A set of 12 porcelain bowls inscribed in Arabic with the words “A Gift for His Excellency Abraham Lincoln 1860” was discovered at a garage sale in suburban New York, a curator at the Israel Museum said Wednesday.
Curator Naama Brosh said she believes the bowls, which are white with blue calligraphy, were given to Lincoln by an Ottoman sultan in 1860 - the year he was elected president. The outside of the bowls is inscribed “Imperial Chamber,” a reference to the Ottoman Empire, she said.
The bowls are on display as part of an exhibit of Islamic art owned by collector Nasser Khalili of London. Khalili told the museum that a friend of his purchased the bowls at a garage sale outside New York several years ago, Brosh said.
“The owners didn’t know how to read Arabic and thought it was worthless,” she said.
Historian Mark E. Neely cast doubt on the authenticity of the bowls, however.
Like all presidents, Lincoln received many gifts, Neely said - “from warm woolly socks to more valuable things from heads of state.”
But Neely, a professor of history and American studies at St. Louis University, pointed out that Lincoln did not actually become president until March 4, 1861. It is possible, but unlikely, that such a gift would have been made to a president-elect, he said.
“If the date is 1860 I think there’s something wrong with this story,” he said. “We need to hear a little more about it.”