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Hope chest

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Intricate designs; typically the most decorated in the home during the prime time of the hope chest.
Girl inspecting her hope chest, by Poul Friis Nybo, c. 1900
Renaissance hope chest (cassone) from Florence (15th century)

A hope chest, also called dowry chest, cedar chest, trousseau chest, or glory box, is a piece of furniture once commonly used by unmarried young women to collect items, such as clothing and household linen, in anticipation of married life.

The term "hope chest" or "cedar chest" is used in the United States; in the United Kingdom, the term is "bottom drawer"; while both terms, and "glory box" are used by women in Australia.[1][2] Today, some furniture makers refer to chests made to hold family heirlooms or general storage items as hope chests.

A trousseau was a common coming-of-age rite until approximately the 1950s; it was typically a step on the road to marriage between courting a man and engagement. It wasn't always collected in a special chest, hence the alternative UK term bottom drawer, which refers to putting aside one drawer in a chest of drawers for collecting the trousseau undisturbed, but such a chest was an acceptable gift for a girl approaching a marriageable age.

Contents of a "hope chest" or "glory box" included typical dowry items such as clothing (especially a special dress), table linens, towels, bed linens, quilts and occasionally dishware. As a bride would typically leave home on marriage, hope chests were sometimes made with an eye to portability, albeit infrequently. Examples of hand-made items made between 1916 and 1918 for a trousseau by a prospective bride are on display in the National Museum of Australia.[3] In this case, the trousseau— never used because its creator's fiancé was killed in World War I before the marriage took place — was stored in calico bags rather than in a chest.

The hope chest was often used for the firstborn girl of a family. Instead of just having sheets and household linen in the bottom drawer, this box would transport these goods and dowries and then later be used as a standard piece of furniture for the lady of the house to use. This dowry chest was often richly decorated, however over time dowry chests gradually became smaller, with jewelry boxes emerging instead of large dowry boxes.[4]

By contrast, a "bridal chest" was given to a bride at her wedding by her husband, and so is not a "hope chest" in this regard.

Historical origins

Italian - "Cassone" - Walters 6535
Aussteuerschrank - a dowry closet, currently in a German museum.
Large, decorated, and showy chests, forming part of dynastic marriages in 15th and 16th century Italy. These were prized displays of wealth, of even more value than their contents.
  • Dutch Kast or German Schrank
Tall, wardrobe-like chests with double doors. These are larger than most hope chests, intended for regular service in the home after marriage, and so were constructed as to partially dismantle for transport.[5]
  • American settlers
The peak of the hope chest as folk art came with the waves of European immigrants to America. Many of these came from Scandinavia to the Northern Midwest, with Germans arriving in Pennsylvania - the Amish, had long traditions of plainly constructed chests with extensive painted decoration.[citation needed]
  • Arabic origins
These chests were also known as "dower chests" in the Middle East. "The more than 300,000 surviving documents in the Cairo Genizah are one of our richest sources of insight into daily life in Egypt from the ninth to the 19th centuries. Among them are numerous marriage contracts, and almost all refer to a dower chest. For it, we see two names used: The muqaddimah[6] was specifically for the bride’s personal possessions; sunduq, which normally came in matching pairs, were for other goods. They were not usually elaborately decorated, except in the case of the ruling class.[7]

and sometimes self-locking lid.[8][9] In 1996, following reports of at least six child suffocation deaths, the manufacturer Lane Furniture recalled 12 million hope chests, the lids of which latched shut automatically, and could not be opened from the inside. Specifically, the recall applied to the locks of all "Lane" and "Virginia Maid" cedar chests manufactured between 1912 and 1987. As part of the recall, they provide new lock latch configuration replacement parts. However, they estimated that 6 million chests still used the recalled lock latch. As of 2023 this recall is no longer available, and owners are encouraged to permanently remove the latch and lock.[10]

Lane Company chests


The Lane Company of Altavista, Virginia (active 1912-2001)[11] was a notable maker of cedar chests. After developing production-line techniques for making ammunition boxes during World War I, they turned these production techniques (and a patented locking-mitre corner joint) into vast numbers of chests. This was aided by strong advertising, using a teenage Shirley Temple as a model, in a campaign targeted at GIs and absentee sweethearts of World War II. They were particularly well known for their practice (since 1930) of distributing miniature (9" long) cedar chests to girls graduating from high-school (known as the Girl Graduate Plan) as advertising gifts.[5]



Decoration is not an intrinsic part of the hope chest, but often appears.


This was notable in the 17th and 18th century joined oak chests. The Hadley chests of Massachusetts are covered by extensive surface carving in the typical low-relief style of the period.


Engraving is one way of decorating hope chests or cedar chests. It is common to add engravings to personalize your chests or make them unique, particularly in the Amish communities.[12]


This is typically seen in the Scandinavian and German immigrant traditions and follows traditional styles. In many Arab countries, they are still referred to as "sanduq ‘arus", or “wedding box,” although modern trends have them made of metal rather than wood, and looking more like a footlocker. They are elaborately painted, often with a mosque dome or architectural design on the lid, with the color red predominating.[13]
The elaborate gilded gesso of the cassoni was produced by skilled and expensive craftsmen. This work has not been seen since, and doesn't form part of the folk tradition.
Sulfur inlay is a rare technique in furniture and for chests it is only known for a short period. Between 1765 and around 1820, German immigrant cabinetmakers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, used it to decorate the surface of chests. The Deitrich chest of 1783 is now in the Smithsonian.[5]

See also



  1. ^ "Macquarie Dictionary".
  2. ^ Kingston, Beverley (1977). My Wife, My Daughter and Poor Mary Ann – Women and Work in Australia. Melbourne: Nelson. p. 102. ISBN 0-17-005212-5. "By the turn of the [20th] century the trousseau and the glory-box had become accepted institutions for the readers of the weekly and monthly women's magazines."
  3. ^ "Cotton nightdress made by Muriel McPhee". National Museum of Australia. Archived from the original on 2016-11-23. Retrieved 2012-02-22.
  4. ^ Stone, Caroline (2015). "The Art of the Dowry Chest". Saudi Aramco World. Retrieved 2018-06-05.
  5. ^ a b c Schleining, Lon (2003). Treasure Chests: The Legacy of Extraordinary Boxes. Taunton Press. ISBN 1-56158-651-X.
  6. ^ The "muqaddimah" means "first", and possibly refers to the fact that it was carried by the lead donkey in the traditional bridal procession to the groom's home.
  7. ^ "The Art of the Dowery Chest." by Caroline Stone. Aramco World. Volume 66, (8). November–December 2015. [ISSN]: 1530-5821. Page 27.
  8. ^ Lauren Sellers (7 February 2008). "Boy dies in hope chest". Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on 13 January 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  9. ^ Peter Schworm and John R. Ellement (13 January 2014). "Two Franklin children who were trapped inside of hope chest have died, Norfolk DA says". Boston Globe.
  10. ^ "CPSC Urges Consumers to Replace or Remove Latches/Locks on Lane and Virginia Maid Cedar Chests; 14 Deaths Reported". Consumer Product Safety Commission. 31 January 2023. Retrieved 9 Sep 2023.
  11. ^ "History Corner: Lane Cedar Chests". Virginia Historical Society. Archived from the original on 2016-04-13.
  12. ^ Custom Wood Chest Features. AmishHandcrafted.com. Retrieved February 04, 2022.
  13. ^ "The Art of the Dowery Chest." by Caroline Stone. Aramco World. Volume 66, (8). November–December 2015. [ISSN]: 1530-5821. Page 29.
  • The dictionary definition of hope chest at Wiktionary