Treasure: Possible Brady photo of Lincoln means trip

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Anyone who recently watched PBS’s fascinating 25th anniversary rebroadcast of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” would have seen images by Mathew Brady.

A New York photographer who lived from 1823-1896, Brady was, according to and the show’s website, “One of the first Americans to become proficient at photography.” He “earned eternal fame—and poverty—for documenting the carnage of the Civil War. By 1854, he was already photographing famous people in his studios. During the Civil War, his staff of 10 photographers developed their plates on battlefield wagons. Unable to interest the U.S. government in purchasing his products, however, Brady lost his $100,000 investment and died nearly penniless.”

While Brady died almost penniless, his photographs of the Civil War are highly sought after and command large amounts some 150 years later. So we were surprised and delighted when Kathy Olsen wrote to the column saying she had a photograph of Lincoln taken by Brady.

“Attached is a photograph purported to be signed by Lincoln,” the email read. “It was purchased from the collection of the former U.S. Speaker of the House Henry Rainey from Illinois, in the late ’30s-early ’40s by my father at auction. There is writing on the photo of Lincoln’s right which reads ‘Photographed by MB Brady” on the left, it reads ‘Eng by JC Butter NY.’” This picture was purchased from a collection of Lincoln’s pictures collected by Speaker Rainey of Illinois and sold at auction after his death. It is said to have been autographed by Lincoln himself.” Those same words of explanation and provenance are written on a piece of paper accompanying the image.

Indeed, Lincoln gazes out from the print, which appears to have a signature beneath. Jerry Anderson, an appraiser for DuMouchelles art gallery and auction house downtown, took a closer look for Olsen at a recent appraisal session. “The key word here, of course is authentication,” he told her. “I don’t have the tool to give you a definitive answer, but at this point I have no reason to doubt your story or its authenticity.”

He expounded on Brady’s ties to the Civil War. “He brought the war into American homes,” he told her. “His images included dead bodies lying around and they shocked the public. He did this throughout the war and was among the first to do so.” Anderson also said that Brady later fell out of favor when it was revealed that he had posed the bodies.

A similar Brady image recently sold for $33,000, the appraiser told Olsen, leading him to tell her that her image, if proven authentic, could be worth $20,000-$30,000 at auction. He recommended she have it authenticated by a reputable dealer, including PSA/DNA ( or JSA (, two of the country’s foremost appraisers and authenticators. Wherever she decides to have it authenticated, he cautioned her strongly not to send it through the mail.

“This definitely sounds like a road trip to me,” he told her, telling her it was better not to take any chances and to deliver it herself. “The quality of this is fabulous and it would do really well if you brought it to auction. Even if you don’t sell it, you should have it authenticated for insurance purposes.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About This Item

Item : Signed Lincoln photograph

Owner : Kathy Olsen

Appraised by : Jerry Anderson, DuMouchelles

Estimated value : $20,000-$30,000 at auction