Are These Photographs of Abraham Lincoln?

Facial Features Analysis and Comparison Are The Answer

by Joelle Steele

To learn more about analyzing faces in photographs, check out Joelle Steele's new book, Face to Face: Analysis and Comparison of Facial Features to Authenticate Identities of People in Photographs.

NOTE: I no longer analyze photos believed to be the James Brothers, Billy the Kid, or Abraham Lincoln. Please do not submit them as I do not respond.

Everybody recognizes Abraham Lincoln when they see his photo — or do they? There are several photos being circulated throughout the World Wide Web, and the owner of each believes they have a previously unknown photographic portrait of Lincoln. In some cases, they have retained a variety of experts to support their theories, while other experts have refuted those same theories. Could any of these controversial photos really be those of Abraham Lincoln?

Kaplan photo Cruz photo Trio photo

Hay-Wadsworth photo Ellison photo

CLOCKWISE: Unidentified Man, early 1840s, photographer unknown ("Kaplan" photo); Unidentified Man, 1875-1895, photographer unknown ("Cruz" photo); Unidentified Man with Two Women, 1850s, photographer unknown ("Trio" photo); Unidentified Man, 1850s, photographer unknown, ("Hay Wadsworth" photo); and Unidentified Man from group photo, 1850-1870, photographer unknown, ("Ellison Collection" photo).

I found the photographs above while browsing the Web over the years. The one on the top row far left was identified as a Daguerreotype of a "young Abraham Lincoln" by its owner, a man named Albert Kaplan, who purchased the Daguerreotype in New York in 1977 as a "portrait of a young man." The photo on the top middle left has been identified as a Daguerreotype and was purchased by Ivan Cruz of New Jersey, who believes it is a young Lincoln. Cruz bought the photo in about 2003 as part of an old album that contained pictures of Lincoln and his wife and kids, so it has good provenance. The photo on the top middle right has been identified as an ambrotype of Lincoln with Mary Todd Lincoln (in the middle) and her sister Elizabeth Todd Edwards (on the right). I'll refer to that photo as the "Trio" since I don't know the owner's name and there are three people in it. The photo on the bottom left is a Daguerreotype purchased from the Alice Hay Wadsworth collection by the late antique dealer George Feeley of Caledonia, New York, who sold it to Robert and Joan Hoffman of Pittsford, New York. Alice Hay Wadsworth was the daughter of Lincoln's private secretary, John Milton Hay, so this photo would appear to have good provenance. And the photo on the bottom right is an enlargement of a man in a group photo owned by Greg Ellison and Michele Ellison, a.k.a. the Ellison Collection.

Lincoln Meserve #1 photo Lincoln Brady photo The owners of some of the above photos have consulted a variety of experts in an attempt to authenticate their images as those of Lincoln, and most have tried unsuccessfully to sell their photos as images of Lincoln. The photo at left is the oldest known photograph of Lincoln, a Daguerreotype called Meserve #1. Next to it is an 1862 Matthew Brady photo of Lincoln.


The Kaplan Daguerreotype (left) can be ruled out as that of a young Lincoln by measuring out the underlying bones of the skull and comparing them to known Kaplan photophotographs of Lincoln. Previous "experts" analyzed and compared the Kaplan photo with that of an 1862 Matthew Brady photograph of Lincoln and determined that there was a probability that the Kaplan Daguerreotype was of Lincoln. But I do not deal in probabilities, only exact matches, so I do not agree with either of them. I did two comparative facial features analyses of Lincoln and the man in the Kaplan photo.

As you can see from the Brady and Meserve #1 photos and the Kaplan photo (left), both men have their hair combed alike and they each have high foreheads. That is where all similarities begin and end. Everything from that point on is a non-match.

The most glaring difference is that the unidentified man's eyes are proportionately bigger in relation to the size of his face and head than are Lincoln's eyes, which are smaller in relation to the size of his face and head. And that is not something that changes with time and age in anyone once they are an adult.

The ears are also distinctly different. And ears do not lie. When I'm comparing facial features for the purpose of identifying someone in a photograph, I first look at the face/head shape, and then I look at the ears. They are extremely important and highly reliable in identification. Like fingerprints, no two are alike.

Lincoln ear Lincoln ear Kaplan ear

LEFT AND MIDDLE: Lincoln's ears from known Lincoln photos. RIGHT: Unidentified man's ear in Kaplan photo.

As you can see in the three photos above, Lincoln's ear is shorter in height than that of the unidentified man. Lincoln has a straighter helix (the outer edge of the ear); a significantly larger ear lobe; and an intertragal notch or intertragic notch (the opening right above the lobe) that starts much higher up from the bottom of the lobe than it does on the ear of the unidentified man. Lincoln's ear lobe is also positioned away from his head, while the unidentified man's ear lobe, according to Frechette's own observation, "hangs free and is close to the neck."

I measured and compared the unidentified man to the Meserve #1 photos and Brady photos of Lincoln, and nothing is a match. I covered this Lincoln analysis in more detail in my book, Face to Face: Analysis and Comparison of Facial Features to Authenticate Identities of People in Photographs.


The Ivan Cruz photo can be immediately and easily dismissed as being Lincoln without any need for anything other than an examination of the clothing and hair, because both are from around the early-to-mid 1880s, at least twenty years after Lincoln had died.

Cruz photoBut every expert has to have his say. Cruz allegedly showed this photo in person to Dr. Jerome R. Corsi (author and political scientist), Robert J. Garrett (forensic investigator and crime scene specialist), and Dave Blanchette (Spokesperson, Illinois Office of Communications & Information). According to Cruz, they all agreed the photo was of a young Lincoln.

Cruz also allegedly showed this photo in person to Dr. Thomas Schwartz (well-known Lincoln scholar, former Illinois State Historian, former director of Research and the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Illinois, and now with the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum in Iowa), and Dr. James Cornelius (Curator, the Lincoln Collection, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois). Again, Cruz states that these two experts agreed it was a photo of a young Lincoln.

When I read that, I found it impossible to believe. According to the Web site "The Abraham Lincoln Observer," Schwartz and Cornelius did NOT believe the Cruz photo was of Lincoln. The Observer states that it contacted Schwartz, and that Schwartz responded saying he and Cornelius believed it was NOT a photo of Lincoln, that it did NOT look like Lincoln, and that the clothing was NOT right for the time in which a young Lincoln would have been photographed. Schwartz is also said to have claimed that his and Cornelius' opinion was being misrepresented on the Internet by Cruz. All of this was confirmed for me after I personally contacted Drs. Schwartz and Cornelius, and Dr. Cornelius responded on their mutual behalf as follows: "Mr. Cruz has pestered us through various pseudonyms and we have asked him to desist. The words he quotes from anyone here are fabricated. We can believe nothing he says, writes, or does. The photo is plainly someone from the 1870s."

That response seems emphatic enough to me (although I think the photo is later than the 1870s). The Cruz photograph definitely cannot be that of a young Lincoln.


The trio in this photograph are purported to be Lincoln with Mary Todd Lincoln (middle) and her sister Elizabeth Todd Edwards (at right). I could find very little information about this photograph on the Internet. Most came from an auction house and from a few short articles on the photo. It is said to be an ambrotype, and it looks like an ambrotype, so I'm not going to argue about the photographic process. The clothing is a hodge-podge of styles, with the most recent pieces (the man's tie and hat) being from the mid-to-late 1850s.

Trio photoThe auction house claims that this is a Lincoln photo on the sketchiest evidence: 1) that the man is wearing Lincoln's trademark "stove pipe" hat; 2) that the man's left hand is draped down because "it is a known fact" that Lincoln had Marfan's syndrome; and 3) that facial recognition experts found 8 of 15 points that matched with 15 known Lincoln photographs.

Let's just get all that nonsense out of the way once and for all, and then we can move on to something real. First of all, tall or top hats came into fashion in the late 1790s, and they remained in fashion with only the slightest variations (the one in the trio photo is from around the late 1850s) for more than 100 years! A stove pipe hat does not a Lincoln make. Second, it is not a known fact that Lincoln had Marfan's syndrome. That is a theory only, and one that can never be proved without exhuming Lincoln's remains. Besides, I have several of my own family photos in which someone's hand is draped down casually over someone else's shoulder in the same way, and they don't have Marfan's syndrome. Third, these unidentified facial recognition experts found only 8 of 15 points in Lincoln's face? That's not enough to make a proper and positive identification of anyone. Identifying people requires 100% exactness, not probabilities. And, unless the original image shows Lincoln's eyes very clearly, that is a huge omission in their analyses. I also looked at the traits with underlying bone structure to determine their size and placement on the head and face, and then compared them to known photographs of Lincoln, and I did not see any resemblance to Lincoln in this photo at all.

Mary Todd Lincoln photoElizabeth Todd photo

But, let's just forget about whether or not it's Lincoln. Nobody seems to have bothered to analyze the images of the women purported to be Mary and Elizabeth in the trio photo. Here are two known photographs of Mary (far left) and her sister Elizabeth (near left). At first glance, I was sure it was not Mary in the middle, and I wasn't familiar enough with Elizabeth's face to know for sure. So, I compared the individual facial features in the group photo with the two images at left and with other known photos of Mary and Elizabeth.

Nothing matches for either woman. With Mary, the bone structure is all off. The face shape and cheeks don't match known photos of Mary; the mouth and chin are not a match; and neither are the brow line or the distance between the eyes. With Elizabeth, bone structure is also off. The mouth and chin are not a match, and neither is the brow line. All other features are either not visible (e.g., the ears) or are not sufficiently clear to compare. But the bones don't lie. The women in the group photo are not Mary and Elizabeth.


This photo is a Daguerreotype purported to have been taken in 1843, and the clothing is off for that early a date, but I don't think it is off by much.

Hay-Wadsworth photoI knew at first glance that the Hay Wadsworth image was not of Lincoln, but I always do the comparison and analysis anyway, just to confirm it, and I covered my findings in my book, Face to Face: Analysis and Comparison of Facial Features to Authenticate Identities of People in PHotographs.

Briefly, the forehead and hairline do not match; the philtrum (that little ridge between the nose and mouth) is not a match; the mouth in the Hay Wadsworth photo is larger in proportion to the face than in Meserve #1; the ear lobe sticks out further in Meserve #1; the brow in Meserve #1 is much more extended; the eyes are more deeply set in Meserve #1; the chin is shorter in the Hay Wadsworth; and the nose in the Hay Wadsworth is thicker. With so many features not matching, it is clear that the Hay Wadsworth photo is not of Lincoln.


On the Ellison Collection's Web site, the Ellisons have posted the following group shot, below left, which I cropped slightly to save space and show only the heads.

Ellison photoThe Ellisons state that this group carte de visite photo was taken by Mrs. J.W. Fessenden of Twinsburg, Ohio. I don't dispute this, and I have no doubt that the name is probably stamped on the photo somewhere and that it really is a CDV (even though it would seem a cabinet card would be more appropriate for a group photo). I also will not dispute any of the other allegedly historic figures the Ellisons identify in the photo because I am not an expert on any of them and I am not being paid to authenticate their identities, so time is an issue for me. I will also not dispute the probable date or place that the Ellisons attribute to this photo (an 1861 peace convention in Washington, DC). But the Ellison's believe that the man seated in the front row at the far left is Abraham Lincoln. and I am positive that it is not.

Ellison photo enlargementWhen I cropped out the image of the unidentified man seated on the far left, I compared his face to that of Lincoln. Not a match. Not even close. While the photo is not very clear, it is sufficiently clear for me to see that, working top to bottom, the bones and features don't match. The eyebrows are not sharply arched like Lincoln's and instead droop downward. The nose is way too long and bulbous at the tip and droops downward, while Lincoln's is more pointed, is shorter in proportion to his head, and tilts upward slightly at the tip. The lips are too large, while Lincoln's top lip is much thinner than the bottom and has distinct "points" at the base of the philtrum (the little furrow between the top of the lips and the base of the nose). The beard is not accurate either, as Lincoln's beard always grew above the mentolabial furrow (the little dip between the lower lip and the chin) all the way up to the rim of his lower lip. The long sideburns that Lincoln wore throughout his bearded years are also missing. And lastly — my favorite "tell" in authenticating old photos — the ears of the unidentified man are not correct. They are placed too low and at the wrong angle on the head. The clothing is off a little too, but I'm not going to go into that since I am already 100% certain that this is not a photograph of Lincoln.


I have no clue who the unidentified men are in these photos. The only thing I do know for sure is that bones do not lie, neither do ears, and neither do facial features or clothing styles or the types of photographic processes used at any given point in time. It is very easy to be blinded by wanting something to be what it is not or cannot be. I'd be thrilled to be able to say that any of these photos are those of Lincoln. What wonderful historic finds they would be! But they are not Lincoln, and I don't want to be yet another person who perpetuates a myth on the Internet — home of far too many inaccuracies and way too much misleading information — and I also don't want to insult the memory of a great man like Lincoln by saying these are images of him when they are not. This article is my opinion as someone who has been authenticating old photographs for a very long time, since 1980. However, the fact that some of these photos have been floating around the Web for so many years and that no one — no museum, no library, no wealthy collector — has ever acquired them, would alone seem to be sufficient to confirm my findings, that they are not photos of Abraham Lincoln.

This article last updated: 05/13/2013.

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