American History Museum Gets a Rare Copy of the Emancipation Proclamation

This Emancipation Proclamation is one of 48 signed by Lincoln.
This Emancipation Proclamation is one of 48 signed by Lincoln. (Smithsonian National Museum Of American History)
  Enlarge Photo    

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009

A rare signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation has been lent to the National Museum of American History by Washington financier David M. Rubenstein.

The print, one of 48 signed by President Abraham Lincoln, was purchased by Rubenstein a few months ago in a private sale. The museum is displaying the Rubenstein copy in a permanent exhibition called "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden."

Lincoln artifacts are coveted commodities right now as the country's museums, archives and historical places gear up for the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth next month.

Issued on Jan. 1, 1863, the executive order freed slaves in Confederate states, though many slaves didn't find out about this momentous event for months. Lincoln, along with William Seward, the secretary of state, and John Nicolay, Lincoln's private secretary, signed the copies in 1864. The sales went to support sick and wounded Union soldiers and to improve military camps.

To celebrate Lincoln's life, the history museum is opening two special shows tomorrow. One is a collection of 10 documents from the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Ill. The items include a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation that is one of 12 original souvenir copies that weren't signed.

"Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life," the second exhibition, contains another copy, a decorative version. This show has 60 items that the Lincolns owned or used, including the top hat he was wearing the night of his assassination in 1865, a priceless artifact.

Earlier last year, Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, gave a copy of the Magna Carta to the National Archives. He had purchased that document for $21 million.

Rubenstein's office wouldn't reveal the price he paid for the proclamation, but said it was seven figures. About half of the 48 copies are believed to still exist. The Rubenstein copy was once owned by Malcolm Forbes Jr., the businessman and politician, who bought it at an auction in 1984 for $297,000. It changed ownership in 2005.

The original copy of the proclamation has been part of the National Archives since 1936.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity