Locally crafted colonial dower chest owned by Lick family featured on ‘Antiques Roadshow’ segment

3 min read2,084 views and 431 shares Posted March 26, 2020

Fans of the PBS show “Antiques Roadshow” may have noticed a piece with local connections on a recent broadcast. A painted blanket/dower chest crafted in 1785 was one of the items featured on an episode that was filmed at The Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.

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The poplar and pine chest features original paint, original strap hinges and fraktur-style painted designs. The interior features a till—a tray or drawer used for valuables—with two drawers, one of which is hidden. One of the drawers is inscribed in pencil, “Samuel Vanderlip; one side of that drawer is inscribed “John H. Lick/Fredericksburg, Pa/ 1814 Lebanon County, PA,” according to Andrew Holter of Nye & Company Auctioneers Appraisers, Bloomfield, NJ, who examined the item on the show. (Lebanon County was incorporated in 1813.)

Bruce Bomberger, archivist at the Lebanon County Historical Society, provided information on these types of blanket or dower chests. He wrote in an email that Pennsylvania Germans either paid to have such chests made—most often for girls, but also for boys—or sometimes the father made one if he had the skills and the time. The chest would have been given to a daughter or son about the time she/he turned 16, and they were meant to be a place in which the teen kept personal things and gathered items for their eventual separate household.

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Typically in the late 1700s and early 1800s, a decorative birth and baptismal certificate was glued to the underside of the lid by its corners. Bomber explained that the certificates are considered Fraktur for the fractured-looking script. He pointed out that many collectors or antique dealers have removed the certificates from the chests over the years and preserved them separately. Unfortunately the historical connection to the original piece of furniture is lost, but evidence that they were there can be found by looking for the stain from the spots of glue on the lids of the chests or on the corners of the preserved certificates.

Bomberger indicated that the early examples of these chests, generally those made up to about 1810, had individually hand-forged iron grab locks with large hand-forged keys. The early examples of dower chests were made with hand-forged iron strap hinges. And a wood-lidded till was located inside on the upper left to keep small items of value. Bomberger said, more rarely the till had a small drawer or drawers below. The better chests also had two or three drawers on the outside at the bottom. Sometimes simple tools such as combs, corncobs and crumpled rags were used to give a decorative finish or faux grain to the entire outside.

The primary blanket chest makers and decorators in the Jonestown area of Lebanon County in the early 1770s to the mid-1800s, were Christian Seltzer, his son John, and the Rank or Ranck families. Bomberger said the chest shown on Antiques RoadShow was most likely made by one of the Seltzers or Ranks for a Fredrich/Frederick Fetterhoff. A census/tax record indicates that Fetterhoff lived nearby John Lick in this time period. Based on information in the historical society’s archives, it’s believed that John Lick acquired the chest in 1814, and the chest was given to his grandson, also named John, to travel to California in 1855 to live with his father, James Lick.

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James Lick was once the wealthiest man in California and Lickdale is named in his honor.

In the Antiques Roadshow segment, the woman who brought the dower chest to the event at the museum said she purchased it two years earlier at a thrift store for $20 or $25. Holter examined the chest and provided information to the owner on the chest and on the purpose of dower chests. He estimated that if sold at auction it would bring $3,000 to $5,000. It was later sold at auction by Michaan’s Auctions, Alameda, CA. According to the online auction listing, the dower chest was sold Oct. 12, 2019 for $5,500.

Jill Fenichell, an antiques and fine arts specialist at Michaan’s, wrote in a March 21 email that although she could not disclose much about the buyer, she could reveal that the the new buyer is located in Pennsylvania. She also indicated that there was a vague note in the hidden drawer dated from the 1950s and addressed to someone named Barbara.

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This post was updated with additional information about the Lick family.

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