Cupboards & Roses Antiques, 296 South Main Street, Route 7, Sheffield, MA 01257 Tel: 413-229-3070, Winter Hours: Open Thursdays - Mondays, 10 - 5; closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Swedan Antiques
Chests of Drawers

Hope Chests & Bride's Boxes at Cupboards and Roses

The chest or coffer is assumed to be one of the earliest pieces of furniture, used – as it is now – to store and secure items, as well as to provide a surface for working and eating.
 
The chest was the most common item of furniture in the Middle Ages, with wealthy families owning hundreds of them.  Its original six-board construction has remained unchanged until today.  The simple butted joints were easy to make but were not particularly strong, so chests were reinforced with iron strapping.  A metal lock or secret opening mechanism was often added to protect the contents from children and strangers.

The dovetail joint, much stronger but requiring more skill in joinery, appeared in the 15th century as an alternative construction technique.  Without the need for metal straps, the chests presented more surface area for painted or carved decoration, and decorative display became an important secondary function of these useful pieces.

Paneled construction appeared in the 16th century, with a pegged tongue-and-grooved frame holding thinner panels on the front, sides, and lid.  These panels became the focus for decoration.  This style has also remained popular.

By the 17th century throughout Germany and Austria, the painted dower or “hope” chest had become important as an indicator of the social status of a bride and her family.  They were used to store the linens, needlework, and household accessories that a girl accumulated in preparation for her eventual marriage.  Additional chests were given as important wedding gifts, with the degree and style of decoration reflecting the bride’s social position.

These hope chests were made by the village carpenter or by a member of the owner’s family and were decorated by an itinerant professional painter or local amateur.  Traditional symbols of love and prosperity, such as flowers, birds, and hearts, were common.  By the 1800’s, architectural motifs, including arches and half- and quarter-round columns, appeared.  Space was reserved for the bride’s name and the date of her wedding.

From the time of the Vikings, painted bentwood boxes (bride’s boxes) were made throughout northern Europe and in Sweden and Denmark.  By the 17th century, they had assumed their typical oval shape and a more-or-less standard size of 15 to 20 inches long and 6 to 9 inches high.  They were used to store and protect small, delicate or valuable items in larger chests, where their painted decoration made them easy to find and identify.

Every Swedish bride had a collection of these boxes as a part of her dowry.  As a traditional wedding gift, the "Bride's Box" was often crafted by the groom for his intended.  In Germany, these colorful boxes were a common sight on the seat of the coach conveying the newly married woman to her husband’s home.

Hope chests and bride’s boxes at Cupboards & Roses Antiques are from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Most of these pieces retain the name or initials of the owner and the date of the marriage.  They usually feature their original hardware and candle box, or till.

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