“Loosely called The Lincoln Letter in our family, it’s not actually a letter but appears to be a legal brief (front page and back page) about a trespassing case in which Lincoln & Herndon represented the plaintiffs in 1859, shortly before Lincoln began to seek the presidency,” Mary Rae Lyle-Olson wrote in an email to the column about an unusual item she wanted to have appraised and learn more about. She and members of her family recently brought it to an appraisal session at the Michigan Design Center in Troy hoping to find out more.

“My brother, sister and I recall this document hanging in our family’s vestibule years ago, but we aren’t entirely certain how our family came into its possession – perhaps a wedding gift to my parents?” she continued. “A few years ago, we submitted an image of the document to a website called The Papers of Abraham Lincoln (org.) for their thoughts. They sent an email back that said, in their “professional opinion,” the entire document was written in Abraham Lincoln’s hand.”

One side of the document is a legal brief, she explained to appraiser Brian Thomczek, the other a supporting document with the judgment of the court. While she was unsure how the papers came into her family, she said they had  roots in Illinois and a family member who was a judge in Chicago  had once issued a warrant to Al Capone. “I wonder if it was something he had,” she mused.

However it entered the family’s possession, it’s a great piece of history, Thomczek said. History buffs curious about the era can even visit the building where they practiced, known as the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site in Springfield.

“What do you think you’ll do with it?” Thomczek asked Lyle-Olson. “When we cleaned out the family home we found a lot of things,” she explained. “They saved everything.”

Thomczek stressed that acid-free paper is crucial for storage or framing if she hoped to save paper items for future generations. “It’s held up pretty well so far,” he added. “It’s still legible, which is great, but folds and tape are bad.” 

Lincoln memorabilia is very collectible, he added. Things that predate the presidency can be worth a lot, although it’s hard to estimate what an unusual item like hers would bring at auction. If she were to sell, he thinks it would start at $500 to $600 and could easily bring more depending on who was interested.

“I don’t think it would go into the thousands but you never know,” he added. “You have the provenance, which is important. It would bring much more depending on the right sale and the right audience.”

The family has to decide what to do now, Lyle-Olson said.

“We’ve got some talking to do,” she added. 

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. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.   

About this item

Item: Lincoln document

Owned by: Mary Rae Lyle-Olson

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $500 and up.

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