How Green Bay became home to
a Mathew Brady photograph of
Abraham and Tad Lincoln (1864),
signed by Abraham Lincoln
In 1864, Swiss-born Gustave Matile, a young attorney, was hired as a secretary working for John Hay, personal assistant in Abraham Lincoln’s White House.
On February 9, 1864, Lincoln and son Tad posed for the photo taken by an assistant to famous photographer Mathew Brady in Brady’s studio. Soon afterward, according to a written account from Matile, Lincoln signed “A Lincoln & Son” on an unknown number of photos.
According to Tom Schwartz, Illinois state historian at the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill., the most valuable thing about the photo is the signature as Lincoln believed to have signed few photos of himself. This one is more unique, because it says “A. Lincoln & Son.”
After Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, a copy of the photo was used on the memorial cards, and it was also used in 1984 on a commemorative stamp recognizing National Library Week, because it shows the President leafing through a book with his son.
It is believed Matile had two of the signed prints, as he gave one to another White House staffer, Charles Gormly, soon after Lincoln’s death. He wrote in a letter to Gormly: “The signature at the bottom was written by his own hand as he gave it to me.”
Shortly after the assassination, Matile moved to Green Bay as the U. S. Court commissioner for the eastern district of Wisconsin. He served as judge, attorney and Swiss counsel in Green Bay, often dealing with matters related to the Oneida Nation.
At some point he moved to northwestern Wisconsin and Minnesota, but returned to the area in 1890. At that time he frequented the old Kellogg Public Library.
When Matile died in 1908 at St. Vincent Hospital, his estate gave the signed photograph to the library, where it was displayed through the years. It also hung at the new Central Library for about 15 years, before it was put in storage.
It is unknown what happened to the photograph Matile gifted to Charles Gormly. However, in 1985 Malcolm Forbes paid $104,000 for one original Lincoln & Son photograph in an auction at Sotheby’s. In 2002 the Forbes Collection was sold again to a California collector for $385,000 at Christie’s auction house in New York.
From the 2007 Documentation Report of Society member Dian Page. Researched by Society members Dian Page and Carol Jones.