At Home with the Lincolns
It is fascinating to connect with objects that were a part of Abraham Lincoln’s world. The Henry Ford owns a number of furnishings from Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, where they lived before Lincoln was elected president.
The Lincoln furniture from their Springfield home tells us about the tastes of the Lincolns in the decades before Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860. Stylistically, the furniture represents the middle-class, early Victorian aesthetic of the 1840s and early 1850s. The Lincolns selected sturdy and comfortable, yet stylish furnishings for their home.
The Lincoln furniture in The Henry Ford’s collection includes:
Two horsehair upholstered rocking chairs of differing sizes. The larger chair was presumably used by Mr. Lincoln and the smaller by Mrs. Lincoln. These chairs were likely in the family’s sitting room.
A carved table, used for playing card games in the Lincolns’ parlors or sitting room. The table was constructed with built-in wheels, allowing for easy movement between the rooms.
A mantel clock, originally painted and gilded. This clock dates from the early 1830s, making it the oldest piece among the Lincoln furnishings. Perhaps the Lincolns bought it secondhand when they moved into the 7th Street house in 1844.
The Henry Ford also owns a center table and two chairs, purchased by Mary Lincoln in 1866 for her Chicago home, where she moved after Lincoln’s death. They contrast greatly with the Springfield furniture. Exuberantly carved pieces, this Rococo Revival table and chair represent a marked evolution in taste and also reflects an ability to afford high style furnishings following the Lincolns’ White House years.
How did The Henry Ford acquire the Lincoln furniture? In the 1920s, when he was putting together his museum and village, Henry Ford acquired the Lincoln furniture from the descendants of the man who bought it from the Lincolns. Following Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860, the family sold nearly all of their household furnishings and equipment before they moved to Washington, D.C. One of Lincoln’s acquaintances, Harry Wilton, bought a number of the items. Wilton was an Illinois State Marshall and had been a neighbor of the Lincolns in Springfield during the 1850s. The furniture descended through Harry Wilton’s grandsons, who in turn sold it to The Henry Ford in 1930.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
Illinois, presidents, home life, furnishings, decorative arts, by Charles Sable, Abraham Lincoln, 19th century