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Lincoln’s Other Face

June 2024
1min read

We set the sixteenth President straight

“History Now: Lincoln Heard and Seen” (February/March 2005) gave me the welcome opportunity to introduce to your readers a rediscovered life portrait of Abraham Lincoln, but not quite the way it should have been viewed. Even in this new age of scanning and digitizing, images can still get flopped—the old-fashioned way—and I’m afraid the long-lost J. C. Wolfe painting of Lincoln somehow appeared on your pages in mirror image.

In a rediscovered painting, Lincoln turns the other cheek—the right one this time.
 
abraham lincoln book shop, chicago, ill.2005_6_16c

“History Now: Lincoln Heard and Seen” (February/March 2005) gave me the welcome opportunity to introduce to your readers a rediscovered life portrait of Abraham Lincoln, but not quite the way it should have been viewed. Even in this new age of scanning and digitizing, images can still get flopped—the old-fashioned way—and I’m afraid the long-lost J. C. Wolfe painting of Lincoln somehow appeared on your pages in mirror image. I suspect other readers may have caught the error too, for the future President’s characteristic mole appeared on the wrong cheek. The error actually called to mind a practice that many engravers and lithographers employed in Lincoln’s own time. They would slavishly and hurriedly copy his photographs for their plates and stones, and the resulting images thus automatically printed backwards, though their creators didn’t seem to mind; it was simply too time-consuming to carve or draw backwards engravings and lithographs that would instead print “forwards.” So this is hardly the first time a Lincoln image has been flip-flopped. Historical precedents notwithstanding, I hope American Heritage has the opportunity to republish the painting as the artist created it.

—Harold Holzer

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