Abraham Lincoln, Life Mask and Hands, Leonard Volk


The Earliest Commercial Bronze Castings Volk Family Commissioned Set!

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This Bronze Life Mask and Hands of Abraham Lincoln were produced by the “Lost Wax” method, off the plaster “Artist’s Mask,”created by Volk in Paris in 1881 directly from the original mask, now in the Smithsonian.

THE YEAR 1886.  A beardless Lincoln had suddenly become popular after the 1886 publication of Lincoln’s secretary’s 10-volume biography that used Chicago’s Alexander Hesler’s beardless photograph for their frontispiece.  Hesler then began producing copies of these photographs –taken of the presidential nominee at the behest of the Republican Party in 1860 – and had wide success in selling them.  As well, when Richard Gilder “discovered” the original mask residing with Wyatt Eaton, Gilder and Augustus St. Gaudens got up a subscription to purchase the mask to donate it to the National Museum (now the Smithsonian).  (33 replicas in plaster and bronze were produced as gifts to those who donated monies for the project of acquiring the original mask for the nation.)

Volk certainly saw a commercial angle for his shaven mask and took advantage of that popularity by issuing his own mask and hands, but only in bronze and not in “cheap plaster!”  By Volk’s commission, Berchem produced a few sets. Volk’s collaboration with Berchem is documented by the inscriptions on these mask and hands.  Berchem incised Volk’s name on the mask, “A. LINCOLN / 1860 / L.W. VOLK, fecit”.  On the cuffs of each hand is incised, “A. LINCOLN / L.W. VOLK /  / fecit. / Cast by J. Berchem/Chicago”.

It is instrumental to note that this mask and these hands are “signed” by Volk; he commissioned them, using Berchem’s foundry, so they are rightfully considered as originals of Volk himself.  In contrast, the St. Gaudens replicas are not signed (incised) by Volk, as St. Gaudens rightly knew these were not Volk productions and should not bear the artist’s representative name or signature.


Leonard Volk made the original castings of Lincoln face in March 31, 1861; the original castings of Lincoln hands were made May 20, 1861.

The mask was given to his artist son, Douglas, who thence presented it to his  friend, Wyatt Eaton.  This mask now resides in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

While residing in Rome in 1870-72 (thankfully missing the Chicago fire), Volk had the noted formitore in plaster, Malpricari, produce molds of the original mask and hands all under his direction.  Upon returning to Chicago in 1873 Volk produced three mask replicas directly off that “original life mask.” 

The First he gave to Douglas who gave it to Wyatt Eaton to replace the original that landed in the Smithsonian (not it resides with the Zeta Psi fraternity at the University of Illinois).

The Second he gave to his son’s professor in the Beaux Arts, Jean-Leon Germone (which later went to Truman Bartlett and is now in the Massachusetts Historical Society).

The Third was retained by Leonard and is known as the “Artist’s Mask.”  It is this mask that was used by Berchem to produce copies at Leonard Volk’s Family’s behest in 1909-1913.

This “Artist’s Mask” was also used by Richard Gilder and Augustus St. Gaudens, who in 1886-1888, through subscription, made 33 replicas in 1886-88 in both plaster and bronze, to present to donors in the successful effort to purchase the original “life mask” for the National Museum (Smithsonian now).

Approximate dimensions:

MASK:  8” wide (ear to ear); 8” deep (chin to rear of head); 5-1/4” high, Right Hand: 5” wide; 6” deep; 3-1/2” high; Left Hand: 4” wide; 6-1/2” deep’ 2-1/2” high

Excellent condition with a rich dark bronze tonality; only minimal rubbing on the bottom of the hands, as would be usual; some white paper-like residue on the inside of the mask.

We are aware of only 4 extant Berchem sets!

(Abraham Lincoln) Volk, Leonard (1828-1895; sculptor) ABRAHAM LINCOLN, BRONZE LIFE MASK & HANDS.  Chicago: Jules Berchem, American Art Bronze Factory, c1909-1913.  Signed by both Volk and Berchem below the chin of the mask and on the cuff of each hand.  

More on Jules Berchem…

Jules Berchem (1855-1930), owner of the American Art Bronze Factory in Chicago and European educated, was a master artisan in art bronze, known for making large statues (such as the pair of lions in front of Chicago’s Art Institute and Leonard Volk’s Lincoln atop the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in  Rochester, New York) each executed under his hand and direction.  He came to be regarded as America’s master artisan in art bronze, collaborating with the foremost sculptors in his faithful reproduction of their works – Volk being one of them.