1865 Abbot Downing Stage Coach

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Lot 546
1865 Abbot Downing Stage Coach

US$ 200,000 - 300,000
£ 150,000 - 220,000
1865 Abbot Downing Stage Coach
Serial no. 102

Not until the arrival of the Iron Horse did any mode of transportation so capture the imagination and wanderlust of Americans than did the great stagecoach. From the end of the War for Independence to as late as the early 1920s it was this nation’s passenger transportation mode immortalized in so many Western movies. Between these years this rugged, horse-drawn vehicle became especially well suited to the Eastern coastal and interior turnpikes, and later to the American frontier, carrying homesteaders, eager land speculators, traveling salesmen, school teachers, bartered brides and assorted wheeler-dealers not to say tons of express freight, gold and silver bullion, payroll, even fresh produce. In due time stagecoaches became the way of the U.S. Mail.

As early ‘common carriers,’ that is, conveyances traveling fixed routes between two or more stops (in ‘stages’) according to a posted schedule, they became the first over-the-road public conveyances in further democratizing a young nation. Anyone with the right fare could ride regardless of class or station in life!

No history of this nation’s best known vehicle -- that is until Henry Ford’s Model T came along -- would be complete without reference to the Abbot-Downing Company of Concord, New Hampshire (founded in 1813 by J.S. Abbot and Lewis Downing), builders of what was to become the industry standard in stagecoaches. Within a few years these Abbot Downing vehicles became known simply as The Concord Coach of which this Coach serial number 102 was a member of the fleet in good standing.

It was one of ten coaches ordered by Ben Holladay on October 10, 1865 and delivered February 1, 1866 for the Overland Mail & Express Company, most likely for the Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage Line out of Jamestown, North Dakota. It was your standard nine-passenger coach so commonly in use. In November of the following year Overland Mail & Express was merged with other firms doing similar business including The Wells Fargo Company of San Francisco.

Of the ten so-called Holladay fleet of coaches, this is the only one extant. Under its body are two heavy leather straps running fore and aft, an innovation by the A-D coachworks called ‘thoroughbraces.’ They were the suspension springs of their day. Until these coaches came along heavy -- and very stiff -- metal springs were all there was between the terrain and passenger. Abbot-Downing changed that making it possible for the less seasoned to travel cross country in what for that day passed for relative comfort. With proper care, thoroughbraces have lasted over 150 years.

In the words of historian Harry N. Scheiber, of the 3000 or so Concord Coaches built in Concord, 800 are a matter of record. Exactly how many remain is not known. From stagecoaches the company attempted a transition into motor truck bodies but things were too far along for shop-built production. Henry Ford’s assembly line already had the edge.

But history had already been written, for the American stagecoach had truly civilized the East and tamed the West.

At some point along the way the body was damaged and it has been rebuilt. There are accounts of these rugged A-D coaches being dragged on their sides for many yards by a spooked team of four only to be righted by passenger ‘volunteers’ and sent on its way!

No word on when 102 was retired from service. Perhaps it was as late as 1920 after it ran a ‘feeder’ line, possibly to a railhead. In 1950 it was rescued from a field in North Dakota and placed in a museum at Shakopee, Minnesota by Ozzie Klavestad who eventually sold it to its present owner.

So picture this Concord Coach, resplendent in dark red livery, pounding across the prairie followed by a swirl of dust, second class passengers clinging to the top, first class riders snug inside curtains pulled down tight. Hear the crack of the whip above the rumble of wheels and the pounding of sixteen hoofs. The driver, anxious to keep on schedule and make a spectacular entrance at the next station stop, has his ‘four-in-hand’ at a full gallop.

Saleroom notices

  • Offered with this lot is a four horse crab.
1865 Abbot Downing Stage Coach
1865 Abbot Downing Stage Coach
1865 Abbot Downing Stage Coach
1865 Abbot Downing Stage Coach
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