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Honest! Abe Lincoln's earliest photo finally 'confirmed'

Facial-recognition expert Robert Schmitt has produced a video in which he analyzes a daguerreotype that may be the earliest photographic image taken of Abraham Lincoln against well-known images of the 16th president.

The daguerreotype, identified only as a “Portrait of a Young Man,” was obtained in 1977 by collector Albert Kaplan, who purchased the image for $27 from among a group of 100 being sold by an art gallery on 57th Street in New York City.

See the video:

Upon seeing the unidentified daguerreotype, Kaplan believed the image was Lincoln. A few days later, after he had a chance to examine Lincoln’s known photographic images, he became convinced.

“When I first saw it, I thought that there were similarities between the handsome, aristocratic and tastefully groomed young man of the daguerreotype and my mental image of President Lincoln,” Kaplan says on the website he has devoted to proving the daguerreotype is the earliest known photographic image of Lincoln.



While Schmitt leaves the ultimate determination to the viewer, he makes clear that, in his professional judgment, the facial-recognition software establishes a convincing probability the person pictured in the daguerreotype is Lincoln.

Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White (Book)

Schmitt, with 12 years of experience in facial-recognition technology, was the former president of Biometrica, a leading identity-recognition company specializing in the casino industry.

In the video, Schmitt demonstrates how face-recognition technology can be utilized to identify and fix key biometric features of a person’s face, such as the distance between a person’s eyes. That measurement typically cannot be altered, even with advanced methods of modern plastic surgery.

He illustrates how face-recognition technology can be used to identify as the same person young and old photographs of historical figures, including former presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. Schmitt demonstrates how facial biometrics remain constant throughout life, despite aging.

The analysis of Lincoln is aided by the existence of two life-masks cast from his face.

Sculptor Leonard Volk made the first Lincoln life-mask in 1860, before Lincoln assumed the presidency. Sculptor Clark Mills made the second, in 1865, just two months before Lincoln’s death.


(Source: Abraham Lincoln Art Gallery)

Also used in the face-recognition analysis is a photograph of Lincoln made by an unknown photographer at Matthew Brady’s gallery in Washington, D.C., around 1862.

The angle of Lincoln’s head in the 1862 photography, when Lincoln was 53 years old, is very similar to the angle of his face in the Kaplan daguerreotype. Both photos were taken of the left side of the face, with the head held at approximately the same angle.

After Schmitt set the facial biometrics of the Kaplan daguerreotype into the software, he compared the Kaplan daguerreotype with the two life-masks of Lincoln and the 1862 photograph taken in the Brady studios.

Utilizing the facial-recognition software, Schmitt demonstrates both in a right-to-left dissolve technique and in a superimpose dissolve that the facial features in the Kaplan daguerreotype bear a remarkable likeness to the well-known images, including a correspondence of hairline, eyebrows, eyes, chin, mouth features and ears.

In a special on the History Channel, Schmitt conducted a similar analysis utilizing his face-recognition technology on a purported death-photograph of Jesse James. Schmitt compared it with known photographs of the outlaw to argue that James may not have been murdered by Bob Ford on April 3, 1882.

Earliest known Lincoln photo

Lincoln experts generally agree that Lincoln’s earliest known photographic likeness is an 1840s daguerreotype in the possession of the Library of Congress. The image is generally known by Lincoln experts as Meserve No. 1, since it was the first Lincoln image published in the 1944 edition of Lincoln collector and expert Frederick Hill Meserve’s book “The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln.”

The Meserve No. 1 daguerreotype was a gift to Meserve from Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s eldest son.

Tradition says N.H. Shepherd made the Meserve No. 1 daguerreotype in Springfield, Ill., in 1846, when Lincoln was 37 years old.

Alternatively, Meserve stated that Robert Todd Lincoln believed the photograph was made in 1848, in Washington, D.C., when Lincoln was a congressman from Illinois.


Meserve No. 1 image of Abraham Lincoln

As WND reported, Kaplan, while living in Paris in 1987, sought the opinion of Claude N. Frechette, M.D., a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the American Hospital in Paris, to examine the daguerreotype Kaplan believed was the first known photographic image made of the youthful future president.

Frechette re-photographed three Lincoln images – the Kaplan daguerreotype, Meserve No. 1 and the 1862 Lincoln photo discussed above – and altered their size to standardize the distance between the pupils in Lincoln’s eyes to as close to 5.5 centimeters as possible. Each resulting print measured approximately 21 by 16 centimeters.

He then began a detailed examination of the features in each of the three photographs. The result was that the vertical dimensions of the mandible, maxilla, nose length and the positions of the orbits of the face in the Kaplan daguerreotype were shown to be the same as Lincoln’s.

“Lincoln clearly had a unique face, with a large forehead, a penetrating gaze, prominent cheek bones, a strong nose and a well-outlined jaw,” Frechette wrote. “The moles on his face were also characteristic features.”

In addition to the measurements Frechette made of Lincoln’s facial features, he noted the similarity in facial characteristics, among which are the following:

Frechette found important similarities when examining Lincoln’s eyes.

At the age of 10, a horse kicked Lincoln, causing him to sustain a major head trauma on the left side, with a loss of consciousness. As a result, Lincoln suffered from diplopia (double vision) and exophoria (outward deviation) of the left eye, both due to partial paralysis of the small eye muscles.

Frechette noted three fairly technical points regarding Lincoln’s eyes, which he considered important in deriving his conclusion that the young man of the Kaplan daguerreotype was Lincoln:

Kaplan noted that several Lincoln contemporaries recorded their observations of the deep-set nature of Lincoln’s eyes, a characteristic Kaplan found as well in the Kaplan daguerreotype.

Frechette also commented that numerous accounts have revealed that Lincoln underwent a noticeable change in his physical appearance beginning in January 1841. Lincoln went through a grave emotional crisis at that time that coincided with his reported failure to go through with his marriage to Mary Todd, leaving her literally waiting for him at the altar.

“This emotional crisis, just one of a series of such episodes to plague him throughout his life, was the cause of Lincoln losing a considerable amount of weight,” Frechette wrote.

Lincoln’s friendship with Joshua Speed

WND also previously reported Kaplan believes his daguerreotype was made in late August or early September 1841, when Lincoln and his friend, Joshua Speed, traveled to the Speed plantation in Louisville, Ky. The daguerreotype also could have been made in St. Louis, when Lincoln and Speed stopped there on their trip.

Kaplan believes Lincoln gave the daguerreotype to his hostess, Lucy C. Speed, Joshua’s mother, the lady to whom Lincoln sent a signed photograph of himself when president.

On the occasion of Lincoln’s visit to Louisville, Mrs. Speed gave Lincoln the gift of a Bible.

Supporting Kaplan’s theory is an announcement in the Aug. 31, 1841, edition of the Louisville Daily Journal that T. B. Moore of the itinerant daguerreotypist team of Moore and Ward would be spending a few days at Ormsby House.

Lincoln scholars Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis have called Joshua Speed “Lincoln’s only intimate friend.”

Speed was of a prominent Louisville family. He attended college for a year before moving to Springfield, Ill., in 1835.

In 1837, Lincoln had been living in New Salem, and, when he arrived in Springfield, he roomed with Speed above Speed’s store.

According to Wilson and Davis, Speed helped Lincoln through a period of suicidal depression following his breakup with Mary Todd in the winter of 1840-1841.

Lincoln biographer Stephen B. Oates noted in his book “Malice Toward None” that Lincoln’s trip to Louisville with Speed in August 1841 represented “a much needed vacation,” in which “Lincoln opened up about Mary and his depression.”

In January 1841, Lincoln broke off his engagement with Todd in a bout of self-doubt that observers at the time attributed to Lincoln’s “hypochondria.”

In a letter Speed wrote to Lincoln’s law partner and biographer William Herndon, Speed described Lincoln’s depression as follows: “Lincoln went Crazy – had to remove razors from his room – take away all Knives and other such dangerous things &c – it was terrible – was during the Special session of the Ills Legislature in 1840.”

Lincoln friend James Conklin noted that, after this break, Lincoln became so emaciated his colleagues were shocked at his appearance.

The differences between the Kaplan and Meserve No. 1 daguerreotypes are significant; however, it is possible the two images might have been made seven years apart.

One factor in the difference in appearance may be the crisis Lincoln experienced over his decision whether or not to wed Todd.

Another cause may be the great unhappiness Lincoln experienced separated from his family while he was a congressman serving in Washington.

“I happen to have the ability to recognize people from their photographs,” Kaplan said. “Lincoln scholars may know a great deal about Lincoln, but that does not mean they necessarily have the ability to recognize people visually.”

“We all change over the years,” he explained. “Finding an unknown Lincoln daguerreotype has almost become a cottage industry. So, it’s natural Lincoln scholars put my claim in the same category and say, ‘Poor Kaplan, he is either deluded or trying to perpetrate a fraud upon us.'”