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Artifact Report: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Dinner Service Plates

by Society member Duane Ebert

Among the many historic artifacts the Antiquarian Society owns, are these two pieces of china from the Lincoln White House.

Mary Todd Lincoln
(Dec. 13, 1818 – July 16, 1882)
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During a visit to Haugwout's Emporium in New York City in 1861, Mary Todd Lincoln selected two large dinner and dessert services for presidential use. The china was made in France. The border pattern is called "Alhambra" and the newly fashionable solferino (purple) color had been named by the French in honor of their recent victory over the Austrians near the Italian town of that name. 

The initial order was for 658 pieces for serving dinner, breakfast, tea, and dessert with additional centerpieces and punch bowls Mrs. Lincoln was criticized for her lavish spending during the Civil War. The back mark on the plate, in French, is for the Haviland Co. made for J.W. Boteler & Co., Washington D.C. This Company was the importer. The smaller piece has no back mark. 

The Lincoln service remained in use for most of the 19th century, with replacements added by subsequent administrations. 

The Antiquarian Society was gifted the china through the efforts of our founder, Jesse Hurlbut Buchanan. A 1937 Fort Howard Museum inventory lists the china as originally part of the Martin estate. My feeling is these were collected by Mrs. Buchanan on one of her trips East. She wanted to acquire historic artifacts of a national importance for Green Bay, the oldest city in the Old Northwest Territory.

Both pieces have been restored by the Antiquarian Society, and are included in the Society's Artifacts Collection.

Additional Information:
Additional Notes:

The first course of the 2009 presidential inaugural luncheon (for Barack Obama) was served on replicas of the china from the Lincoln Presidency, which was selected by Mary Todd Lincoln at the beginning of her husband's term in office. The china features the American bald eagle standing above the U. S. Coat of Arms, surrounded by a wide border of "solferino," a purple-red hue popular among the fashionable hosts of the day.

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