The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857

This lot has been removed from the website, please contact customer services for more information

Lot 1215W
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857

Sold for US$ 449,000 inc. premium
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The inside back seat rail stamped A BEMBE B KIMBEL / 928 / BROADWAY / NEW YORK
height of crest 38 3/4in (98.4cm); height of seat rail 14 1/2in (36.8cm); greatest width (across legs) 24 1/4in (61.6cm); width inside arms 20in (50.8cm); greatest depth approximately 25in (63.5cm); depth of seat rails 22 3/4in (57.8cm)

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    United States House of Representatives, Washington DC, 1857-1863
    Mathew Brady's studio, Washington DC, January, 1864-1893
    William Stalee, 1893-1903
    William H. Towles, 1903-1954
    thence by descent in the family of William H. Towles and (1872-1954)

    Literature
    This chair is discussed in length in Roy Meredith, Lincoln's Camera Man: Mathew Brady Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1946, pp. 78-81.
    The Washington Post, article for Chevy Chase Antique Show and Sale, Sept 12-14, 1952.

    Exhibition
    Chevy Chase Antique Show and Sale, Chevy Chase, MD, September 12-14, 1952.

    This stately chair demonstrates bold proportions, dynamic patriotic carving and a commanding presence. While the chair has been reupholstered, it retains its original surface that has darkened and has an alligatored appearance that contributes additionally to its appeal and rarity. It is not only an important survivor from a significant official American commission, but, and most importantly, is the physical support for portrait photographs of the most prominent figures in nineteenth-century American history. There is perhaps no other single object that connects with so many important historical figures.


    THE COMMISSION

    The chair is one of 262 chairs commissioned for the United States House of Representatives in 1857, after a design by Thomas Ustick Walters. The commission was so large, and included desks as well, that it was completed by several firms, including Bembe and Kimbel of New York, Hammitt Desk Mfg. Co of Philadelphia and Doe Hazelton & Co. of Boston. While survivors do occasionally surface at auction, those bearing the stamp of Bembe and Kimbel, as seen on this chair, are relatively rare. By 1863, several of these chairs had left the House of Representatives for a variety of reasons and the circumstances surrounding their dispersal bear further research.

    "THE LINCOLN CHAIR"

    The chair was in Brady's studio by February 9, 1864 and used when Lincoln and his son, Tad, were photographed in what would become one of the most iconic and poignant photographs of Lincoln. However, the circumstances surrounding exactly how Brady acquired this chair are not completely clear. According to family tradition, the chair was given to Brady by Abraham Lincoln; while the friendship between Lincoln and both Brady and his associate, Alexander Gardner, is fairly well documented, no correspondence survives from either Brady or Lincoln mentioning this chair specifically.

    Brady had as an apprentice from 1867 Levin Corbin Handy, who was his nephew by marriage. Handy's two daughters, Alice H. Cox and Mary H. Evans, believed that Lincoln had given Brady the chair as a gift and relayed this story to Brady biographer Roy Meredith, who subsequently cited the story in his book Mr. Lincoln's Camera Man: Mathew Brady, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1946 (pp. 78-81). The lack of primary documentation, in the form of diaries or letters from either Lincoln or Brady has prevented Lincoln scholars from giving the story full credence. The only documentation known to exist are signed affidavits from Mary Evans, Will H. Towles and Frank B. Kaye, who worked with Towles; in each of the affidavits, the chair is referred to as "The Lincoln Chair."

    THE PICTORIAL RECORD

    Handy acquired Brady's photographs upon Brady's death and this collection is now at the Library of Congress. The surviving pictorial archive in both the Brady-Handy Collection and the Meserve collection of Lincoln photographs now at Yale indicates that this chair did not appear in Brady's studio prior to February 1864 and is different from a similar chair owned by Alexander Gardner. The Gardner family chair stayed in the Gardner family until 1921 when it was gifted to the Church of New Jerusalem; it was subsequently sold at auction in 2001 when it was acquired by the collection of the Lincoln Financial Group and is currently on permanent view at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.

    The list of sitters who sat in this chair for Mathew Brady is, literally, a "Who's Who" of American history-makers. No less than five presidents graced it, as well as all manner of senators and civil servants, Civil War soldiers of all rank and file and hailing from both sides of the War, Justices, Native Americans and citizens, both prominent and anonymous. When used in group portraits, the most important figure in the group is shown seated in this chair; it is interesting to note that women are never depicted seated in it, in part for the practical reasons in that it wasn't wide enough for the fashionable hoop skirts of the day.

    THE STUDIO AFTER BRADY

    Destitute and an invalid at the end of his life, Brady sold his studio in its entirety to William Stalee in 1893, three years prior to his death in 1896. Stalee subsequently sold the studio and its contents to Will H. Towles in 1903. While no inventories of either sale have been found, the chair has always remained with the studio. Frank B. Kaye was working in the Studio when Towles acquired it and his 1940 affidavit attests that the Lincoln Chair was included with the rest of the furnishings. Remaining in the Towles and Pattison families to this day, it has been exhibited numerous times at mid-Atlantic area events, including the 1952 Chevy Chase Antiques Show and Sale.
Contacts
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
The important Mathew Brady Studio carved oak armchair, Made by Bembe & Kimbel, New York, circa 1857
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations

ALL BIDDERS MUST AGREE THAT THEY HAVE READ AND UNDERSTOOD BONHAMS' CONDITIONS OF SALE AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THEM, AND AGREE TO PAY THE BUYER'S PREMIUM AND ANY OTHER CHARGES MENTIONED IN THE NOTICE TO BIDDERS. THIS AFFECTS THE BIDDERS LEGAL RIGHTS.

If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Arms & Armor, Coins and Medals, Motor Cars, Motorcycles, Wine & Whisky

27.5% on the first $3,000 of the hammer price;
25% of the hammer price of amounts in excess of $3,000 up to and including $400,000;
20% of the hammer price of amounts in excess of $400,000 up to and including $4,000,000;
and 13.9% of the hammer price of any amounts in excess of $4,000,000.

Payment Notices

Payment for purchases may be made in or by (a) cash, (b) cashier's check or money order, (c) personal check with approved credit drawn on a U.S. bank, (d) wire transfer or other immediate bank transfer, or (e) Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover credit, charge or debit card. Please note that the amount of cash notes and cash equivalents that can be accepted from a given purchaser may be limited.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Lot symbols
W Shipping & handling restrictions apply

Lots denoted with a "W" that are not picked up immediately following the auction may be removed to an offsite storage location for collection. Please contact the salesroom location for further details including dates of removal and applicable charges.