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Hyder Collection

Pennsylvania Dutch Chest


Pennsylvania Dutch chest front view The Pennsylvania Dutch settlers arrived from southwestern Germany to Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries. The use of the word “Dutch” stems from “deutsch” or “deitsch” meaning “German” and Pennsylvania Dutch is used synonymously with Pennsylvania German. Of varying religious traditions, including Lutheran, German Reformed, Mennonite, and Amish, the emigrants cleared land for farming and families were largely self-sustaining. Isolated from cities, many Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants maintained the language and customs of the homeland.

Pennsylvania Dutch furniture was sturdy with clean, simple lines, but many items were embellished with painted motifs to add color to otherwise barren rooms. Designs ranged from simple geometric hearts and Pennsylvania Dutch chest side viewstars to more detailed images of unicorns or birds. Floral motifs were a popular design and often included tulips. Brought to Germany from the Near East in 1559 by a Swiss botanist, tulips provided simple lines and bold colors for decoration.  A symbol of faith, the tulip is thought to represent the Trinity.

The history of this particular chest is unknown. Painted with the initials R.P. and dated 1812, it may have been a dower chest. Dower chests, called Ausschteier Kischt, were often given to girls around their eighth or tenth birthday.  The chest held blankets, linens, needlework, and household items that the girl made or was given in anticipation of her future marriage. Decorated with traditional symbols, the chest often included the girl’s name or initials and the year the chest was presented to her. Chests were decorated on three sides as well as the lid and after the marriage, placed at the foot of the couple’s bed or in the parlor with the family Bible on top.

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