Lock of Lincoln's Hair and Signature in Velvet Case with Excellent Provenance

This lock of Abraham Lincoln's hair and his clipped signature were placed in a red velvet case, specially designed for them. The lock of hair has outstanding provenance. The signature is a tiny bit light and was undoubtedly clipped from a check as it shows a familiar baseline.

Accompanying the lock of hair is an original 1869 letter from Justus Chollar who originally acquired the lock from Harry Pratt Cattell, who embalmed President Lincoln's body at the White House. Another letter from Chollar's nephew to Lincoln collector John E. Burton discusses the price he would accept for the lock. Although he initially asked for $200, the nephew eventually accepted $41 for the lock. A third letter from Justus Chollar's son to his cousin who had the lock insists on its authenticity. A final modern typed letter discusses the descent of the hair in the family of Samuel Pomeroy Colt, nephew of the famous arms maker Samuel Colt.

[ABRAHAM LINCOLN] Lock of Hair and Signature in Relic Album, 4.75" x 7". Related provenance letters, 1869-ca. 2009, 13 pp.

[Justus Chollar to Mother & Sister, December 4, 1869, 8 pp.:]
"I had intended to write you immediatly after the death of our lamented President and I procured a lock of his hair that was taken from his head by the person who embalmed him, and intended to send it to you then, but I have carried it in my pocket ever since. And now I send it to you & I hope you will be able to preserve it in some proper shape to hand down to future generations." (p2)

"When I take a retrospect of my now long and eventfull life to think that I am nearly three score years—that I have made no more progress in goodness—and piety—that I am an exile from home—that I am poor, and alone with hardly any one to care for me—it makes me feel sad. But at other times, I feel that I have a never failing hope that when my days are ended here, and I depart to spirit-land I shall have the unspeakable pleasure of mingling with the blissful, and to meet with friends that have gone before and those who may come after." (p7-8)
Chollar's mother, Sally Bowen Dresser Chollar, had died in March 1866.

[William F. Barker to John E. Burton, October 28, 1907, 2 pp.:]
"I cannot get affidavit of my aunt Mrs. Smith (She died yesterday Oct 27th). There are others who knew of this lock [of] hair of A Lincolns. Byron Chollar of Kansas City, son of Justus Chollar, who procured the lock of hair, knew of this about the time it was taken, and I think can vouch for its being genuine. Also Angeline Chollar [1836-1917], daughter of Justus Chollar knew of this. I do not know her exact address but can get it. think she lives in Brooklyn N.Y." (p1-2)

[Byron E. Chollar to William F. Barker, February 8, 1908, 1 p.:]
"There is no such thing as doubt regarding the authenticity of the lock of President Lincoln's hair which was given to our aunt Cornelia Chollar by my father Justus Chollar—and which you have now in your possession.
"The President was embalmed at The White House by the firm of Drs. Brown and Alexander.
"Harry Cattell whom I knew very well and with whom I was well acquainted was their chief operator and performed the work on the body of president Lincoln. The lock of hair was not one that was cut off simply for a souvenir, but was cut from around the bullet wound by Harry Cattell himself in order to afford access for dressing the wound. Cattell I understand has been for many years in the undertaking business in Philadelphia & perhaps is now."

[John E. Burton statement, n.d., ca. 1910, 1 p.:]
"Lock of Lincoln's hair given to the soldier guard in the White house Mr Justus Choller by Brown and Alexander the embalmers of Lincoln's body—see letter of Choller to his mother & sister sending the sacred relic to them A soldier does not lie to his mother on such things & this lock is genuine beyond question.
"John E. Burton"

E. Lawrence Abel asserts in A Finger in Lincoln's Brain: What Modern Science Reveals about Lincoln, His Assassination, and Its Aftermath (2015) that "Justus Chollar, an army soldier, was posted on guard duty to keep any unauthorized persons from entering" while the autopsy was underway and that "Justus Chollar asked for and was given a few strands to send to his aunt in Illinois who had known Lincoln." Burton even described Chollar as "Government Secret Service." In another interview, Burton described Chollar "as one of the guard detail that Secretary Seward ordered placed about the body immediately after its removal from Ford's theater where Lincoln was shot. The guards were on duty constantly about the room where the embalmers worked, and Chollar, when the work was done, approached one of the assistants and asked that he might have a bit of the dead President's hair. The man at first refused, but after Chollar pleaded for a remembrance of the martyr, he said he could see no harm in it, and quietly cut the lock from the back of Lincoln's hair as the body lay on the undertaker's table."

We cannot confirm Chollar was a soldier or a "secret service" agent. Perhaps it was his son Byron E. Chollar (1840-1913) who was a soldier in the 15th New York Engineers from 1861 to 1863. J. Chollar and Co. advertised in a May 1865 Washington newspaper to hire a wagon and team, with or without a driver. Although different sources describe Chollar's position in various ways, we are confident this lock and signature are indeed authentic.


Harry Pratt Cattell (1838-1915), embalmer, 1865-1866
Justus Chollar (1810-1875), 1866-1869
Cornelia Chollar Smith (1826-1907), sister of Justus Chollar, 1869
William Freemont Barker (1855-1923), nephew of Cornelia Chollar Smith, 1907
John E. Burton (1847-1930), Lincoln collector in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for $40, 1908
Samuel Pomeroy Colt (1852-1921), industrialist in Bristol, Rhode Island, for $71, 1915
Elizabeth Colt (1914-1994), granddaughter of Samuel P. Colt
Samuel Colt Wilson, son of Elizabeth Colt, 1986-2009

Justus Chollar (1806-1875) was born in Connecticut, one of eleven children of Thomas Chollar and Salley Bowen Dresser Chollar. In 1830, he married Lucy Caroline Titus, and they had at least five children, including Byron E. Chollar (1840-1913). In 1860, he and his family were living in New York City, where he was a salesman. Apparently, he and his wife separated at some point in the 1860s. By 1869, he was living in Washington, D.C., and operating a cider business. According to an obituary in a Brooklyn newspaper, he died at the home of his sister Cornelia Smith near St. Paul, Minnesota, on February 11, 1875.

Harry Pratt Cattell (1838-1915) was born in New Jersey. After pursuing businesses in the 1850s in New Jersey, Cattell enlisted in the 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, serving from April 1861 to 1864, when he was discharged. He worked for the surgical and embalming firm of Dr. Charles D. Brown and Dr. Joseph B. Alexander in Washington, D.C., and in April 1865, he was tasked with embalming the body of President Abraham Lincoln. Later, he learned lithography and engaged in that business until 1877, when he joined the Metropolitan Police Force of Washington, D.C. He served as a station clerk in several precincts and then had charge of the property room at headquarters. He retired from the police force in 1912.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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