[Abraham Lincoln]

Lincoln Assassination Relics Coveted in 19th Century Archive

Lincoln Assassination Relics Coveted in 19th Century Archive


“such things are now eagerly sought after.”


Joseph S. Sessford was working in the box office at Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865, when actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Three decades later, he corresponded with a New York City vaudeville actor who collected Lincolniana and wanted to buy some items from Sessford.


[ABRAHAM LINCOLN.] Joseph S. Sessford, 6 Autograph Letters and a Fragment All Signed, to Emil Rosenberger, June 4, 1894-September 2, 1895, Washington, D.C. 13 pp., 4.5" x 7" to 6.5" x 9.75". Expected folds; very good.



“At your request I send enclosed John T. Ford’s article, and also another interesting article, with the understanding that you will return the same before Saturday, June 9, 1894; which will give you sufficient time to have them copied. I am favoring you in regard to loaning the articles, (although you are unknown to me,) and I trust to your honor to return them duly and in good condition.” (June 4, 1894)


“You must remember that there is a very great difference between original articles and copies, and I do not think that an original bill of the play can be bought at any price, and as I said in my last letter, that such articles as I have (which are of course original) are not on sale in the United States, except at enormous prices. As an instance of the value of such things (original of course) Mr. Gunther of Chicago gave me one hundred dollars for a small lot, and he is a very close buyer.” (June 18, 1894)


“I forgot to mention that I have several programs of the theatre, containing the cast of characters during Forest’s and other engagements, one of which I will include in the list.” (undated page 3, likely June 1894, as postscript to one of the above)


“I decline your last offer for the articles mentioned, for the reason, as I stated in my last letter to you, that I can get more money for them. You seem to overlook the fact that when you have used them to make copies for your book that you can readily dispose of them for more money than I ask, for such things are now eagerly sought after.” (August 20, 1894)


“I did not agree to let you have a bill of the night of the assassination, for the reason that I have never had one, and if you will overlook my correspondence you will see that I am right. You cannot get one of them for less than one hundred dollars. I said that I would let you have a program not mentioning any particular night.” (September 1, 1894)


“I send inclosed the memorandum in regard to the articles obtained from me by you, and which I think are about the right thing. The address I mentioned to you was bought by Mr. Gunther of Chicago without hesitation. When do you propose to have your book out. Have you seen Buckingham’s book?” (January 31, 1895)


“How about the book you proposed to publish, has it ever been done? In looking over my large old scrap book I found a plan of the first floor of Ford’s first theatre which was on the same spot as the present building. It was formerly a church, and Mr. Ford converted it into a theatre, which burned down. Mr. Ford immediately built the present building, which is on the same spot. I was ticket-seller at both theatres. You can see a picture of the first theatre in Buckingham’s book.... Mr. Buckingham...was doorkeeper at the same time I was ticket-seller. The book is very interesting. I have several more of the box keys, play bills, etc. of Ford’s Theatre for sale, and if you should hear of any person who would like to buy them please let me know.” (September 2, 1895)


Historical Background

The collection of artifacts and documents related to the life and death of Abraham Lincoln began during his lifetime and accelerated after his assassination. Many collectors had a fascination with his assassination and everything associated with it, and Ford’s Theatre became a focus of collecting.


In 1861, John Ford had purchased the building, built as a church in 1833, and renovated it into a theater. When it was destroyed by fire in 1862, Ford rebuilt it. After Lincoln’s assassination, Ford was unable to reopen the theatre, and the federal government purchased it and used it for offices and as a warehouse until 1933. That year, the National Park Service began to administer it and after extensive renovations, reopened it as a museum and working theater in 1968.


Ford’s Theater doorkeeper John E. Buckingham Sr. published Reminiscences and Souvenirs of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, an 89-page booklet, in 1894. In 1904, Rosenberger / Fostell published an 8-page pamphlet list entitled A Rare and Valuable Collection of Relics of Historical Interest in Connection with Our Martyr President Abraham Lincoln from the Cradle to the Grave in 1904 in conjunction with a loan he made for an exhibit at his Elks Lodge in Bridgeport, Connecticut.



Joseph S. Sessford (1833-1901) was born in Washington, D.C., to Scottish immigrant parents. He lived in Washington for his entire life and worked at various times as a bookseller and a clerk. He was associated with several theaters in the city, including the Washington Theatre, the National Theatre, and Ford’s Theatre, often as a treasurer. In 1856, he married Sarah E. Weeden, and they had three sons. Sessford was in the box office at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, when John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln. He later worked for the Smithsonian Institution for twenty years.


Emil Rosenberger (Al. Emmett Fostell) (1858-1921) was born in New York to German immigrant parents and grew up in Manhattan. He began giving performances as early as 1874, and became a vaudeville actor with the stage name of Al. Emmett Fostell. As an actor, he played in Richmond, Virginia; St. Louis, Missouri; New Orleans; Fort Worth and Laredo, Texas; Chicago; and Boston. He married Florence Jordan, an actress and singer, with whom he also performed. She took the stage name Florence Emmett, and together they had one daughter, who later became an actress herself. From 1900 to 1909, Rosenberger ran a theatrical agency in New York City. He was an early collector of Lincoln materials, especially those related to the assassination. While touring the country, Rosenberger took with him exhibits related to Lincoln’s life and death from his extensive collection that he displayed in cities where he performed. He also assembled an extensive collection of vaudeville memorabilia.



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.



Item: 67341

Price: $1,500.00
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