 700 years.
Just a few people have seen the important patent date on the back of the nosebridge of this smaller folding pair. These tiny glasses have very short sides with cupped endings. They are the only ones appearing in Lincoln photographs between 1863-1865 and are associated with the President beginning in 1862, little known facts that Dr. Fleishman believes strongly support the suggestion they were Lincoln’s favorite. Only three other examples of these gold glasses are known to exist. The other regular-size Lincoln glasses had been gifted to Lincoln by his close friend and self-appointed bodyguard, Ward H. Lamon. They even have a presentation engraving along one sidearm. They must have been damaged prior to 1863 (when the folding pair appears in photos) because Lincoln evidently repaired them himself, evidenced by a string which secures one hinge. Later, the President still carried these in his pocket, most likely for sentimental reasons.
Lincoln photo from the Lincoln Financial Foundation, courtesy of the Indiana State Museum and Allen County Public Library; glasses photo courtesy of David A. Fleishman, MD and the Library of Congress; go to antiquespectacles.com for more information.