Square Grand Piano Owned by Mary Todd Lincoln's Sister Restored by Springfield Art Association

By Steve Nagel on Mar 03, 2016 09:00 AM EST

Antique musical instruments are not only considered valuable because of their rarity, but also because they tell the story of whomever handled them -- or, in this case, heard them. A 180-year-old square grand piano, believed to have been housed in the parlor of Mary Todd Lincoln's sister, where the not-quite president Abraham Lincoln had courted his future wife, has recently been restored for $17,000 by the Springfield Art Association.

A common sight for the time, but a funny-looking object by today's standards, the squat and broad square grand piano was likely manufactured between 1835 and 1840 in Philadelphia by E.N. Scherr. From there, it made its way to the sitting room of Ninian Edwards and his wife Elizabeth (Mary Todd Lincoln's sister). In those years, Abraham Lincoln was a frequent visitor. His connection with the instrument was even supported, according to CBS News, in an 1895 interview with another sister of Mary Todd (Frances Todd Wallace), who mentioned how "Lincoln liked to hear the piano, and he liked to hear us sing."

Although the house no longer exists, the piano passed to different hands (including the state of Illinois), and money was recently raised by the Springfield Art Association to restore the piano to its original condition. Of the piano's unique qualities, Steve Schmidt, the owner of The Piano People in Champaign (who actually did the restoration work) remarked that the piano has a "charming little sound".

The square grand piano debuted at Edwards Place last month, the city's oldest home. CBS also reported that as part of the event, pianist Jane Hartman Irwin gave a performance -- making a point to avoid the use of full "concert arms" in handling the delicate instrument. "You've got to be gentle," she stressed. One piece that Jane performed was "Ben Bolt", an 1848 tune by Nelson Kneass based on an 1843 poem by Thomas Dunn English; the piece was said to be one of Lincoln's favorites while he was a lawyer.

Although the degree to which Lincoln was connected with the piano cannot be proven, the thought, alone, that Abraham Lincoln had at least heard the piano in some capacity is enough to draw attention from continued admirers of one of America's greatest presidents.

Explore the unique qualities of the squat square grand piano below. (Tip: You won't find one of these in the Steinway catalogue.)

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TagsAbraham Lincoln, piano, period instruments, Restored, Mary Todd Lincoln

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