Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary

Excerpt from
Edgar G. Miller, Jr., American Antique Furniture, 1937, Vol. 1, p. 338

A chest is defined as a large box of wood or metal with a hinged lid.

Next to the chair and the bed, chests are said to be the earliest articles of domestic furniture. They were the receptacles for clothes and valuables, and were also used as a seating place, a chair being somewhat of a luxury in days when the chest was an almost universal possession. Chests were frequently made to contain the store of linen which a bride took to her husband upon her marriage. Perhaps no other articles of furniture were brought from England by the early settlers in such numbers as the "ship chests", being the indispensable pieces in which to transport clothing and valuables; containing these articles the chests took but little more of the limited space of the small ships of the period than did the articles themselves.

The earliest type of chests made in our country seems to have been copied from pieces brought over from England; and the similarity in design and appearance between them is so great that in some cases it may be difficult to determine whether a piece is of English or American make, even by an examination of the kind of wood used.

The principal feature of chests is the decoration of the panels on the fronts, and also on the "stiles", which are the four vertical posts at the corners of the chest and which, when prolonged several inches below the body of the chest, form the feet.

The dates of the making of these chests are rather indefinite, ranging from about 1650 to about 1750; the style of the decoration is said to be the least uncertain test. The English pieces were generally made of English oak throughout; some of the American pieces were also made altogether of oak, but the bottom, the back and the top were often made of pine.

The height of the chests without drawers was usually about thirty inches, and the length about four or five feet. The addition of drawers, of course, increased the height, but in order to keep down the bulk the length was reduced somewhat.

Much carving was used in the decoration of chests; in some cases the entire front was covered. The carving is generally flat and curious rather than artistic; in fact it may be termed crude, but was perhaps creditable to the colonial carpenters or cabinet makers of the time and place.

As boxes were generally small chests, they are often mentioned in connection with chests. They were made to hold papers and books, especially Bibles. Like chests they had a hinged top. In America they were generally made of oak and pine. They were ornamented with carving and painting in much the same way as chests.

Desk writing boxes
Desk writing boxes may be regarded as a form of desk.

Excerpt from
William C. Ketchum, Jr., American Furniture: Chests, Cupboards, Desks & Other Pieces. 
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2000

Chests of drawers
Evolved from the chests in which clothes and linen were stored before about 1650.

Shortly after the Restoration (1660) the first chest of drawers appeared and were usually fitted with three long drawers and two small ones at the top. The drawer fronts should be graduated in depth with the largest one at the bottom and the smallest at the top, with about one inch in difference in each case.

Serpentine and bow fronts were introduced about 1750.

See also: block front ..... Bombé


Examples in Buffalo: Examples out of Buffalo:

Photos and their arrangement © 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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