SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ A Chicago auction house agreed to halt the sale of a $302 paycheck endorsed by Abraham Lincoln that disappeared 49 years ago after it was loaned to an exhibit.

The check, dated March 1, 1839, and drawn on the Vandalia branch of the State Bank of Illinois, was to be auctioned Sunday, but the Illinois Secretary of State's office intervened.

It had a pre-auction estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.

``Certainly the minute we heard about it, we withdrew it,'' said Matthew Goebel, director of marketing for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. ``Any dispute about the authenticity or the ownership is taken up by the owner and the state of Illinois.''

The document has been returned to the seller, whose identity is confidential, Goebel said.

Secretary of State George Ryan will seek to have the document returned, said spokeswoman Cathy Ritter. ``Our office is prepared to take legal action to recover the document,'' she said.

The check was Lincoln's payment in full for his services as a state legislator from Dec. 3, 1838, to March 4, 1839.

In 1947, the Secretary of State's office, which oversees the state archives, lent the check to the auditor of public accounts _ a predecessor of the present-day comptroller _ for a display. It disappeared.

``We do have documentation, an old inventory that the document was in the collection of the Illinois State Archives,'' Ritter said.

The brownish paper contains black printing and black and brown handwriting.

``It was signed on the back by Lincoln, and the letters were very bold. It was in very good condition,'' Goebel said.

Its value was diminished, however, because it was laminated.

Cullom Davis, director of the Springfield-based Lincoln Legal Papers, a project to locate, edit and publish all surviving Lincoln legal records, said the paycheck may have more worth as a collector's item than a historical document.