The binoculars are engraved to the ivory mounts with the legend Mrs Mary Lincoln left these glasses in the box at Ford’s Theatre, Good Friday, April 14th, 1865, when our beloved President and Leader was cruelly assassinated, found by William Kent Esq.
Kent is a well-known figure in the evening’s events and gave evidence in the subsequent trial, recounting how he discovered the pistol used by actor John Wilkes-Booth to fire the fatal shot.
The glasses come for sale in Essex from a private Suffolk vendor who inherited them from his father but have little further provenance. Nonetheless, the Lincoln scholar and author Ed Steers said of these opera glasses: “There is no doubt in my mind that the inscription is authentic and of the period. Having seen or handled dozens of alleged artefacts associated with Lincoln and his assassination, all bogus, I have a different feeling about your item.”
An empty opera glasses case dropped by Mary Lincoln is among the items displayed at the Ford’s Theatre Museum in Washington DC – used as evidence in the trial of the conspirators.
The German-made black and gilt opera glasses believed to have been used by the 16th president himself have a more established market history. They were said to have fallen from his mortally wounded body as he was carried from the theatre and were picked up on Tenth Street by James M McCamly, a captain with the Washington City Guard.
They passed by descent until 1968 and later sold at Sotheby’s in 1979 for $24,000. The glasses were resold as part of the Forbes collection in 2002 for a premium-inclusive price of $424,000. After failing to sell at Sotheby’s in 2011 and then re-offered by a Los Angeles internet auctioneer in 2012, in 2018 they were in the stock of New Orleans dealer MS Rau with an asking price of $795,000.