The massive rosewood bed known as the "Lincoln Bed" is believed to have been purchased by Mrs. Lincoln in 1861 for use in the principal guest bedroom of the White House. The popular reference to it as the "Lincoln bed" is derived not from its use by the Lincolns, but from its acquisition during their occupancy of the White House.
Measuring 8'4" long and 5'lO 1/2" wide, it has a very tall headboard, 93 1/4" high, featuring an oval center panel surmounted by an open, carved grapevine cresting on which are perched two exotic birds. A similar motif, with only one bird, is carved on the face of the much lower, arched footboard. Grape clusters, like those atop the pointed headboard stiles, are carved on the face of the rounded footposts.
An invoice dated May 29, 1861, from Wm H. Carryl and Bro., a Philadelphia retailer, includes, among other purchases for the White House, "1 Rosewood Bedstead" as part of a 10-piece suite of furniture costing $800. Also on this invoice was "1 Rich Rosewood Centre Table" which is believed to be an extant table similarly carved with grapevines and exotic birds.
An 1862 newspaper article quite fully describes this bed in its guest room setting:
The guests' room, now known as the Prince of Wales' room since that youth occupied it [Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, was received at the White House on October 4, 1860], has been thoroughly ornamented and refurnished... The principal feature of the room is the bed. It is eight feet wide and nine feet long, of solid rosewood. The sides are cushioned and covered with purple figured satin. The head board is a piece of rich carved work, rising eight feet above the bed, and having an oval top. Twenty feet above the floor, overspreading the whole, is a magnificent canopy, from the upper carved work of which the drapery hangs in elegant folds, being in the form of a crown, the front ornament upon which is the American shield with the Stars and Stripes carved thereon." (Daily Alta California, San Francisco, May 12, 1862).
Although the canopy with its patriotic shield ornamentation was certainly a special commission, it is unlikely that the bedstead itself was. Many examples of very similar beds are known to exist, some bearing makers' marks. This bed, however, is not marked in any way to indicate its manufacturer.
The bed was used in various Second Floor bedrooms, including those of President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, President Woodrow Wilson, and Grace Coolidge. In 1945, it was placed by President Truman in the room which had been Abraham Lincoln's office and cabinet room, which was then renamed the Lincoln Bedroom.
Office of the Curator, The White House
The Lincoln Bed
U.S. Government purchase, 1861