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Portion of rail fence split by Abraham Lincoln, with accompanying note
Items associated with Abraham Lincoln have become icons. As Lincoln campaigned for president in 1860, the Republican Party used an image of him as "the rail-splitter." It successfully enhanced the notion of his rise from a humble past, emphasized the importance of the frontier, and glorified the nobility of labor. It transformed Lincoln from a relative unknown into a viable presidential candidate.

This fence rail was acquired at an 1864 Chicago fair held for the benefit of wounded Civil War soldiers. Lincoln's cousin John Hanks, who maintained that he and Lincoln split it in 1829 or 1830, confirmed its authenticity in the accompanying note. The prized souvenir of several families, the rail came to the Smithsonian Institution in 1983.

Presidential hair case
Today the idea of collecting hair may seem morbid, or at least bizarre. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was an acceptable way to mourn and to remember.

This display came to the Smithsonian Institution from the U.S. Patent Office in 1883. It contains hair from Presidents Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, and Pierce. It was assembled to honor the presidents and to keep them visible for future generations.

Selling patriotic and presidential souvenirs is a 200-year-tradition in Washington, D.C. This image was taken in July 1943.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

A souvenir vendor's stand in New Orleans, about 1910.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

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