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FURNISHINGS : Cedar 'Hope Chests' Still Preserve Tradition

September 04, 1993|From Associated Press

Traditionally called "hope chests" because girls used them to store household treasures accumulated for marriage, cedar chests have held valuables for centuries.

Today, both new and antique chests are popular as handsome and practical additions to almost any decor.

Cedar has long been prized for its sweet fragrance, sturdiness and ability to protect garments from moths.

Cedar chests were first made in the 15th Century to store and preserve ecclesiastical vestments. Eventually secular chests, especially bridal chests, were made entirely of cedar or of oak or walnut lined with cedar.

The custom of keeping a bridal chest first developed during the Renaissance. Chests made of cedar were an ideal way to protect the delicate articles of clothing and linens that made up the trousseau. Eventually these chests took the form of works of art, often displaying intricate carving and beautiful paintings. Sometimes the chest would bear the coats of arms of the two families being united.

No matter how poor the family, there was always at least one bridal chest for each girl in the family. Throughout her life, everything kept inside the chest would remain the woman's property, unlike land or money, which legally passed to her husband after the wedding.

The custom of the bridal chest spread from Europe to the American Colonies. These sturdy boxes traveled across continents and oceans and frequently served as the only reminder of home.

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