Field, Eugene Sr. & Eugene Field, Jr. & Harry Dayton Sickles

A West Point album from the Class of 1859

p4A ItemID D9922025
William Milligan Sloane. Life of Napoleon Bonaparte

p4A ItemID D9830217
The History and Lives of all the Most Notorious Pirates..., allegedly from the library of Eugene Field

p4A ItemID D9713763
The Writings in Prose and Verse of Eugene Field, ten volumes, published 1896

p4A ItemID F7947464

Eugene Field, Sr.

Eugene Field, Sr. was born September 2, 1850 in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of attorney Martin Field who earned quite a name for himself as one of the attorneys associated with Dred Scott, the slave who sued for freedom in 1857. When Eugene was five, his mother died, and he was sent to Amherst, Massachusetts to be raised by a cousin.

Field began college at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, but his studies were interrupted early on by the death of his father. After further attempts at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and the University of Missouri in Columbia and several months wandering around Europe, Field returned to Missouri in 1875 where he found work as a journalist for the St. Joseph Gazette and married Julia Comstock, with whom he would have eight children.

The tone of Field’s writing, light and chatty, made him city editor of the St. Joseph Gazette and his work began to be reprinted by other newspapers. Within a few years, the Fields were living in St. Louis where Eugene worked for the Morning Journal and the Times-Journal. Success quickly followed and by 1883, he had worked as managing editor of the Kansas City Times, editor of the Denver Tribune, and moved on to a position as a columnist at the Chicago Daily News where he wrote the Sharps and Flats column.

During this time, Field also found time to begin writing the poetry that would become his real legacy. In addition to short stories, he would publish more than twelve poetry volumes, many of which were illustrated by Maxfield Parrish, including Poems of Childhood. His most famous verse is probably the children’s classic, ‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.’

Field died on November 4, 1895 in Chicago, but is well-remembered with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame and several memorials in Chicago, including a statue based on one of his poetry characters at the Lincoln Park Zoo. At least ten elementary schools around the country bear his name.

The Forgeries of Eugene Field II and Harry Dayton Sickles

Field also left a less pleasant legacy that he certainly wouldn’t have intended. His son, Eugene Field, Jr., also known as ‘Pinny,’ had grown up with a comfortable life in the suburbs of Chicago, and upon his father’s death, began casting about for ways to make money without doing much work. Eugene Sr. left, as any learned man of the time would, a sizeable library, filled with some rare editions and beautiful bindings, and Pinny began selling them off piecemeal for profit.

As Pinny was quickly running through his father’s library, he began to dabble in forgeries, and sometime in the 1920s or early 1930s, he met up with forger Harry Dayton Sickles. The two quickly struck upon a plan to ‘increase’ Eugene Sr.’s library. They reproduced Eugene Sr.’s original bookplate, and then set about buying up books, forging signatures and inscriptions, and ‘authenticating’ them with the addition of the reproduced bookplates.

In addition to the forgeries that added to Eugene Sr.’s library, the pair also decided to capitalize on a Lincoln memorabilia collecting craze. After an article was published in 1931 about William Brown, the Lincolns’ coachman and last living family employee, Pinny and Sickles began buying up period ephemera – books, sheet music, documents, etc. They encouraged William Brown to sign them, telling him collectors would want his autograph, and then had his signature notarized by Frank Thatcher, a local notary, although historians think it’s unlikely that either Brown or Thatcher knew their signatures were being misused. After this was done, Sickles or Field added ‘A. Lincoln’ to the pages, and the objects were then sold with the false provenance of having been gifts and tokens Mary Lincoln gave Brown in appreciation for his service to the family. Dozens of these items, known as the ‘Coachman Forgeries,’ are identified and, in some cases, seem to have value in their own right for the interesting story they’ve acquired.

Between Field and Sickles, they became the two of the most famous Lincoln forgers in history, but they didn’t stop there. For instance, Sickles also forged signatures for many of the great names of the late 19th and early 20 centuries, including Bret Harte, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling, and Frederic Remington.

Amazingly, both Field Jr. and Sickles continued work as forgers well into the 1940s and were never charged with the crimes. William L. Butts details the extent of their offenses and offers illustrated examples of the fake signatures along with an inventory from 1945 of 118 Field-Sickle-Lincoln forgeries in his book, Absolutely, Mister Sickles? Positively, Mr. Field! New Light on the Eugene ‘Pinny’ Field II and Harry Dayton Sickles Forgery Case.

Hollie Davis, Senior p4A Editor, March 2, 2010

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