updated 4/9/2005 7:05:44 AM ET 2005-04-09T11:05:44

Twenty years ago, George St. Pierre handed over $10 for a framed scrap of cloth at a secondhand store.

Now he hopes the swatch — supposedly from the coat President Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated — is worth a small fortune.

On April 17, St. Pierre plans to put the postage stamp-sized swatch up for sale on GoAntiques.com. The minimum bid: $1 million.

But some Lincoln collectors are skeptical, saying St. Pierre has no documentation of ownership of the item from the time it supposedly was snipped from Lincoln’s coat by souvenir scavengers until St. Pierre purchased it in 1987.

“How do we know what’s genuine, a fairy tale, a wish or fraudulent?” said memorabilia broker Daniel Weinberg in Chicago. “It needs more than someone saying it appears the cloth may be similar to what Lincoln wore.”

St. Pierre has authentication of sorts — most of it written correspondence from people who have examined the cloth since he bought it in Quincy, Ill., where Lincoln once debated Stephen Douglas.

But is it a match?
Frank Hebblethwaite is a former technician at the museum at Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, and where the Lincoln coat is prominently displayed.

Hebblethwaite has told St. Pierre in writing that “it is quite possible that you do have a piece of the overcoat worn by President Abraham Lincoln on the night of his assassination.”

However, museum officials have kept the coat behind glass to keep it protected, refusing to let experts pluck fibers from the garment for microscopic comparison to St. Pierre’s swatch.

In the mid-1990s, the Ford Theater museum’s then-curator, Marshal Kesler, had the St. Pierre swatch inspected and compared to the coat. Kesler told The Associated Press “it did appear that in all likelihood the piece is part of the coat. I’m 90 to 95 percent sure.”

But Randy Bresee, a University of Tennessee professor specializing in textiles, said he can’t positively link the swatch of cloth to the Lincoln era, much less to the coat. “You would have to compare it to the coat to be definitive,” he said.

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