Autographs of John Ford, Owner of Ford’s Theatre

David Thoreau asked:

Autographs of John Ford of the John Ford Theatre are uncommon. Yet his life and the theatre he founded have an important role in American history.

John Ford was a very successful businessman from Baltimore, Maryland, where he managed the Holiday Street Theatre for twenty-five years. Ford also built the Grand Opera House in Baltimore. In 1861, Ford expanded his theatrical business to Washington, D.C. where leased the First Baptist Church that had been built in 1833.

At first, Ford converted the building into a music hall. In December 1862, a fire destroyed the building and a replacement was built. Theatrical productions resumed in August 1863. President Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865, while watching a production of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre. Ford was arrested and sent to jail for suspected complicity in the murder. After a few months he was exonerated and release from prison.

Autographs from John Ford or anyone associated with the Lincoln assassination are highly prized because of the historical association of these personalities. Letters, photos, and documents signed by John T. Ford are occasionally available on the autograph market. Handwritten letters signed by Ford with ordinary content customarily sell for hundreds of dollars. In 2007, an auction company sold a cabinet photo signed by Ford for about $1,300.

Ford signed a large number of documents because he held a large number of responsible positions. Besides his theatre in Washington, D.C., Ford managed theatres in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. He also managed a wide variety of traveling companies. Ford also served on the board of directors for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Collectors often retained documents signed by Ford in his role with various organizations. Theses documents occasionally appear at auction or at paper shows.

The theatre where Lincoln was assassinated is preserved today as Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site. Autographs from John T. Ford remind us of the greatness of Lincoln and the hopes and ideals he held for the United States.

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