Joined chest with two drawers initialed "HD" and carved in the "Hadley chest" tradition with a shallow, repetitious tulip-and-leaf motif, over the facade of three panels framed within rails and stiles above two drawers with a thick drawer divider and supported tall rectilinear posts. "HD" are the initials of Hepzibah Dickinson (1696-1761) of Hatfield, who married Jonathan Belding (1694-1778) of Northfield, Massachusetts, in 1720. The couple settled in Northfield where they remained for the rest of their lives; the chest descended collaterally through the Eastman family to the donor. Hadley chests are so-called because an early Hartford, Connecticut, collector, Henry Wood Erving (1851-1941) found a chest (initialed "RD") in an old house in Hadley, Mass. in 1883 and described it to his friends as his "Hadley chest." The initials on these "Hadley" chests can be those of young women who often received their patrimony in the form of expensive furniture rather than in land or tools, which would have been left to their brothers. The chest is a significant example of the "Hadley" type because of its overall excellent condition, fine carving (note the inverted hearts, tree, anchor, and sand glass or hourglass), the survival of its paint history with its Victorian paint protecting the original surface (added yellow and black over the original red), and the traceable provenance in the family of the donor. Although constructed with mortised and tenoned rails and stiles that frame inset panels as found in 17th century pieces, most Hadley chests post-date the year 1700. This chest was probably made in the Hadley-Hatfield area about 1715. This date is substantiated by Hepzibah's life history, related uncarved furniture, and the range of woods employed by the anonymous joiner. Instead of relying solely on traditional oak and white pine, this craftsman worked with red maple, beech, chestnut, oak and white pine. Drawer facades are sycamore, the case sides are red maple, and the case bottom and back are white pine. These chests with shallow, repetitious floral designs form the largest surviving group of joined furniture from early America. Although Hadley chests seem to look alike, there are twenty variants of carved and uncarved examples based on the collation of carving styles and construction techniques. Several craftsmen worked in this tradition, which extended from workshops in Suffield to Northfield between about 1685 and 1740. The group of chests (about 60 known examples) represented by this example is distinguished by the insect-like motifs at the center of the drawer facades and rails; the elongated "E" at the side of the carved motif; the variety of woods; and the use of a single dovetail at the front of the drawer assembly, which intersects the groove in the sides that support the drawer in the case. The insect-like motifs represent on of the several ways that western Massachusetts joiners addressed the merger of the paired motifs. The same pattern is found on the painted "KK" chest (73.065); and this "HD" chest shares shares many of the same woods and construction features as the joined chest of drawers (81.001). The drawer knobs have been replaced. The lower strip of wood on the back is beech, the proper right case side is European maple or sycamore, the proper right side of the top drawer is basswood, the top drawer front is red maple, the proper left upper drawer runner is red oak, the case front above the top drawer is cherry, the horizontal board between the two drawers is sugar maple, the proper right front corner post is maple (undetermined species), and the top drawer back is white pine.
The term “Hadley chest” originated with early Hartford collector Henry Wood Erving (1851-1941), who found an example in an old house in Hadley, Massachusetts in 1883 that he described as his “Hadley chest.” These chests with shallow, repetitious floral design form the largest surviving group of joined furniture from early America. This chest’s fine carving, surviving paint, and excellent condition make it one of the best examples known to survive. Note the inverted hearts, the tree, the anchor, and the sand glass or hourglass. “HD” stood for Hepzibah Dickinson (1696-1761) of Hatfield, who married Jonathan Belding (1694-1778) of Northfield, Massachusetts. Most of the chests bear the initials of young women approaching their marriage.
Framed chests of the Connecticut River Valley with relief-carved tulip-and-leaf designs form the largest group of joined furniture from early America. About 250 pieces of related furniture and fragments survive to the present. The paint on this example was applied in the late-nineteenth century on top of remnants of the original paint decoration. This preserved original pigments used to accentuate the carving.
Inspired by English carving traditions that immigrant woodworkers brought to the region, Connecticut River Valley joiners began to make case furniture decorated with relief-carved tulips and leaves in the 1660s. So popular were their designs that successive generations commissioned tulip-and-leaf carved furniture for themselves and their children, supporting a craft tradition that lasted 80 years until the 1740s.
Parents commissioned these frame-and-panel chests for their daughters, who found them handy for storing textiles when they set up their own households. Those who could afford it paid extra for paint-decorated relief carving that often incorporated the initials of the daughter’s maiden name, commemorating her birth identity—and therefore her family lineage—after she took on her husband’s surname. As with this example, the relief-carved decoration often included talismanic symbols probably meant to confer good fortune on the marriage. Over the centuries, the meanings of these symbols have been lost.
The initials "HD” stand for Hepzibah Dickinson (1696-1761) of Hatfield, daughter of Nathaniel Dickinson (1663-1757) and Hepzibah Gibbs (d. 1713). Hepzibah married Jonathan Belding (1694-1778) of Northfield, in 1720. Born in Hatfield, Jonathan Belding moved to Northfield in 1717, set up a sawmill and established himself in the lumber trade, amassing considerable wealth over the course of his life.