Five copies of the speech exist: two in the Library of Congress, one in the White House, one at the Illinois State Historical Library and one at Cornell. All are written in Lincoln’s neat penmanship, but they contain slight differences.
The copy at Cornell, for example, reads “on this continent” instead of “upon this continent” in the famous first line.
That sets it apart from the two in the Library of Congress, which were written before Lincoln delivered the address, a time lag that probably explains the different wording.
Lincoln wrote the Cornell copy a few days after the speech at the request of George Bancroft, a historian who wanted to make reproductions of the document to raise money for wounded soldiers.
Hamill said Lincoln used high-quality linen-based paper and iron gall ink derived from gall nuts. He sent it to Bancroft, but the effort fell flat. That’s because Lincoln had written on both sides of a piece of paper, and technology did not allow the reproduction of double-sided documents. Bancroft asked for another copy.
“Imagine, this is a time of war and you’re asking Lincoln again to do this thing,” Hamill said.
The president sent Bancroft a fresh copy, using two pieces of paper. Bancroft was left with what at the time seemed to be a “piece of useless paper,” Hamill said, but he held onto it and willed it to his grandson, a chemistry professor at Cornell.
During the Depression, the document was sold to a New York City dealer, but it eventually ended up back in Cornell’s hands, where it is guarded by a university police officer while it is on display.
Hamill marveled at the idea that a president with a war to run had taken the time to write out his speech five times. And in perfect penmanship.