ABRAHAM LINCOLN DINING CHAIR
American ca. 1840s
In the decade before Abraham Lincoln’s presidential inauguration, the United States Capitol underwent a major transformation. By 1857, the design overhaul displaced numerous Legislative furnishings, and it is believed that in late 1860/early 1861, one-time Congressman and then-President Lincoln salvaged his former armchair from the discarded pieces. Lincoln subsequently gifted the seat to his friend and famed political photographer, Mathew Brady, whose photographs Lincoln credited for his presidential win. From 1861 to 1864, the chair appeared in several of Brady’s images of Lincoln and other politicians, all of whom served in Congress during the 1840s — In Brady’s photos, chairs seemed to be a deliberate mark of political identity (most later Legislators were photographed in a post- renovation “Walter” chair). The “Lincoln Chair”, as it has come to be known, is a near match to the present examples: a dining chair, originally part of a 14-piece seating suite owned by Abraham Lincoln during his presidency.
The similarities between the Lincoln Chair and this dining chair are unlikely coincidental. They were undoubtedly designed by the same hand and were possibly part of the same, c. 1840s Congressional commission. The seating suite may have been originally located within the Capitol’s refectory, an improvised dining area that served Legislators and visitors from c. 1834 -1858; the chairs were presumably removed when the official dining room opened in the late 1850s. As he did with the armchair, President Lincoln may have recovered the displaced dining suite – including this chair – in 1861 for use in the Executive Mansion’s private family dining room over the next four years.
A month after her husband’s assassination in April 1865, Mary Todd Lincoln left the Executive Mansion for Illinois. Though rumored that she stole furnishings from the White House in her move, Mrs. Lincoln dismissed such accusations, claiming to be “conscientiously indisposed to purloin what did not belong to [her].” A post-move, federal inventory corroborates her statement, which suggests that the dining suite was, in fact, the Lincolns’ personal property.
Few White House furnishings associated with the Lincolns actually belonged to the former First Family or served as a reflection of President Lincoln’s taste. When Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln moved to the White House in early 1861, they brought very little from their Springfield, Illinois residence and relied mostly upon a $20,000 renovation allotment from Congress to furnish their new-but-poorly-kept quarters. The First Lady almost singlehandedly orchestrated the Executive Mansion’s State-funded redecoration, while her husband focused on the looming war. Historical accounts assert that Lincoln felt so uncomfortable with his wife’s lavish redesign during the nation’s economic collapse that he couldn’t bring himself to sleep in the elaborate bed that she purchased. Instead, President Lincoln – who was, among many other things, an avid cook – may have taken solace in the family’s private dining quarters, for which he chose the furniture. The understated, repurposed chair is not only an artifact from the beginning of the Lincoln’s political career in Washington, but also may be among the few – if not only – White House furnishings Lincoln himself selected, and are now a rare and personal vestige of Lincoln’s presidency.
Carved oak dining chair with walnut front legs and upholstered seat. Arched crest rail flanked by columnar stiles, having carved rosette reliefs. Tapered, ring and reel-turned front legs and splayed rear legs. Originally one of a set of 12 dining chairs (plus two armchairs).
ca. 1861 – 1865: former President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) & Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882), the White House, Washington, D.C.
1865 – ca. 1875: Mary Todd Lincoln, Chicago, IL
ca. 1875 – 1905: Robert Todd Lincoln (1843 – 1926), Chicago, IL; transferred per conservatorship of his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln
1905-1937: Robert Todd Lincoln & Mary Harlan Lincoln (1846-1937), “Hildene”, Manchester, VT
1937-1938: Presumably Mary Todd “Mamie” Lincoln (1869-1938), “Hildene”, Manchester, VT; transferred through will of Mary Harlan Lincoln
1938 – ca. 1940s: Mary Lincoln “Peggy” Beckwith (1898-1975) & Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith (her brother, 1904-1985), “Hildene”, Manchester, VT
ca. 1940s – 1947: Owen Moon, Jr., Upwey Farms, South Woodstock, VT; purchase
1947-1956: Presumably Margaret “Daisy” Scott Owen (1876-1966); transferred through estate of Owen Moon, Jr., Upwey Farms, South Woodstock, VT
1956-1961: Woodstock Country School, South Woodstock, VT; purchase
1961-ca. 1976: Pearl Williams Conn, Whitney’s Antiques, Bethlehem, NH; trade
1976: Roberta M. Carr (1926-2011); Concord, NH; purchase
1976 – 2014: Jerald Beverland (1936- ), Oldsmar, FL; purchase
Crazing of original finish, consistent with furniture finishes of the period. Replacement upholstery based on evidence of period fabric.
See Christie’s New York Important American Furniture, Silver, Prints, Folk Art, and Decorative Arts, January 18-19, 2011, p. 130 for image and description of armchair from same suite;
“Bethlehem Antique Dealer Possesses Chairs Once Owned by Mrs. Lincoln”. The Courier, Littleton, NH, 17 May 1962, p. Two A, for provenance information and image of chair as part of the original suite;
Duyckinck, Evert A. History of the War for the Union: Civil Military & Naval. New York: Johnson, Fry & Company, n.d. (unknown volume, ca. 1861-1863), for illustration by Alonzo Chappel of Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet, with Caleb Smith shown in an identical dining chair, as well as Abraham Lincoln and Edward Bates seated in matching armchairs;
Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection. Curios and Relics – Furniture – Chairs – Whitehouse Dining: Excerpts from newspapers and other sources from the files of the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, n.d., for documents on provenance of chairs;
Mellon, James. The Face of Lincoln. New York: the Viking Press, 1979, pp., 86, 91, 97, 99, 101, 105, 123, 159, 161, 169, and 195 for images of Abraham Lincoln taken ca. 1861-64 at photographer Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C. studio;
Schwartz, Thomas F. “A Mystery Solved: Arthur Lumley’s Sketch of Abraham Lincoln”. Journal of Illinois History, autumn 2003, pp. 215-22 for discussion of Lincoln at Mathew Brady’s study and image of the Lumley sketch, showing Lincoln in a similar chair;
Widmer, Ted. “Lincoln Captured!” The New York Times, 15 May 2011, for mention of Lincoln gifting a matching armchair to Brady and that chair’s provenance.
SIZE: 38 1/2" h x 20" w x 18" d
PRICE: Upon Request
CALL NUMBER: 677-I-CH3