This piano was owned by the famous actress Laura Keene, and was present in the Ford Theater on the day of Lincoln's assassination. For more on that story, click here.
Jonas Chickering founded his piano manufacturing business in 1823, and by the time of his death in 1853, it had become the largest and most prestigious piano maker in the United States. Chickering hired Alpheus Babcock in 1837, and soon thereafter adapted Babcock's invention, the one piece cast iron frame, later patenting a version for the grand piano. By the 1850s, Chickering's production had risen to 1500 per year, of which the vast majority were square pianos, along with about one grand piano per week.
Upright pianos like this had been common in Europe from the 1820s, essentially displacing the square piano there by 1850. In the United States, however, the square piano had continued to thrive, becoming larger and more ornate into the 1860s, while upright pianos were quite rare. Chickering had manufactured a few upright pianos in its early years, in styles from the first half of the 19th century, but it was only in 1858 that the company began making uprights in the style that would later become universal, and of which this piano is an early example.
Chickering had begun exhibiting in Europe at the expositions in Paris and London, and was influenced by European designs to a large extent, but included American innovations. The straight strung, semi-oblique layout is French, but with an American full cast iron plate, with agraffes cast into the plate. The action has an over-damper system, allowing for the soft pedal to shift the hammer rail to create an una corda effect, leaving the dampers in place.