Historic York County York, PA United States 717.502.1281
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$ 25,000

Dauphin County, Pennsylvania Paint-decorated Dower Chest

Origin United States, Pennsylvania
Period 19th Century
W. 52.5 in; H. 23 in; D. 22.5 in;
W. 133.35 cm; H. 58.42 cm; D. 57.15 cm;
Creation Date 1808

Dimensions (inches): 52.5" w x 23" h x 22.5" d

This colorful Pennsylvania German dower chest, with pinwheels and tiny flowers on Robin's egg blue tombstone panels, set on a salmon ground, was found with the descendents of Madlen Nafzer of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Passed down through her family for several generations, the chest is accompanied by a softbound book that details the history of the Nafzer family. It tells the basic story of the woman for whom the chest was made in 1808; of how her family arrived on American soil and of their subsequent moves from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Indiana with the migrating Pennsylvania Dutch community.

Past its striking color and decoration, one of the most spectacular things about this particular chest is its untouched paint surface and early condition. While a lateral portion of the left, back foot is absent, broken and lost during the family's possession, the back of the foot is present and extremely stable. This had been broken, presumably at the same time, but the original piece was kept and I personally doweled it back into place. I made no attempt to replace the missing side portion, so that the chest could be kept in this unspoiled form, a rare thing among surviving Pennsylvania Dower chests of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Though the name of the maker of the chest remains unknown, his work is rather well known. Freeman's Auction in Philadelphia, our nation's eldest auction house, sold an example by the same hand in November of 2007. It had the same coloration and decorative scheme, with the same, unusual, blue-painted and decorated, oval shaped panels on top. Pennsylvania dealers Harry Hartman and Jamie Price have both owned examples by this hand, the latter in roughly the same form but nearer to brown in color. And a representative from Winterthur reported to me that she had viewed a chest by the same hand in a private collection. None of the chests were signed. All had dates in the late 1820's except the Madlen Nafzer example, which is significantly earlier at 1808. So the painter is recognized but unknown and worked for a period of at least 20 years, maybe longer.

An exceptional addition to any collection of Pennsylvania German folk art and furnishings.

Modest wear on sides, greater paint loss on the top. See paragraph two for details about the rear, left foot.

Primary Color: salmon, blue
Earliest Date: 1808
Latest Date: 1808
For Sale Status: Available
Price $25,000
Styles / Movements Americana, Country, Folk Art
Dealer Reference Number bb-038
Incollect Reference Number 114171
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