Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Recently, after seeing the movie, "Lincoln," I was reminded of a postcard that I purchased a few years ago.  

I buy, sell and collect antique postcards as a hobby, and I particularly like cards with interesting messages on the back. Most of the messages run along the lines of "I'm fine. How are you?",  "I hope Grandma is feeling better," or "Wish you were here," but occasionally you find something more interesting than that.  This blog post is about a card that came out of a dealer's twenty-five cent sale box at a postcard show, and about the card's surprising message.

York, PA postcard show 2012

Postcards in sale boxes are usually common or damaged, but there are always customers for them.  Beginning collectors often start their collections from the sale boxes, and artists buy them for collage work or ideas. More advanced collectors and dealers also go through the sale boxes, looking for a "gemstone" in the "gravel."  They might find a card that the seller didn't recognize as valuable, or a damaged copy of a card that will suffice until a better one turns up. Often the find is just a postcard that appeals to the eye, or reminds one of another time or place. 

I go through sale boxes at a fast pace.  There are often hundreds of cards in each box, and I count on a very quick look to tell me when to pause.  
The card that is pictured below appealed to me on two levels:  first, it was an early Japanese postcard with an attractive reproduction of a watercolor; and second, some older Japanese cards have significant value.  The edges of the card had a little wear and it had been written on and postmarked in 1948.  These changes were acceptable, but unfortunately it had a rough place on the back where some of the surface of the paper was missing — perhaps where a sticker or a piece of tape had been removed.  Collectors of this type of foreign art postcard want cards in excellent condition.

Are you still with me?  Remember that I mentioned Lincoln?  We're getting there -- just had to set the scene.  Some buyers would lose interest after seeing the card's poor condition, but I am always hoping that the message tells a good story... 

The message on this was neatly written in ink and, while the card was mailed in 1948, my guess is that the card was produced between 1900 and 1910.  Glancing at the message I saw that the name "Lincoln" appeared several times.  That got my attention of course, and here's the payoff:


8-4-48.  The card you mailed in the Mailomat at Chicago shows a Lincoln statue in Lincoln Park.     
Any Lincoln card is always of interest in this household, especially to Mrs. Matthews.  Her father used to sleep with Abraham Lincoln.  Her grandfather, Joshua Wagenseller, and Mr. Lincoln were long time friends, beginning when Mr. Lincoln practiced law in Springfield and Pekin, Illinois.  Whenever Mr. Lincoln came to Pekin for a term of court, he was always entertained at the Wagenseller home as long as he stayed in Pekin.   
Mrs. Matthews spent the first twenty-two years of her life in that big Wagenseller home so full of Abraham Lincoln reminders.  Thanks for the fine cards.  
Sincerely, Will C. Matthews, 2310 Fort St., Omaha, Nebr

Some Internet research reveals that Joshua Wagenseller was a successful Pekin, Illinois businessman,  an ardent abolitionist and a good friend of Abraham Lincoln.  In fact, President Lincoln offered Mr. Wagenseller a cabinet position, but Wagenseller declined due to his extensive business interests.  

Lincoln also had strong ties to Pekin, Illinois and in 1862 he gathered a group of men there to establish the first council of the Union League of America to promote patriotism and loyalty to the Union during the Civil War.

So, the postcard message seems to be legitimate and it tells a Lincoln story that may not be recorded anywhere else. But of course it gets better doesn't it?  The message says that Mrs. Matthews' father "used to sleep with Abraham Lincoln."

In recent years there has been some speculation that Lincoln might have been bisexual, based in part, on the fact that, as a young lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he shared a bed for four years with Joshua Speed, a local businessman.  This postcard gives us another instance of Mr. Lincoln sharing a bed with a male – Mrs. Matthews' father, the son of Joshua Wagenseller. 

It's an interesting bit of history, and open to speculation I suppose, but in the 19th century it was quite common for people of the same sex to share a bed.  In many instances bed space was scarce or expensive, and a comfortable sleeping space was not to be wasted.  In fact, when necessary, unmarried house guests of the opposite sex sometimes shared a bed. In such cases a wooden plank called a  "bundling board" was often set between them to make sure no "accidental" touching occurred during the night.  

In my opinion these reported sleeping arrangements for Mr. Lincoln are only evidence that even the great Abraham Lincoln needed a good night's sleep like other mortals.  Rest in peace, President Lincoln. 

So, that's the 25¢ Lincoln story.  If you look closely, you can see the price written lightly in pencil on the back of the card.  I'd say it was a bargain and a good example of the small treasures that are out there if you keep your eyes open.

BTW, see the Spielberg movie, "Lincoln" as soon as you can.  Daniel Day-Lewis is a close as you will ever get to the real Lincoln. Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field are both terrific, and James Spader almost steals the show.  Keep in mind, however, that the true story is always more complex than a movie version.

To see a broader view of people who influenced Lincoln, like Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe, you might want to check out the PBS documentary, "The Abolitionists."  Here's a link to a review of it written by Mary McNamara of the LA Times:  

For more information about postcard collecting and shows, here are a few links:



  1. Another fine piece of historical incidence and sluething. A lingering question is why this midwestern correspondece took place on such an exotic postcard.

    1. I believe that Mr. Matthews and Mr. Willson to whom the card is addressed were both postcard collectors who exchanged cards by mail. This was a common practice at one time. Mr. Willson has apparently sent the Matthews family a current card from his travels (from a postcard automat machine) and Mr. Matthews responded with an older, unused card from his collection. Ken

  2. I can attest to the fact that Mr. Matthews was indeed a prolific postcard writer. He was my grandfather. In his retirement, he sent postcards to postmasters all over the world, asking if they would pass along his address to people who would be interested in corresponding with someone in Omaha, NE. He also would send postcards to people who were in the news, and it was amazing how many people responded. In his living room, he had a large cabinet with postcard-sized drawers that was completely filled with these responses. Fortunately, he and my dad, his son Milton E. Matthews, were both packrats and in the past several years, we have been going through this mountain of correspondence. It's fascinating. The story about Lincoln is apparently true, as my dad remembered his grandfather, (WIlliam) Henry Wagenseller, relating how when Lincoln was a traveling lawyer, and had occasion to be in Pekin, he would stay with the Wagenseller family. Henry was just a boy at the time. I have a picture of the house where Lincoln stayed, and it is a very large house so it's possible that Lincoln had his own bedroom. But we also believe that there was nothing untoward going on, and they probably just shared the room, as suggested by a previous note above. Lincoln called Henry "Fish" because Henry was such an avid fisherman, and occasionally they would fish together. A story in the Peoria, IL Journal-Star of March 17, 1988, an interview with George Toel, Joshua's great grandson, says that he remembers his grandmother, Ophelia, who was a young girl, a friend of the family at the time of Lincoln's visits, saying Lincoln was the ugliest person she ever saw. She called him an ugly, giant man. Recently, some of Mr. Matthews' postcards were offered by my sister's husband at a show in California. Someone there said they were very much aware of Will C. Matthews and his post cards. How fun this has been to find this site.
    Lois Matthews Blake, Omaha, NE lblake 8512@cox.net May 5, 2014

  3. Enjoyed reading Ken's post the first time around, and revisiting it was just a good. Appreciate the extra info, Lois, that's what it's all about!
    Ned Coleman
    Austin, Texas


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