Snuggled away in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, a farmstead owned and operated by the same family for generations falls under the auctioneer’s hammer. The household items are, for the most part, worn and mediocre but in the parlor stands… Well, quite a sight for the collector or student of our material culture. It is an early corner cupboard, single-doored, but an architectural two-piece structure of substantial proportions.
The cupboard stands a full nine feet four inches high, and the front without the returns, measures 42 inches across. Bracket feet, pie shelf, and two drawers make it quite desirable, in spite of its large height, and the embossed acorn brasses add much excitement. An examination of the style and construction suggests an approximate date of 1810.
In the search of information when coming across such family tradition, its oral history, or legend in some cases have a rightful and proper place as an aid in research, "if kept in that context." Often in information gathered in this light, it is helpful, but must not be confused as fact. The passage, "This was my grandmother's, and she was 100 years old when she died…" has given rise to much misinformation and disappointment.
Now about this cupboard and its traditions: With the completion of the farmhouse in 1804, the carpenter was asked to build a farmhouse in northern Berks County, Pennsylvania around 1803. The home housed many treasures in the old days, including this cupboard, which the carpenter supposedly constructed in the very room which it stood for the past two centuries.
This room, the “good room” or parlor, was used little for the past three generations, but family things were stored there. Molding and details of the interior of the house lend credence to this story and the dates tend to agree. The cupboard, however, was Victorianized about 1890 by repainting it, a fairly common practice, but a greenish-blue color with a white door, black molding, columns, and feet, and light brown drawer fronts and lower door panels. Set against a wall of showy, swirly red and pink flowered wallpaper, traces of which were found behind the seldom moved cupboard, this piece must have given considerable pleasure to the Victorian heart.
As furniture often received its original finish before drawer pulls and other hardware were applied, excitement mounted as to what might have been its original appearance. Removal of the drawer brasses showed an almost salmon red paint artfully feathered with black, the columns, molding, and other trim though were left undecorated.
The door appears to have been white from the start, while there was not enough original finish left to save, the details and design of feathering could be faithfully recopied. While this would’ve resulted in a new finish, it will not allow the cupboard to stand bare, stripped, and naked as is sometimes done. Restored, this cupboard should stand as a memorial to the vitality and skill of the earlier days of its locale, Pennsylvania!
Although some elements of this story are true, or rather a collection of facts gathered as a young Folklorist in college talking to several Americana collectors with tremendous Pennsylvania Dutch antiques; these were recurring stories or things I would often hear, dreaming of the day I could showcase such furniture as “Dutch cupboards,” magnificently decorated dower chests, a Grossa Shrank or two, or fill a corner cupboard with 18th Century slip-trailed presentation redware, gaudy Dutch, gaudy Welsh, spatterware, mocha, exotic butter molds, etc. in my home. I envied the collections of Dick Macher, who as a postman, was invited into several area households…”to take a look,” Richard Shaner, Dr. Donald Shelley, Lester Breininger, Greg Kramer, Mary Snyder, and several others who had pieces I could only dream about. Special thanks to these fabulous educators to a wide-eyed young man eager to learn, and especially their spouses, who treated me even better.