May 16, 2018

Discover the Hidden Treasures of President Lincoln's Cottage

A stray button here, an empty cracker box there—anyone who has lived in an old home has likely come across an unusual historic item at some point, hidden away behind a baseboard heater or tucked in the corner of a closet. At President Lincoln’s Cottage, a National Trust Historic Site in Washington, D.C., tiny scraps of history found between 2001 and 2006 will be on display throughout May 2018 for its originALs: Hidden Objects museum exhibit. Jenny Phillips, External Communications Coordinator at the Cottage, says, “[The objects] span time periods and purposes, but all were found in or around the Cottage, and have never been on display to the public until now.”

The Cottage’s Senior Preservationist, Jeffrey Larry, curated each object currently on display. Larry also posted photos of the objects he found on his personal Instagram account, which he uses to document historic architecture and items. He photographed a Carter’s Ink bottle (right), dated to the late 19th or early 20th century. Carter’s was a Boston-based company, founded in 1858. It was once the largest ink manufacturer in the world.

Also on display at the Cottage are an intact box of Uneeda Biscuits (inside the box were chicken bones wrapped in a 1921 newspaper); a bottle from James Thorpe, "Importer and Dealer in Foreign and Domestic Wines and Liquors," from the late 19th century; a printed image with instructions such as “Guests will not entertain in their room” and “Hard liquors are not allowed on premises” for visitors to the Lincoln Guest House; and more.

The largest objects on display are the Cottage’s original front doors, which were removed during an exterior restoration in 2005. The doors’ lancet arch tops had been lopped off, and six inches were removed from the bottom of the door when the vestibule floor and granite threshold were raised. The exterior paint has been removed from the doors, exposing the ghost marks of their original decorative hinge straps and key plates.

According to Larry, “it also revealed a pinkish ground coat [of paint] that was applied beneath the white oak faux graining. Paint analysis shows that most of the exterior trim was grained to look like white oak when the Cottage was built for banker George Riggs in 1842 [before President Lincoln owned the Cottage].”

Exterior doors were removed during the building's exterior renovation in 2005.

photo by: Jeffrey Larry

The original front doors of President Lincoln's Cottage, with lancet arch tops on left.

Lock found on the exterior doors, with the lettering "Carpenter Patentee."

photo by: Jeffrey Larry

The Carpenter rim lock, labeled "Carpenter Patentee" on its brass keeper.

The door’s lockset has an interesting story of its own. Though not the original nine-inch vertical rim lock, the replacement lock’s brass keeper reads “Carpenter Patentee.” The words refer to a Carpenter rim lock, patented by British ironmonger James Carpenter in 1830. The lock is known for its unique Carpenter’s lift-up lock. “Unlike most locks, where the latch would retract inside the case before engaging the keeper,” Larry says, “The Carpenter latch lifted up before engaging the keeper. This simple and inexpensive lock was extremely popular in the U.S.”

Take a closer look at these objects and more through May 31, 2018. originALs: Hidden Objects is part of a year-long celebration, marking the 10 years President Lincoln’s Cottage has been open to the public. Other events include the Cottage’s annual Bourbon and Bluegrass fundraiser on May 19 and 20, 2018.

Carson Bear is an Editorial Coordinator at the National Trust. She’s passionate about combining popular culture with historic places, and loves her 200-year-old childhood farmhouse in Pennsylvania.

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