Hoover and Lincoln: A Strange Offer

by Thomas Schwartz

Springfield eagerly anticipated the presidential visit by Herbert Hoover to rededicate the remodeled Lincoln Tomb on June 17, 1931.  In advance of the visit, Hoover received an unusual request from famed Lincoln collector Oliver R. Barrett proposing an offer that he hoped the president could not refuse.  Writing on June 2, 1931, Barrett declared:

“I have the door plate which, during Mr. Lincoln’s residence in Springfield, was on the front door of his home.  Enclosed you will find a photostat of the contemporaneous description of the door plate with the print of the Lincoln Home.  A similar description has appeared in one of the Bulletins of The Lincoln Centennial Association.

I have been requested to permit a reproduction to be made and replaced upon the door.  I think, however, it would be more fitting to have the original plate restored to its old place upon the door of the Lincoln home by you on the occasion of your visit to Springfield.

I have always made it a rule that nothing should go out of my Lincoln collection unless in exchange for some other desirable item which might be added to it.  If you would be willing to write your answer to this letter in longhand and send also an appreciation of Lincoln written and signed in longhand, I would be glad to give you the door plate in exchange and when restored by you, it would be unnecessary to make any reference to its former ownership.

If you have a short appreciation of Lincoln already written, it will serve.  If not, I would prefer to have you write on one of the enclosed sheets (the other you may retain if you wish).  You will note the former ownership of these sheets by holding to the light to observe the water-mark.

If you choose to write some thought or excerpt from your address which is to be delivered at the Lincoln Monument, it will not be necessary for you to send the appreciation to me until after the address has been delivered.

I am sure that Mr. Logan Hay of The Lincoln Centennial Association, Springfield, Illinois, will be very glad to have the door prepared to receive the plate before your arrival.

In the event of your answer to my letter, I would like to have you address it to my son, Roger Watson Barrett, who, although only fifteen years of age, is, in reality, the owner of the plate which I have brought together.”

Although Barrett’s offer was “very much appreciated,” Hoover, through his secretary Lawrence Richey, respectfully declined the offer.  What happened next to the name plate is murky.  The Illinois State Historical Library received the name plate from Jesse Jay Ricks in 1937 but without fanfare.  Paul Angle, director of the library, placed a note on the box indicating that the library was not to admit owning the original unless the copy on the door of the Lincoln Home was stolen.  Ricks was a prominent collector in his own right and perhaps made a swap with Barrett that placed the name plate into his possession.    Barrett’s son, Roger, later went on to a prominent legal career of his own, first as one of the legal team at the Nuremberg Trials and later with the prominent Chicago law firm of Mayer Brown & Platt.

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