The recently re-published book The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln reveals an extraordinary collection of images of the U.S. president who ushered in the abolition of slavery. And these stark black-and-white shots from the mid 19th century not only chronicle Lincoln’s life but also show the development of photography in its earliest forms. What’s more, the following 20 rare photos all give us a unique view of both the creation of the modern U.S. and one of its greatest leaders.
Taken in 1846, this is the oldest authenticated photo of Abraham Lincoln – and one snapped before he grew his trademark beard. The image was shot by Nicholas H. Shepherd in Springfield, Illinois, when Lincoln was in his late 30s. It also sees him still near the beginning of his political career. Not long before he sat for this portrait, in fact, Lincoln had won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
While still with no beard but with decidedly unruly hair, Lincoln sat for Alexander Hesler in this 1857 photograph. Prominent newspaperman and politician Joseph Medill had accompanied Lincoln that day and witnessed one moment that suggests the future president was already thinking about his public image. Specifically, Medill recalled that Hesler had tried to tidy up Lincoln’s hair at one point. However, the then prairie lawyer ruffled it again before the picture was taken.