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An effort to restore the c. 1830s horsehair-upholstered sofa on which Abraham and Mary Lincoln courted.

In 1840 Abraham Lincoln frequently walked from his lodgings in Springfield, Illinois, down to Ninian Edwards' house on South Second Street to call on vivacious young Mary Todd, sister of Ninian's wife Elizabeth.

Abraham and Mary Lincoln as they appeared a few years after they were married.
Abraham and Mary Lincoln as they appeared a few years after they were married.

Twenty-five years later, Elizabeth recalled: “Mr L and Mary Saw Each other in that parlor there.I have happened in the room where they were sitting often & often and Mary led the Conversation — Lincoln would listen & gaze on her as if drawn by some Superior power, irresistably So: he listened — never Scarcely Said a word.” After a rocky, on-and-off again courtship, the Lincolns were married in the Edwards’s parlor on a rainy Friday evening in November of 1842.

Abraham and Mary courted and were married in the parlor of Mary's sister's house, which was torn down in 1917.
Abraham and Mary courted and were married in the parlor of Mary's sister's house, which was torn down in 1917.

Ninian Edwards’s house is no longer standing, but an Empire-style, horsehair-covered sofa from Ninian Edwards’s parlor survives in the collection of the Springfield Art Association of Edwards Place in Springfield, Illinois.This is the sofa where Lincoln and Mary sat as they were courting, and where the Lincolns’ wedding guests sat as they watched the future President and First Lady exchange their vows.

A letter from Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards' granddaughter identifies the sofa as one that sat in her gradmother's parlor when the Lincolns courted and were married.
A letter from Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards' granddaughter identifies the sofa as one that sat in her gradmother's parlor when the Lincolns courted and were married.

Although this sofa is structurally sound, it is showing the effects of its age (nearly 180 years!): the upholstery on the seat is torn, the casters are loose, there is veneer loss on the skirt and feet, the mahogany needs to be cleaned and waxed...the list goes on!

The "courting couch" as it appeared before being sent to The Conservation Center, showing the wear and tear of its advanced age.
The "courting couch" as it appeared before being sent to The Conservation Center, showing the wear and tear of its advanced age.

The sofa is currently undergoing restoration at The Conservation Center in Chicago. Upon initial examination an exciting discovery was made: the original horsehair upholstery was hidden under the replacement fabric on the seat back and arms. This is the very fabric that Abraham and Mary Lincoln once leaned up against!

A thrilling discovery: the original upholstery, hidden in plain sight all these years!
A thrilling discovery: the original upholstery, hidden in plain sight all these years!

Restoration of the “courting couch” is supported by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and the Abraham Lincoln Association, as well as generous gift from The Prairie Eye and Lasik Center and Richard and Ann Hart, but treatment costs have far exceeded the amount budgeted and raised. (View the treatment proposal and projected cost here). The Springfield Art Association is seeking help from the public to fully fund the restoration of this priceless piece of American history. 

The courting couch as it appears now, awaiting treatment at The Conservation Center in Chicago
The courting couch as it appears now, awaiting treatment at The Conservation Center in Chicago

Stretch goal

The Springfield Art Association is celebrating its centennial anniversary in 2013. As part of that celebration, we are undergoing a capital campaign to raise funds for new art facilities, renovation of our art gallery, and the restoration of the interior of historic Edwards Place to the grandeur of its mid-19th century appearance.  Any funds raised above and beyond what is necessary to restore the courting couch will go towards the restoration of Edwards Place and the conservation of other objects in its decorative arts collection.

Edwards Place, built in 1833 and remodeled in 1857, was a social center of Lincoln's Springfield.  It is slated to undergo interior renovation in the spring of 2014.
Edwards Place, built in 1833 and remodeled in 1857, was a social center of Lincoln's Springfield. It is slated to undergo interior renovation in the spring of 2014.

The "courting couch" is just one of several deeply significant objects at Edwards Place.  These include an 1831 mahogany sideboard signed by the cabinetmaker and originally owned by Springfield's founding family; an 1850s center table originally belonging to the Edwards family; a rare 1830s upright grand piano originally belonging to Congressman William L. May, and many others.  These are all objects from antebellum Springfield that Lincoln would have seen in the homes of his friends.  Like the "courting couch," they are all suffering the effects of time and could use some professional care to restore them to their optimal condition and preserve them for future generations.

Several significant, Lincoln-era antiques at the Springfield Art Association are waiting to be restored.
Several significant, Lincoln-era antiques at the Springfield Art Association are waiting to be restored.

 Rewards

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

We are currently in a bit of a race with the clock: we have a grand unveiling planned on February 11, sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Association and coinciding with Abraham Lincoln's birthday, and treatment on the couch needs to be completed by then! However, The Conservation Center has assured us that this will not be a problem.
In terms of risks, the professionals at The Conservation Center will do everything in their power to stabilize, restore, and conserve the sofa, but they cannot turn back the clock on 180 years of use. We run the risk that, even after treatment, losses to the seatback, discoloration and staining, and undulation to the seat back will still be visible. The sofa will never look brand new, but it WILL be restored to its best possible appearance and preserved for generations to come.

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  • Pledge $5 or more
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    29 backers

    Everyone who contributes to the restoration of the "courting couch" will receive an invitation to the Restoration Reveal Reception on February 11, 2014 and a Springfield Art Association window cling-on.

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    48 backers

    A reprint of a c. 1915 postcard featuring the "courting couch" sitting in Lincoln's Home in all its horsehair-upholstered glory, an invitation to the Restoration Reveal Reception,and a Springfield Art Association window cling-on.

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    48 backers

    A keepsake recipe for Mary Lincoln's white cake, an invitation to the Restoration Reveal Reception, a Springfield Art Association window cling-on, and a reprint of the c. 1915 postcard.

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    15 backers

    A blank greeting card featuring original artwork by a local Springfield artist depicting Lincoln and Mary on the courting couch. Also an invitation to the Restoration Reveal Reception, a Springfield Art Association window cling-on, and a reprint of the c. 1915 postcard, and the recipe for Mary Lincoln's white cake.

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    12 backers

    Two VIP, front-row tickets to the Springfield Art Association's Civil War Fashion Show on March 30, 2014, the invitation, the window cling-on, the postcard, the recipe, and the greeting card.

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    1 backer

    A copy of Eating with the Edwards Family, a collection of 19th century recipes used at Edwards Place and their modern equivalents. Also the invitation, the window cling-on, the postcard, the recipe, the greeting card, and two VIP tickets to the Civil War Fashion Show.

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    1 backer

    A limited edition copy of Courtships and Weddings in Abraham Lincoln's Springfield by Erika Holst, signed and personally inscribed to you by the author. Also the invitation, the window cling-on, the postcard, the recipe, the greeting card, two VIP tickets to the Civil War Fashion Show, and cookbook.

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    0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)

    An original pastel painting of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd on the courting couch by a local Springfield artist, plus everything listed above.

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- (60 days)