Blanket chests were very
popular during the 17th thru 19th centuries. Over
the years, drawers were added to the basic form, increasing the height,
and gradually a different piece of furniture evolved called the mule
chest. The drawers in a mule chest were used to store slippers called
"mules" by the colonists.
The first colonists had
no closets in which to store their clothing, blankets, and household
linens. Attics were not readily accessible, and cellars were apt to be
damp. Thus, the chest came into use.
In its simplest form, the
chest was a large wooden box with a hinged lid. Although it functioned
primarily as a receptacle for clothes and valuables, it also served as
an additional seating place, for chairs were a luxury in most homes.
Frequently chests were used for the storage of linens and things,
especially those a bride brought to her husband. This is known as the
dowry. From this evolved the name "hope" chest, now commonly
Early ships' records show
the chests to have been the sole items of furniture accompanying many
settlers. It is not surprising, therefore, that the chests built by
seventeenth-century joiners in this country were copied from English
pieces designed in the prevailing Jacobean style popular in London at
that time. As early as 1660, craftsmen in Massachusetts and Connecticut
were fashioning paneled and carved oak chests, constructed of wide
stiles and rails. These had floating panels with elaborately carved
intaglio decorations. Instead of a paneled top in the English fashion,
the Colonial chest had a plain pine board top. This unadorned top
surface was ideal for seating and did not need cushions thereby making
it more functional.
In their crude fashion,
these chests were the counterpart of the elaborate coffers, and caskets
owned throughout Europe by wealthy families. Many households would not
do without one of these blanket chests as few homes had a source of heat
within the bedroom. On chilly nights it was convenient to merely go to
the end of the bed and extract more bed covers to keep warm on those
chilly nights. During warm seasons the blanket chest stored bed covers
in a convenient location.
In colonial America
blanket chests were constructed of various species of lumber ranging
from inexpensive pines used for "country" type furniture to
more expensive hardwoods such as walnut, cherry, and imported mahogany.
The latter were used for more formal pieces of furniture that only the
very wealthy could afford. Some of these chests were lined or
constructed of pleasant smelling aromatic red cedar that repels insects.
Pennsylvania Dutch chests were often hand painted with traditional
This blanket chest is
constructed of solid pecan that was harvested in Houston, Texas, by J.
G. Hutchison, and with solid aromatic cedar. Pecan is a member of the
hickory family and is one of North America’s hardest of hardwoods.
Pecan trees thrive in the hot, humid climate found in the southern part
of the United States. Pecans often grow to massive size with trunks as
large as five feet in diameter. The tasty pecan nuts are an important
cash crop. Pecan is a close relative of black walnut, but unlike the
elegant look of walnut lumber, pecan lumber is characterized by streaks
of dark sap pockets, small knots, wormholes, and variegated coloring of
sapwood and heartwood. Pecan is a fine furniture grade hardwood that
finds its way into less formal looking pieces. This chest is a perfect
example of a piece designed for use in a log cabin in the woods to be
placed within the master bedroom.
This chest has a solid
¾" aromatic cedar bottom, and a sliding 4" deep tray made of
cedar that is supported by internal rails. Traditional frame and panel
construction was used to build the carcass of the chest using
1-1/2" deep tenons that were pegged with walnut dowels to securely
mate the top and bottom rails to the vertical stiles, and to encase the
¾" thick floating panels. Biscuit joinery was used to mate the
side panels to the front and back panels. Dimensions of the carcass are
24" high x 19" wide x 45" long.
The finish consists of
six coats of hand-rubbed low luster tung oil finish, with a final coat
of carnauba wax. The hardware consists of a high quality brass-plated,
full-mortise chest lock, and friction scissor chest hinges that
conveniently hold the top open.
This chest is certain to
become a future antique, due to its traditional construction techniques,
use of high quality materials, and timeless beauty.