Abbott & Downing Stagecoach 

Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum


After TreatmentThis vehicle, produced by the Abbott-Downing Company, represents a revolution in the American commercial transit industry and one of the few remaining intact vehicles of its kind left in the world. This particular vehicle—a concord stagecoach—was owned by the California Stage Company and was manufactured circa 1850. The stagecoach, as designed by Abbott-Downing, offered a leather throughbraced body which suspended the body above the running gear. This system allowed for more movement and acted as shock absorbers. The result was a more comfortable ride for the passengers. The gearing and wheels were designed to be stronger than the average vehicle of its time because of its intended use for long distance travel over hard surfaces. This stagecoach was also designed with three rows of seats on the inside, capable of holding up to nine individuals. Additional seats were mounted on the roof which extended the passenger capacity to eighteen.


The Abbott-Downing Company began initially in 1826 with the partnership of Lewis Downing, a wheelwright, and J. Stephen Abbot, a carriage designer. Their partnership yielded the first ever stagecoach design. Their partnership, however, did not last and dissolved in 1847. Following the dissolution of their partnership, each man subsequently went into business with their respective sons until their retirement. In 1865, Abbot’s two sons merged again with J.S. and E.A. Abbot and Company under the name Abbot Downing & Company. The firm later incorporated and expanded into several major American cities and Australia. By the turn of the century, Abbot and Downing had lost its dominance in the market yet continued to diversify its production—fabricating ambulances, gun carriages, circus and specialty wagons, and truck bodies.


Before Treatment: Stagecoach covered in dark varnish layersAt the time of its treatment, the stagecoach was owned by the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles, California. Per their request, a condition assessment for potential treatment was created. That analysis showed the vehicle to be structurally stable with several minor insecurities resulting from previous repairs. The body of the coach also appeared to be in sound condition; however, it was determined that specific reinforcing materials were missing along with several windows. Substantial paint loss and past corrosion was evident throughout. It was also evident that several sections of the vehicle had been previously replaced; some recent, others appeared not to have been as recent. Splits in the lower body panels were also evident. Though to confirm the age of the various replacement, it was suggested that paint samples be taken to compare varnish and paint stratigraphies with those taken from other areas. The surface coatings of the entire vehicle were disfigured by discolored and darkened varnish. Additionally, the varnish and/or painted decoration (i.e. gilding, striping, and door panel murals) had alligatored and cupped. Elements that had been previously replaced appear to have been repainted to match the darkened patina, not the original paint beneath. Remaining leather elements had either deformed, spewed oil, lost their stitching, or showing evidence of red rot. The interior leather and textile components demonstrated the same level of deterioration as the exterior components. Much of the textiles had been lost; however, a sufficient and significant level of original material was left for potential reproduction.


Varnish removal on center door panelWith permission to proceed with treatment, the stagecoach was delivered to the studios of B.R. Howard and Associates. Treatment commenced with extensive photo documentation of every compositional element. Photo documentation would proceed throughout the treatment of the vehicle as a record of the procedures undertaken for its conservation.


Treatment of the coach began with a general cleaning of the object with a water based cleaning solution in combination with a rheostatically controlled vacuuming. The layer of darkened varnish was then reduced and removed using specifically designed solvent-based cleaning solutions. Areas of flaking paint were carefully cleaned and then re-adhered using specialized reversible synthetic resins. Once cleaning was complete, a clear isolation barrier was applied using a variation of the same reversible resin. With permission from the curatorial staff from the Gene Autry Museum, elements lost or irreparable were fabricated, taking care to maintain complete historic integrity. Leather elements were repaired by rehumidifying and reforming as necessary. Additionally, some leather elements were repaired or stabilized using a specialized reversible conservation grade binding solution. Iron elements were cleaned of their corrosion and isolated with a clear resin formulated for painted metals. Interior textiles were properly stabilized and where appropriate, reproductions were installed. Areas of lost paint were in-painted with a resin-based reversible paint palette and carefully applied to match all design and color schemes. When completed, the surface was coated once again with a reversible protective varnish. The stagecoach was then returned to the Gene Autry Museum along with a detailed treatment report and associated photo documentation.


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