Penn Libraries is showcasing some rare items concerning the Emancipation Proclamation in its new exhibit, “The Great Emancipator and the Great Central Fair,” which highlights the document and its role in the abolition of slavery.
President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation was delivered not long after the Union’s victory in the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. Although widely credited with freeing the slaves, the Proclamation only applied to states that had seceded from the Union. Slavery in border states remained unchanged. The Proclamation is, however, recognized for transforming the character of the Civil War from one of Union preservation to a war to expand freedom.
News of the executive order was printed in newspapers across the nation.
The exhibit includes copies from some publications, as well as items created for commemorative purposes.
In 1864, only 48 specially printed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, autographed by Lincoln, were put on sale for $10 each at the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia’s Logan Square. Organized by the United States Sanitary Commission, a private relief agency, the fair raised more than $1 million in support of the Union cause. One of the Lincoln-autographed copies is a part of Penn Libraries’ Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.
Acquired from Penn’s History Department in the 1940s, Penn Libraries had to restore the document due to damage caused by prolonged exposure to light. The item is on display along with another copy of the Proclamation purchased from the Great Central Fair. The second copy is on loan to Penn. The two copies are juxtaposed in display cases in the center of the exhibit room.
“If you take a look at it and you look at the copy that’s on loan, you’ll see that Lincoln’s signature is a little brighter, probably because it’s been exposed to much less light over the years,” says Mitch Fraas, a curator in the Kislak Center.
Most of the items in the exhibit are from Penn Libraries’ collections. A calligraphic representation of the Emancipation Proclamation, written in the shape of Lincoln’s head, highlights the association of the document with the 16th president.
Two miniature prints of the Emancipation Proclamation are believed to be items that were given to Union soldiers by an abolitionist to distribute to people they came across in the South to get the word out about Lincoln’s declaration.
“You can see their physical dimensions and how they were passed hand to hand,” says Fraas.
Also on display is a commemorative copy of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery in the United States, signed by Lincoln and all of the Congressmen who worked toward its ratification.
“The Great Emancipator and the Great Central Fair” is on display in the Goldstein Family Gallery on the 6th floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center through Feb. 27. The Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
The exhibit is free and open to the public. A photo ID is required to enter Van Pelt.