The tradition of providing a girl with a dower chest to fill with treasures for her wedding is centuries old.
Though it's not certain exactly when or where the custom originated, by the 15th century most European families made sure that each daughter had a chest of her own. In the chest were stored precious linens, blankets, china, silver and family heirlooms, all saved for the longed-for marriage.According to Country Home magazine, chests were some of the earliest pieces of furniture, made in the days of ancient Egypt. They first were used to lock away church treasures. Later, during the Middle Ages, each home had several chests in which the family clothing was kept. Eventually, certain chests were set aside especially for the trousseau of a bride-to-be.
When settlers came to America, they brought cherished souvenirs of the Old World to the new land in chests. Colonial furniture makers carried on the tradition of dower chests: By the time a colonial girl was eight or nine, she probably had one of her own.
The most popular dower chests came from Pennsylvania German furniture makers. These often were painted in soft blues or greens. Against this background fanciful motifs were applied, many of them reminiscent of the old-world tradition of manuscript illustration.
Today, a return to traditional weddings has created a renewed interest in dower chests. More than 100 styles are available, many of them replicas of colonial American pieces adorned with hand-painted primitive motifs.