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February 28, 2022

The First Fake Photograph: Abraham Lincoln’s Head on John Calhoun’s Body, ca. 1860s

This print is a composite; the head of Abraham Lincoln is superimposed on the figure and background of an 1852 print of John C. Calhoun by Alexander Hay Ritchie. Some believe this print was made because there were not enough “heroic-style” portraits of Lincoln made during his life. In the Calhoun image, the papers on the table say “strict constitution,” “free trade,” and “the sovereignty of the states.” In the Lincoln image, these words have been changed to read, “constitution,” “union,” and “proclamation of freedom.”

The trickery is attributed to Thomas Hicks – a portrait painter from that era who had painted Lincoln before — who was thought to have created this composite in the early to mid-1860s. Many historians believed that the photo was created after Lincoln’s assassination because there were hardly any heroic, Presidential looking portraits of Lincoln at that time. Calhoun’s image is a wood cut while the image of Lincoln is detailed, because it was taken from Mathew Brady’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln, the same one later used for $5 bills.

In his haste, Hicks didn’t noticed that when he flipped the Brady photo, the President’s famous mole would appear on the wrong side of his face. It was only years later that Stefan Lorant, the art director for the London Picture Post magazine, noticed that the photo was a fake.

(Photos courtesy of Library of Congress)


  1. Except this isn't a photograph . . . but aside from that . . .

  2. I have one of the original 19th century prints. It was awarded to a Thrift Bank savings group in 1924. I have it in it's original frame.

  3. I have an etching that is Lincoln’s body and Calhoun body we were told. Same picture. Trying to find out what is worth.




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