A Catalog of the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana in the Library of Congress

Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 1999. 9" x 7", xi p., 498 pp. ISBN 1-57898-221-9. $85.00.

When considering collectors as a whole, two different types of individuals emerge: those who go about their task quietly and those who are loud. A quiet collector assembles materials largely for his/her own enjoyment. When they acquire a new or significant item to add to their assemblage, the greatest delight is gained be merely handling, owning, and carefully preserving the piece. When a loud collector acquires a new item, his or her joy is found in trumpeting the news of the acquisition, parading it before God and country, flaunting in the face of fellow collectors as a triumph of their skill and good fortune.

Both quiet and loud collectors can be found in the world of Lincolniana, past and present. In fact, the "Big Five" collectors of the late 19th and early 20th century gained their reputations as such by being loud collectors. They delighted in their rivalry, and sought to top one another in their procurement of Lincoln rarities.

In all fairness, their should have been a "Big Six," for during the same era, another collector, John E. Burton of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, was assembling a collection that rivaled, and perhaps even surpassed that of some of the "Big Five's" collections. But, Burton was a quiet collector and did not care to make his hobby a competition with others. He delighted in merely owning the rarities and not in the publicity he could have made off of them.

In considering later-day Lincoln collectors, one quiet collector was Alfred Whital Stern. Born in New York, Chicago became his adopted home. In October 1923 he purchased a book of Lincoln's writings for his son while on vacation in Atlantic City. The eloquence and simple grandeur of Lincoln's words left a lasting impression on the elder Stern, and thus began a life long interest in the 16th President and his era.

Stern, a contemporary of Lloyd Lewis, Frederick Merserve, Carl Sandburg, and Ralph Neuman, was well known among the circle of Chicago and Illinois historians. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Chicago Civil War Round Table and served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Library of Illinois under two Illinois governors. However, being a quiet collector, Stern did not make a lot of noise about his Lincoln and Civil War acquisitions outside his small group of intimates. But he nonetheless amassed what was at that time the largest Lincoln collection in private hands.

Despite being a quiet collector, Stern was quite altruistic and decided that his collections should serve a larger purpose after his death. In 1943 he announced that he was donating his Civil War library to the Illinois State Historical Library. That donation served as a foundation for the library's Civil War holdings, nicely augmenting the Henry Horner Lincoln collection.

As a highpoint for his Lincoln collection, Stern wanted to acquire a truly significant Lincoln letter. That opportunity came in 1941 when Lincoln's famous letter to General Joseph Hooker came up for auction. Stern bought the manuscript for a then record price of $15,000. After adding the letter to his collection, Stern's beneficence once again revealed itself. Thinking that the letter rightfully belonged somewhere where the public could have free and open access to it, Stern quietly contacted the Library of Congress, inquiring whether they might like to have the letter after his death. Of course, the Library was most eager to acquire this national treasure.

Through the negotiations and discussions that followed, arrangements were made for the Library of Congress to acquire Stern's entire Lincoln collection. While the Library did indeed already possess a great deal of Lincolniana, it was scattered throughout the massive general collection and not centrally located and thus conveniently available to the Lincoln researcher.

As it turned out, Stern decided to convey his collection to the Library before his death. The deal concluded, Stern's library was deposited in the Library of Congress in 1951, though not formally presented until 1953. In accordance with the agreement between the Library and Stern, the collection was placed in its own room. Stern continued to add items to the collection up to the time of his death, and generously established an endowment that allows the Library of Congress to continue to add to the collection.

Stern passed away in 1960, but lived long enough to see his collection preserved in the Library of Congress. He also saw the publication of a detailed bibliography of all the items in the collection. Though often overlooked by Lincoln collectors, this is an important bibliographic tool for several reasons.

Being published some 20 years after Jay Monaghan's Lincoln Bibliography, 1839-1939, the Stern catalog represents a more up-to-date compilation of published Lincolniana. A great deal of material published between 1940 and 1960 appears in the Stern catalog. Further, as the book is more of an inventory of Stern's collection rather than a compiled bibliography, a great deal of collateral material that might not otherwise fit into Monaghan's (as well as earlier and later bibliographer's) rather strict definition of "Lincolniana." Included in the Stern collection are works on the Civil War era, Reconstruction, and friends and associates of Lincoln, all of which are generally excluded from most Lincoln bibliographies.

The Stern catalog also documents items in the collection that are not books and pamphlets. Also listed are broadsides, sheet music, prints, cartoons, maps, newspapers, stamps, coins, and other ephemera, all of which are excluded from the standard Lincoln bibliographies. Each subsection of the collection is presented separately in the catalog. In addition, the very first section of the book contains "Works by Lincoln," which lists only books and pamphlets, both contemporary and later-day productions, that are devoted exclusively to Lincoln's own written and spoken words. It provides a handy and concise compilation of the efforts to preserve Lincoln's own rhetoric.

The original Stern catalog was printed by the Government Printing Office and sold for a then hefty $15.00 (quite a price for a government publication in 1960). Whether it was the relatively high cost of the book when published or the usefulness to their present-day owners, copies rarely enter the used book market. And when the do appear, they are quickly purchased despite the high prices they are fetching. Used copies in good condition regularly sell for $125 to $150.

To provide a cost effective alternative to a high-priced original, Martino Publishing of Mansfield Centre, Connecticut, has reprinted the catalog. Printed on acid-free paper and bound in sturdy buckram, the catalog is in a bit more compact form than the original. Priced at $85, it is a lower cost alternative to the more expensive, and scarcer, original. However, the publisher has pointed out to me that his speculation in reprinting the Stern catalog was limited to producing merely 60 copies of the book. So even the supply of the reprint is strictly limited.

Martino Publishing has done the Lincoln collector a great service in once again making this fine resource available. This book can be purchased directly from the publisher at:

Maurizio Martino
Martino Fine Books
156 River Road
Willington, CT 06279
Tel: 860-429-4569
Fax: 860-429-4619
Email Address: Drago@neca.com

© Copyright Daniel E. Pearson, 2000