Published: October 27, 2015
NEW YORK CITY — Bonhams sold an important and historic item for $449,000, including the buyer’s premium – three times over low estimate and a record price for the chair — Monday, October 26, during the furniture, silver, decorative arts and clocks auction. Referred to as the “Lincoln chair” or “Brady chair” — a reported gift from Abraham Lincoln to Civil-war photographer Mathew Brady, who used it in his studio to make portraits of the “who’s who” of American history-makers. The chair attracted competitive bidding from four bidders – three on the phone and one online. The chair handily trumped its $150/250,000 estimate.
The boldly carved, oak chair made by Bembe & Kimbel, a Victorian-era furniture and decorative arts firm founded in 1854 and based in New York, was one of 262 chairs commissioned for the US House of Representatives in 1857. Photographer Mathew Brady, who was responsible for producing the most important visual documentation of the Civil War era, purportedly received the chair as a gift from Abraham Lincoln, a friend and subject he photographed many times over years.
No less than five US presidents sat in the chair for portraits, as well as senators and civil servants, Civil War soldiers, Justices and Native Americans.
“There is perhaps no other single object that connects with so many important people, all prominent figures in Nineteenth Century American history,” said Madelia Ring, Bonhams’ specialist of American and English furniture and folk art. “What also gives the Brady chair such distinction, is that while other commissioned chairs occasionally surface at auction, those bearing the stamp of Bembe & Kimbel are rare.”
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.
Often referred to as the “father of photojournalism,” Brady photographed 18 American presidents, from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley. He made portraits of countless senior officers in the Civil War, such as Ulysses S. Grant, Nathaniel Banks, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Brady photographed President Lincoln multiple times over the years, and his portraits have been repurposed as Lincoln’s likeness on the $5 bill and penny.
For more information, www.bonhams.com/furniture or 212-644-9001.
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