— Looking for Lincoln —
During the Spring term of the Circuit Court in 1858, Abraham Lincoln sat for a portrait with photographer Samuel Alschuler. Alschuler's studio was on the second floor of the Lowenstern Building, at the southwest corner of Main and Race streets, where the Busey Bank Building stands today. According to Urbana judge J. O. Cunningham, Mr. Lincoln was wearing a light colored duster (a long open coat worn when traveling by horse to protect clothing from dust). Since light colors did not photograph well, Alschuler offered his own jacket for the portrait. As Cunningham later said in ?Some Recollections of Abraham Lincoln': "Alschuler was a very short man in height, with short arms, but with a body nearly as large as the body of Mr. Lincoln. The arms of Lincoln extended through the sleeves of Alschuler's coat a quarter of a yard, making him appear quite ludicrous; at which he, Lincoln, laughed immoderately, and sat down for the picture to be taken, with great effort at looking sober enough for the occasion."
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This sketch, drawn by Lincoln photographer expert Lloyd Ostendorf, recreates Lincoln's 1858 portrait session with itinerant photographer Samuel Alschuler. The session took place in the Lowenstern Building in downtown Urbana. The resulting portrait, shown below, is one of the earliest known photographs of our sixteenth president. Note Lincoln's expression in the portrait- - -is he suppressing merriment?
This photograph is an ambrotype, a successor to the earlier and better-known daguerreotype. The ambrotype is a direct positive, created by under-exposing collodian on a glass negative backed by a black background so as to appear positive. Ambrotypes were easier and less expensive to produce than daguerreotypes and were popular through the late 1850's. Abraham Lincoln was probably the first presidential candidate to realize their potential and to exploit the poser of photography. According to Meserve and Sandburg, the Mathew Brady photographer and Cooper union speech (February 27, 1860) were critical to Lincoln's successful campaign for the Presidency: "It has been said, perhaps with exaggeration, that over one hundred thousand copies were distributed in the campaign later in the year. Mr. Lincoln himself said that this speech and these photographs helped him to the White house."