Student finds rare Lincoln fingerprint

Lydia Smith holds the letter written by Abraham Lincoln.

Lydia Smith holds the letter written by Abraham Lincoln.

A student at Miami University has discovered what experts say is a fingerprint belonging to Abraham Lincoln from nearly 150 years ago.

Lydia Smith, a first-year psychology major from Granville, Ohio, was transcribing a letter written by Lincoln on Oct. 5, 1863, for a class project when she noticed a smudge that she suspected could be Lincoln’s thumbprint.

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, reviewed and confirmed the print, making it the second rare fingerprint of the 16th president housed at Miami’s libraries.

The collection at Miami includes the first authenticated fingerprint of Lincoln with a signature known to historians since it was first verified in 1957. Lydia Smith’s discovery of the second fingerprint has historians taking notice.

lincolnprint2“Miami’s collection includes the first certified document that provides a critical comparison for us,” said John A. Lupton, associate director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project. “I have seen a number of fingerprints that I assumed to be Lincoln’s, but never more than one in one repository. The fact that Miami has two makes it fascinating.”

The 1863 letter was among hundreds of miscellaneous letters stored in Miami’s Walter Havighurst Special Collections section of King Library and uncovered this fall. With this find, the university now owns four Lincoln letters, all of which are part of a larger collection of Lincoln-related items donated to Miami in 1967 by alumnus William A. Hammond (’14) who had spent 30 years collecting Lincoln-related items.

Smith is one of 25 students at Miami involved in the “Whispers in the Words” project, a collaborative effort led by Thomas Kopp, a professor in the department of teacher education and Betsy Butler, Special Collections librarian. The project is designed to foster learner appreciation and intellectual curiosity and scholarship through the transcription and recreation of historic letters.

Both Lincoln and Miami University are celebrating their 200th birthdays this month. Miami, founded in 1809, celebrates its charter day on Feb. 17. It is the 10th oldest public university in the nation.

The transcription project was funded by a grant from the School of Education, Health and Society.

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