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[AC] Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; [HC] Hampshire College Art Gallery;
[HD] Historic Deerfield; [MH] Mount Holyoke College Art Museum; [MH SK] The Joseph Allen Skinner Museum at Mount Holyoke College; [SC] Smith College Museum of Art; [UM] University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMASS Amherst

 


Culture:American
Title:box
Date Made:1700-1720
Type:Furniture; Container
Materials:wood: red oak, yellow pine; paint, base metal
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; Hatfield (possibly)
Measurements:overall: 9 3/4 in x 26 in x 15 3/4 in; 24.765 cm x 66.04 cm x 40.005 cm
Accession Number:  HD 85.004
Credit Line:Mr. and Mrs. Hugh B. Vanderbilt Fund for Curatorial Acquisitions

Description:
Oak box carved on the front with the initials "M S" around a heart in the center and stylized tulips and scrolls on each side in the style of "Hadley" chests. Although the original owner with the initials MS is unknown, the box descended in the Smith Family of Hadley and Hatfield and was found in the attic of a North Hatfield home in the early 1980s. The twentieth-century term “bible box” suggests that examples like this were used solely to store the family bible. In fact, they served as multi-purpose storage for a variety of small objects, from garden seeds to sewing notions, costume accessories, jewelry, legal documents, books and coins. The box is in excellent condition for its age. The owner paid extra for relief-carved decoration featuring a tulip-and-leaf motif - a design favored throughout the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts - but avoided the considerable extra expense of inserting a lock in the shield-shape reserve at the center of the carving. An original coat of bright red paint is preserved beneath the present red-brown paint. The pine lid, which fits tightly over the top of the box, has an incised line around the edge of the simple molded edge; the box sits on a simple flat base, which extends a little beyond the body of the box. The sides are nailed into rabbets in the front and back, and the bottom is nailed to the case. Butt hinges have replace the original cotter pin hinges; the box has been partially renailed. "Hadley" chests and boxes are recognized as the first sought after pieces of antique American furniture. In 1883, the early Hartford collector Henry Wood Erving (1851-1941) found a chest in an old house at Hadley, Massachusetts, and described it to his friends as his "Hadley chest." Today, these chests, boxes, and tables form the largest group of joined furniture in America. The variety of carved and painted motifs on the boxes and chests in the "Hadley" tradition at Historic Deerfield and Memorial Hall represent the workmanship of many of the 20 identifiable shop traditions which made furniture in the same style in western Massachusetts between 1680 and 1730. The products of these shop traditions were homogenized by the patronage of the Pynchon family of Springfield who invested heavily in towns throughout western Massachusetts. Constructed with mortised and tenoned rails and stiles in the manner of seventeenth-century furniture, most Hadley chests nevertheless post-date the year 1700. They often bear the initials of young women who often received their patrimony in the form of expensive furniture rather than in land or tools, which were invariably left to their brothers.

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