The 1920s scam that fooled Abe Lincoln’s family

The 1920s scam that fooled Abe Lincoln's family
 It was a painting with an intriguing history.

The portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln painted by Francis Bicknell Carpenter was commissioned by her to give to her husband, but after he was tragically killed, she told the artist to take it away. He sold it to a family, who then gave it to the sister of a man named Lew Bloom. Mr. Bloom exhibited it as a "never-before-seen-portrait" in 1929.

And except for the death of Abraham Lincoln, none of that is true.
The 1920s scam that fooled Abe Lincoln's family
After scraping away some of the top layer, we would
discover this is not Mary Todd Lincoln.

The painting was bought by one of Lincoln’s descendents, and later given to a museum. When the painting was sent for cleaning, art conservator Barry Bauman discovered that the painting was not Mary Todd Lincoln, but was a painting by an anonymous artist of an unknown woman who had been touched up and given a brooch of Lincoln.

The 1920s scam that fooled Abe Lincoln's family
 Lew Bloom

The whole thing was a scam by a man named Ludwig Pflum:

Mr. Bauman identifies the culprit behind the scam as Ludwig Pflum, who rechristened himself Lew Bloom and was given to the kind of self-invention that America became famous for during the industrial era. He worked as a jockey, circus clown, boxer and vaudevillian before settling on art collecting.

When he died less than a year after the painting’s public unveiling, an obituary in a Reading, Pa., newspaper noted that he "dabbled in oil paintings." Apparently he dabbled more than anyone at the time realized…

One of my favorite details: the Lincoln brooch that the fake painted Mary Todd Lincoln wears is an image of Lincoln that she absolutely hated.

Read all the juice: Mrs. Lincoln, I Presume? Well, as It Turns Out …, The New York Times>>
– The Demise of Mary Lincoln: An Artistic Conspiracy, Barry Bauman Conservation>>

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2 thoughts on “The 1920s scam that fooled Abe Lincoln’s family

  1. There are probably scores of artworks in museums and historical societies that have a secret history like this one. How many are waiting to be found?

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