Mennonite Dowry Chest, ca. 1870

Value (2004) | $12,000 Insurance

When I first encountered this blanket box it was at an estate sale in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, which is a strong Mennonite community here in Minnesota. However I had no idea it was a Mennonite chest when I... when I bought it at the estate sale.

One of the things that I find exciting about this piece is that this is truly representative of a very special part of Minnesota's cultural heritage and history. This uh, is a dowry chest; it was an integral part of the young woman's future in a Mennonite family. It was given to her as her property, uh, as a young girl. It was meant for her to accumulate all those items that she was going to need in her hopefully married life. This represents a continuity of a folk tradition, a cultural tradition. A furniture form that starts in the late Medieval period, and we find ourselves here looking at an example that by all rights looks like an 18th century chest and piece of furniture. But in fact, we start looking at various details of it. Take a look at the skirt and apron and those curved feet that reflects Biedermeier tradition and influence. Uh, we're looking at hardware and side handles of the chest, which, while at first glance look 18th century, we realize they're slightly stylized-- a little bit later. We see architectural pilasters down the corners of the chest. Again, they are in the shape and form that are reminiscent of 17th and 18th century architectural forms. But if we look at some of the other aspects of the chest, we realize it is later, and in fact, this chest was probably made perhaps in the 1870s, judging from some of the little flourishes on it. There's a decoupage floral decoration on the top, but the other aspects of it are truly 18th century. If we go to the interior of the chest, again we have these strap-like hinges but, in fact, these are in the style of... they're following the formulaic design from 200 years earlier, but these are made in 1870s. It has the traditional interior of a Mennonite chest, a side till for small valuables, jewelry, a little shelf at the back of the interior, which was used for small, delicate linens like handkerchiefs that the woman might have had. All in all, it's an extraordinary example of continuity of furniture form over almost a 300-year period. Do you mind revealing how much you paid for it at that estate sale?

It was $850.

Eight hundred and fifty dollars. What a good day you had.


Regional furniture forms can have very strong local base of interest. These are not common, they're highly desirable, and I would say that if we look at it safely for insurance purposes, I would be putting a $12,000 value on this.

That's incredible! I'm flabbergasted.

Appraisal Details

Appraised value (2004)
$12,000 Insurance
St Paul, MN (June 26, 2004)

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