Expert on Lincoln’s furniture

By Brett Rowland

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. – Abraham Lincoln has been scrutinized for more than 150 years.

Some 16,000 books have been written on the man. The tall Midwesterner who rose from abject poverty to the presidency, ended slavery, reunited the union and was murdered at the height of his political career continues to captivate millions of Americans. For many years, Lincoln has been near the top of polls and surveys on the greatest U.S. presidents.

Researchers have examined just about every facet of his life and death. Two hundred years after his birth, the scholarship on the nation’s 16th president runs the gamut. People have studied his law practice, marriage, family, presidency, assassination and even his sex life.

David A. Warren, an 81-year-old Crystal Lake man, has spent decades studying Lincoln’s furniture.

He has worked with the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and Illinois State Historical Library to measure and photograph many of the surviving pieces of furniture. Warren has written about the furniture in popular magazines and reproduced some of the items found in Lincoln’s Springfield home and various private collections. With special permission from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Warren and his son, Dave, create full-size drawings and plans of the historical items to allow the furniture that Lincoln used to be replicated today.

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    Warren’s fascination with Lincoln’s furniture started during a 1968 camping trip to New Salem. On the way home, Warren and his six children took a side trip to Springfield to tour Lincoln’s home. After the tour he asked a guide if he could measure a footstool on display to make a reproduction. Since then he has measured dozens of priceless, original pieces of furniture and created blueprints for reproducing them.

    Included for sale on the Web site run by his son David J. Warren,, are plans for Lincoln’s boot jack, shaving mirror, fretwork mirror, a pine clock owned by Tad Lincoln and many others. There also are designs for a caned rocking chair in which Mary Todd Lincoln rocked her children to sleep in their Springfield home.

    Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, was a cabinetmaker.

    “He made kitchen cabinets and beautiful federal furniture, primarily in walnut, cherry and poplar,” Warren said.

    Abraham Lincoln did not inherit his father’s fine woodworking skills.

    “He was a terrible cabinetmaker,” Warren said.

    A file cabinet that Lincoln built, now on display in Indiana, is “the most awful piece of furniture you have ever seen,” he said.

    Although not a skilled builder, Lincoln could easily recognize and appreciate quality furniture, Warren said.

    Warren has read many books on Lincoln and built up a large library on the president. He also served as editor of the Lincoln Legacy for Illinois for five years. Through his research, Warren has grown to admire Lincoln for “his ability to grow and his ability to be self-taught,” he said. Warren points to Lincoln’s examination on military matters at the Library of Congress at the outset of the Civil War.

    “He borrowed books to learn how to be a military commander and win the war,” Warren said.