Seth Kaller, Inc.

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Other Abraham Lincoln Offerings


The Lincoln - Grimsley Trunk (SOLD)
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Just before setting off to begin his presidency, Lincoln stored his personal effects in this trunk.

A week before embarking on his historic rail journey from Springfield to the nation’s capital, President-elect Lincoln filled this much-used trunk with his and Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal effects. He delivered it for safekeeping to Mary’s favorite cousin, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Todd Grimsley.

[ABRAHAM LINCOLN]. Dome-top wooden and undressed-cowhide trunk, with key. Label of “William Judson, Trunk Maker… York, [England].” Original hand wrought hardware, including lock and key. Lined by maker with 1789 newspaper, decorated with floral vine and leaf stenciling. (Left behind by Lincoln in Springfield, February 1861.) 33 x 17 x 14”.

Inventory #21924       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Historical Background

“To make [your letter] more secure than it would be in my hat, where I carry most all my packages, I put it in my trunk …” (Lincoln to C.R. Welles, 1849)

I first heard of this trunk in 1992 when I acquired one of Lincoln’s most important manuscripts, his “House Divided” Speech, for the Gilder Lehrman Collection. Sotheby’s described the source, the “‘Grimsley Trunk’ or ‘Grimsley Carpetbag,’” as “one of the three fundamental archives of Lincoln’s retained papers…what Lincoln himself called his ‘literary bureau’: all his non-legal writings from before the election to the Presidency which he did not need in Washington.” Over time, the contents, unfortunately, were dispersed or destroyed. The carpetbag was also destroyed, leaving this trunk as one of the foremost relics from Lincoln’s pre-presidential days. 

Although its provenance is well known, mysteries remain. The trunk was likely made in 1789–did Lincoln acquire it secondhand, or did he inherit it from his father or step-mother? Did the family use the trunk during their move from Kentucky to Indiana in 1816, or to Illinois in 1830? Did Lincoln use it as a circuit-riding lawyer, as U.S. congressman, and as delegate to the Whig convention in Philadelphia?

Lincoln likely did use the trunk on his first trip to New York, but not on his crucial 1860 trip. He mentioned at the time Mary’s complaints about his beat-up old trunk and humorously worried that he would not be able to recognize the replacement she supplied.  

A file of provenance, documentation, and historical background is included. Having been used by Mr. Lincoln for many years, and having held the personal effects that the Lincolns wanted kept for them in Springfield in 1861, the Lincoln-Grimsley trunk is one of the most storied Lincoln artifacts.

Additional Historical Background

Lincoln would have used this trunk as a circuit riding lawyer and congressman—Mary Todd Lincoln once referred to it as a “very dilapidated … old sole leather” trunk. In 1849, Lincoln wrote to C.R. Welles after making a trip to Washington: “your letter enclosing the one of Young & Brothers to you … came to hand last Saturday night … you gave me the money in a letter (open I believe) directed to Young & Brothers – To make it more secure than it would be in my hat, where I carry most all my packages, I put it in my trunk … On the Steam Boat near the mouth of the Ohio, I opened the trunk, and discovered the letter … (Fehrenbacher, ed., Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858, 231).” Before the start of Lincoln’s presidency, the Lincolns procured a new set of trunks. The week before leaving Springfield, Mr. Lincoln delivered his old trunk, containing clothes and other articles they wished to keep, to Elizabeth Todd Grimsley (later Mrs. Brown).  He also gave her the carpetbag full of his personal papers and authorized her to dispose of everything should it not be reclaimed. In later years “Cousin Lizzie,” as Lincoln called her, apparently gave away or used up the trunk contents.  Some of the papers were handed out as souvenirs, but the balance were burned by a maid who thought they were trash. 


Abraham Lincoln to Elizabeth Grimsley, 1861.  Descended to son John Todd Grimsley. Gift to Harry E. Barker, a Springfield dealer in books, manuscripts and relics, 1919.  To Duncan McDonald, his business successor.  To William H. Townsend, distinguished Kentucky collector, 1929.  To Justin G. Turner, 1963.  Charles Hamilton Auction Gallery to Nathaniel Stein, 1967; Parke Bernet Auction to Dr. John Kingsley Lattimer, 1970; by Heritage Auction to Seth Kaller, Inc., 2008.

The trunk is accompanied by extensive provenance documentation preserved in a folio volume, bound in gilt stamped blue cloth, which bears the bookplates of three foremost collectors, William H. Townsend, Justin G. Turner, and Nathaniel Stein.  The volume includes an Autograph Letter Signed of Lizzie Grimsley, 1892, to “Emily” (Emily Todd Helm, Mary Todd Lincoln’s sister); an Autograph Letter Signed of John T. Grimsley, 1919, outlining the history of the trunk; an Autograph Manuscript Signed by William H. Hayden, n.d., attesting Mrs. Grimsley’s gift of some of the carpetbag papers; a typed letter and a notarized affidavit, both signed by Harry E. Barker, 1929, concerning the trunk’s history; a lengthy typed account of its acquisition, signed by William H. Townsend, 1929; and other miscellaneous documentation about the trunk, the Grimsley family, and related matters (see below for excerpts). 

A copy of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (winter 1973), containing Turner’s detailed article on the trunk, is also included.


The trunk was heavily used, with some of the hide abraded, worn off or peeling, but nevertheless it is sound.  


There is no evidence about how Mr. Lincoln originally acquired the trunk.  Given its likely manufacture date ca. 1789, the trunk may have been in his family earlier, perhaps during their move from Kentucky to Indiana, or his move to Illinois.  Or it may have been bought second hand in his shop-keeping days in Salem, or at the beginning of his legal career.  This hasn’t been researched yet.  This is needle-in-a-haystack kind of work, but incredible research material is becoming available online on a daily basis, which would make at least the beginnings of a search possible.  SK


Autograph Contents of the Trunk or Carpetbag (no longer present) 
My interest in the Grimsley trunk began when I acquired for the Gilder Lehrman Collection two of Lincoln’s most important manuscripts.  They were originally preserved along with the trunk in Lincoln’s “literary bureau.” Both documents, referenced below, are now in the Gilder Lehrman Collection on deposit at the New-York Historical Society.  Lincoln’s 13-page speech on discoveries and inventions was also preserved by “Lizzie” Grimsley in the same fashion.    

Sotheby’s Auction, December 16, 1992, excerpt from catalog:
Abraham Lincoln, Autograph Manuscript, a page from Lincoln’s “House Divided” Speech. 

“There are three fundamental archives of Lincoln’s retained papers. … Third, and least well recorded, the ‘Grimsley Carpet Bag’ or ‘Grimsley Trunk,’* which contained what Lincoln himself called his ‘literary bureau’: all his non-legal writings from before the election to the Presidency which he did not need in Washington. … The keeper of these papers was ‘Cousin Lizzie,’ Elizabeth Todd Grimsley (1825-95), first cousin and close friend of Lincoln’s wife. She kept the trunk in her house in Springfield, Ill. No inventory of its written contents was made. After Lincoln’s death, tradition records that she took from the trunk various Lincoln papers at various times, to satisfy the wishes of the late President’s friends and collectors generally to have a specimen of his autograph. At some later stage, family tradition records that a servant, thinking the remaining papers were trash, burned them. The trunk itself survived, and after passing through several hands was auctioned in 1967 [by Charles Hamilton, see above]; it is now in private ownership.” 

Sotheby’s auction, May 21, 1993:
Abraham Lincoln, Autograph manuscript, a page from speech fragment on slavery and American government. ca. 1857-1858.  Excerpt.  The catalog notes similar provenance as above.

The ant, who has toiled and dragged a crumb to his nest, will furiously defend the fruit of his labor, against whatever robber assails him.  So plain, that the most dumb and stupid slave that ever toiled for a master, does constantly know that he is wronged.  So plain that no one, high or low, ever does mistake it, except in a plainly selfish way; for although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.

                Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of the equal rights of men, as I have, in part, stated them; ours began, by affirming those rights.  They said, some men are too ignorant, and vicious, to share in government.  Possibly so, said we; and, by your system, you would always keep them ignorant and vicious.  We proposed to give all a chance; and we expected the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant, wiser; and all better, and happier together.

                We made the experiment; and the fruit is before us….” 

*In Sotheby’s and a few other sources, there is some confusion on this point. Though I would love to believe that the Grimsley Trunk once held Lincoln’s pre-presidential manuscripts, earlier documentation indicates to me that there originally were two items--the trunk and the carpetbag or satchel (destroyed some time ago).

Excerpts From Grimsley Trunk Documentation

John Todd Grimsley to H. E. Barker, Springfield, November 12, 1919:

“I wish to present you with a trunk that I am very sure was the personal property of Mr. Lincoln - … was sent to my grand father Dr John Todd of Springfield … at the time they broke up their home to go to Washington and has never been out of my family – and was used to keep the Lincoln [me]mentoes in – was known to my family and friends as the Lincoln trunk …”

Mary Grimsley Donaldson, Affidavit, July 31, 1929:

“The affiant … states … that she is the daughter of John Todd Grimsley, now deceased, who was a son of Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, first cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln … Affiant further states that the small wooden trunk, covered with undressed cow-hide, which her father presented to Mr. H. E. Barker in 1919 and which she has just recently examined, was in the home of her grandmother Grimsley from affiant’s earliest recollection; that it was known to all the family as the ‘Lincoln trunk’ because of the fact, as often related by her grand-mother, that Abraham Lincoln had owned this trunk and, on the eve of his departure for Washington in 1861, had brought it, filled with the personal belongings of the Lincoln family, to Mrs. Grimsley’s house … Affiant states that during her own girl-hood this trunk still contained some of the wearing apparel and other belongings of the Lincolns that had been left with ‘Cousin Lizzie’ as Mrs. Grimsley was called by Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln …”

Harry Ellsworth Barker, June 13, 1929 (to Duncan McDonald):

“It was at ‘Cousin Lizzie’s’ house that the Lincolns left quite a number of things they wanted preserved but did not want to take with them to Washington . . . For more than fifty years it was a familiar object in the Grimsley home, being known to all the family as Mrs. Lincoln’s trunk...’”

William H. Townsend, November 13, 1929:

“For several years I had searched for an authentic relic associated with Abraham Lincoln's life in Springfield…”  After travelling to Springfield to see the trunk, he sought out John Todd Grimsley’s daughter.  “I found her a quiet, cultured lady, apparently in her middle fifties.  In refinement, personality and physical appearance, she bore a striking resemblance to all the other Todd women that I have known in Kentucky….”  Despite the family giving away some of the contents, “Even in her own girlhood, Mrs. Donaldson said, the old trunk still contained a few of the Lincoln belongings with which it was filled when Mr. Lincoln had placed it in Mrs. Grimsley’s custody….”

Charles Hamilton, Auction No. 22, October 25, 1967, Lot 36, excerpt from Catalog Description:

“Original small trunk belonging to the Lincolns, constructed of wood with a covering of undressed cow-hide, bearing wrought iron reinforcements, carrying rings, lid chains, hinges, tacks and original lock and key…. From the collection of Wm. H. Townsend of Lexington, Kentucky and heavily documented …  Fascinating antique wooden trunk, the favorite of Abraham Lincoln, which he was forced by necessity to abandon in Springfield on the eve of his departure for Washington to assume the Presidency in 1861…