Editor’s note: this is the first in an occasional series.
VICTORVILLE — The sixth-plate daguerreotype, presumably from the 19th Century, seemed inconsequential at first.
At center, a white building overwhelmed the setting. Two people peered out a second-story window. A rigid-looking group stood near the front entrance partially concealed by 150-plus years of grime.
But a black, stove-pipe hat caught Keith Collins’ attention.
“I was on eBay, and all I could see was the top of this hat,” he told the Daily Press. “I said, ‘Jeez, that kinda looks like Lincoln.’”
The hunch spurred Keith Collins’ $1,259 purchase of the photograph in May. Using a chemical process learned from a friend, he removed the collected dirt, which revealed a tall man in a white suit under the hat, as well as a shorter man on the photo’s right side.
Keith Collins, 56, of Sylmar, and his brother, Brian, 46, of Victorville, say the men are Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, competitors for Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat in 1858. It’s one of the only known photos of the political candidates taken during a series of seven famous debates held throughout the state that year, according to the brothers.
The claim comes after months of research alongside their apprentices — Veronica and Julia Rivas and Danielle Bennett — who “chip in” for purchases of historical value.
“We told (the girls) … when we find something, we’ll have you give us a little bit of money, and you’re part owners,” Keith Collins said. “But what you’re going to do is study.”
The group compiled facts and used published photos of Lincoln, Douglas and…
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