dower chest

Pennsylvania painted dower chest, early 19th c., initialed "DW", the top and case remaining in pristine condition, profusely decorated with trailing tulip vines, pinwheels, and hearts on a red ground. The base with lower sawtooth border supported by black painted flaring French feet retains original wrought iron lock and strap hinges.

In the earlier days of our country when material objects were less abundant, the possession of a "dower" chest, cupboard, or elaborate quilt was a special treasure of a family most likely desired and hoped for much in advance.

Be it whichever household artifact when acquired became much more than just a chest or table, rather a personal possession to be appreciated and cherished for years to come. More often than not, these were locally created by skilled hands that cared about not only the work in process but moreover the finished product pleasing to the family, and so, something of the craftsperson resonates with each piece.

Conversely, succeeding generations have allowed Grandma's treasure to become an old cupboard or "that old thing," and with ever changing tastes in an ever changing, fast paced, rapidly advancing world, antiquated items as such, have been relegated to the attic, cellar, or kindling.

But even in our current tech savvy, busy, Amazon, online world, sometimes these early treasures have taken on added significance and charm with some families. They become the conversation piece, the highlight of a family room or den, and are still eagerly sought by the Americana collector. In a number of families though, especially in Colonial America, there was much concern over these future family heirlooms, and sometimes, even wills were used to assure the safety of these treasures.

Often families in their wills merely stated: "The chest shall always go to the oldest daughter." "This goes to the oldest son." "It is not to be sold." "Do not sell these family things unless you are hungry."

So, for many generations, these family possessions remained, gave strength, service, and stability with well-established roots and a well-defined link to the past, so even contemporary generations would be better able to survive. With the advent of greater population mobility, the affluent society and the antique dealer, consequently, sentimentality and feelings are lost, and the “Madison Avenue” marketing and pricing take over and with every passing year, more and more of our material culture is lost, lessened, dissipated, dispersed, and destroyed.

As mass housing developments, expanded highways, and more convenient mini shopping centers invade the rural landscape, lofty barns, old stone out-buildings, sheds, and farmhouses disappear and their contents are plundered.

The attic of America nowadays is nearly empty with family heirlooms, artifacts, and treasures, but with expanded concern and organizations much like The National Register of Historic Properties, American Folklife Society (Institute), and Lynn-Heidelberg Township Society with what they did; The Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County, Daniel Boone Homestead, PA German Cultural Heritage Center, Landis Valley Farm Museum and other grass roots societies can stay geared toward preservation, together with a more enlightened citizenry (at large), much needed research and documentation can still be done to record and preserve important early aspects of our Americana.

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