Diminutive photograph of Lewis Powell (1844-1865), 2 1/8 x 3 ¼, one of four Lincoln conspirators executed for his role in the coordinated plan to simultaneously assassinate 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State William H. Seward, and General Ulysses S. Grant on April 14, 1865.
Printed ca. 1910, from the personal collection of negatives of world-renowned Lincoln collector Frederick H. Meserve (1865-1962). The photo is hand-stamped "Collection / Of / Americana / Frederick H. Meserve / 265 Edgecombe Avenue / New York City" verso.
Powell (who had several aliases including Lewis Payne, Lewis Wood, and Lewis Hall) was a Confederate veteran and secret service agent who had been tasked with assassinating William H. Seward. Although he did not succeed in killing Seward, Payne severely wounded him, Seward's son, and several other attendants who had been present. Payne was convicted and executed on July 7, 1865 at Washington's Old Arsenal Penitentiary, today Fort Lesley McNair.
This photograph was originally taken by Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), who was hired by the federal government to document the imprisonment and execution of Lincoln's conspirators. Powell is shown wearing the same hat and overcoat he had worn on April 14, 1865 during Seward's unsuccessful assassination attempt. Payne's hands are immobilized in "lily irons," a type of modified handcuffs that prohibited moving the hands independently, or bending them at the wrists. We do not know whether Meserve printed this photograph from original negatives, however, the level of crispness and sharpness may indicate that that is the case.
Expected surface wear including isolated wrinkles, else near fine.
Frederick H. Meserve was a preeminent collector of Lincoln and Civil War-era photography, ephemera, maps, and books. He began collecting Lincolniana in 1897, with the intention of illustrating his father's Civil War diary. In the early 1900s, Meserve acquired 10,000 original Brady negatives including seven Lincoln portraits. Meserve continued collecting Lincoln likenesses, as well as photos of Lincoln's contemporaries, over the next sixty years. He eventually amassed a collection of 200,000 pieces including some previously "lost" or unknown images of Lincoln. Meserve's collection was so esteemed for its completeness that he essentially became the custodian of "Lincoln's image."
Meserve was approached by medal and currency engravers, as well as by the sculptors of Lincoln's Memorial Monument, for direct access to his presidential photographs. In 2015, the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection was acquired by the Yale Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (New Haven, Connecticut.)
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