Possibly made for a member of the Belding family in Hatfield, this “Hadley” chest illustrates one of the most distinctive and identifiable joinery traditions from early America. Defined by the use of a repeating tulip-and-leaf template, this tradition flourished in central Massachusetts along the Connecticut River Valley during the first decades of the eighteenth century and with almost 200 survivals today, “Hadley” chests have long captured the attention and imagination of American furniture scholars and collectors alike. This chest is said to have been collected by Charles Nicoll Talbot (1802-1874), a successful New York City merchant, who summered in his father’s 1825 Greek Revival house at 26 Prospect Street in Northampton, Massachusetts (later known as the Capen house and now part of Smith College). Talbot was evidently very fond of the arts from the region and was the original owner of Thomas Cole’s celebrated masterpiece, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (1836), known as The Oxbow, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For more on Talbot, see David Bjelajac, “Thomas Cole’s Oxbow and the American Zion Divided,” American Art (Spring 2006), pp. 60-83.
One of several Hadley chests collected by the Talbot family, this chest may have been made for a member of the Belding (Belden) family. Two others with Talbot provenance and Belding associations are known: The RB and MB chests made and Rhoda Belding (1716-1740) and her half-sister Mary Belding (1705-1747) or possibly their aunt, Mary Belding (1679-1724), wife of Ichabod Allis (1675-1747) (Clair Franklin Luther, The Hadley Chest (Hartford, 1935), p. 72, no. 13 and Christie’s, New York, 16 January 2004, lot 424). It is conceivable that all three were later purchased from a common source in the Northampton area. Rhoda and the younger Mary’s grandfather and uncle, Samuel Belding, Sr. (1632-1713) and Samuel Belding, Sr. (1757-1737), were carpenters and joiners in Hatfield, the latter a partner of Ichabod Allis, and all three have been proposed as possible makers of these chests. Additional chests with Belding family associations include an SB chest possibly made for Rhoda’s half-sister Sarah, and chests made for their first cousins, Lydia (1718-1789) and Hannah (1681-1747) Belding (see Sotheby’s, New York, The Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Henry P. Deyerle, 26-27 May 1995, lot 376; Luther, pp. 71, 135, nos. 11, 12). For more on the Belding and Allis craftsmen, see Philip Zea, "The Fruits of Oligarchy: Patronage and the Hadley Chest Tradition in Western Massachusetts," Old-Time New England: New England Furniture, Essays in Memory of Benno M. Forman, vol. 72 (Boston, 1987), pp. 10-12, 34, 37; Luther, pp. 22, 25-31.
The Belding family included Samuel Belding, Jr. (1657-c.1737), a joiner who worked in association with Ichabod Allis (1675-1747) in Hatfield, both of whom have been proposed as possible makers of these chests (Philip Zea, "The Fruits of Oligarchy: Patronage and the Hadley Chest Tradition in Western Massachusetts," Old-Time New England: New England Furniture, Essays in Memory of Benno M. Forman, vol. 72 (Boston, 1987), pp. 10-12, 34, 37; Luther, pp. 22, 25-31). In addition, several other chests made for members of the Belding and Allis families share similar details of design and construction. These, with their all-over use of the tulip-and-leaf pattern, are among those categorized by Patricia E. Kane as Group III. As noted by Kane, Group III's exclusive and repetitive use of the same motif on all components of the facade created a visual effect that was new and original, one that contrasted from the more traditional appearance of Group I and II chests in which the decorative details varied to emphasize the different parts of the joined forms (Patricia E. Kane, "The Seventeenth-Century Furniture of the Connecticut Valley: The Hadley Chest Reappraised," Arts of the Anglo-American Community (Charlottesville, Virginia, 1975), pp. 92, 96, 100, figs. 15, 16).