Lincoln's life masks featured on The History Channel.

A brief piece on The History Channel about the making of President Lincoln's actual life masks, which Elements of Home carries reproductions of.
On November 18, 2009 - By Stephen Schmidt


The first bronze casting of the life mask of Abraham Lincoln was made in Chicago by Leonard Wells Volk in the spring of 1860. The process began with an application of wet plaster on Lincoln's face that became the basis for the bronze casting. The mask captures the musculature of Lincoln's face, and when Lincoln saw the finished mask, he remarked: "There is the animal himself." Copies of this mask were influential in the creation of Lincoln statuary by other sculptors, and Volk himself used it as the model for his statue of Lincoln for the Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. The mask was given to the Library by Lincoln collector Albert Whital Stern in 1953.

Leonard Wells Volk, Lincoln Life Mask (1860). Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division.


The second and final life mask of Abraham Lincoln was made in Washington, DC by Clark Mills in February, 1865. This is the first casting made in bronze and was a gift to John Hay, Lincoln's secretary during the Civil War. The difference in Lincoln's appearance, only five years after the 1860 mask and two months before his death, is striking. When sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens first viewed it, he thought it was a death mask. John Hay wrote in 1890 that "the nose is thin, and lengthened by the emaciation of the cheeks; the mouth is fixed like that of an archaic statue; a look as of one whom sorrow and care had done their worst without victory ... the whole expression is of unspeakable sadness and all-sufficing strength." The 1865 mask was a gift to the Library in 1965 from Clarence L. Hay, the son of John Hay.

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