Displaying exceptional height in its feet, an old painted surface and the rare two-drawer model, this chest is a particularly notable survival of the "Hadley" chest tradition. The chest closely relates to nine other known examples that together suggest the work of a single shop operating during the early eighteenth-century in Hatfield, Massachusetts. Acquired in New Hampshire in the late nineteenth century, the chest has been in the family of the current owner for over a hundred years.
This chest and the nine classified by Patricia E. Kane as type 3, subgroup C share details in form, design and construction that distinguish them as a distinct iteration of the Hadley chest tradition. Aside from one example that lacks its drawer section, all other chests in this group have two drawers rather than the one-drawer form seen on the vast majority of Hadley chests. Like all type 3 chests, this group displays the repeating tulip-and-vine motif on all components of the façade. However, unlike subgroup A and B chests, this motif is placed across the seams between the stiles and drawer fronts, as well as between the stiles and lower rails. On other type 3 chests, this motif ends at these junctures and the full length of the stiles are embellished with the motif placed in a vertical position. Subgroup C is also marked by the use of a cursive “E” line that fills the void below the tulips on the drawer fronts; the chest offered here displays a slight variation and while it features the cursive “E” under the outermost tulips, the inner tulips have a double-scroll below, a detail seen on subgroup B chests. To fill the central space on the drawers and lower rails, the maker of this group of chests used a repertoire of whimsical shapes, such as the lozenge, inverted heart, and “maypoles” seen on the chest offered here (see Richard Lawrence Greene, “Fertility Symbols on the Hadley Chests,” The Magazine Antiques (August 1977), p. 256, fig. 9). None of the chests in this subgroup display the mushroom or head-like devices seen on other type 3 chests. Inside the chest, the drawers are side-hung with the channel on the drawer side bisecting the single dovetail joining the drawer side and front. In contrast, subgroup A and B chests have the single dovetail placed either above or below the channel. For a for a full discussion, see Patricia E. Kane, “The Hadley Chest Reappraised,” in Arts of the Anglo-American Community in the Seventeenth Century, Ian M. G. Quimby, ed. (Winterthur, Delaware, 1975), pp. 92-102; Philip Zea, “The Fruits of Oligarchy: Patronage and Joinery in Western Massachusetts, 1630-1730 (MA Thesis, University of Delaware, 1984), p. 118, fn. 1.
The known family histories of the other subgroup C chests strongly suggest that this group originated in a shop in Hatfield, just north of Hadley, Massachusetts. With varying degrees of certainty, six of the nine other subgroup C chests were made for members of the Belding (2), Dickinson, Field, Kellogg, and Meekins families, all of which were among the early settlers of Hatfield and feature as landowners in the town plan of 1661 (Horatio Dana Allis, Genealogy of William Allis of Hatfield, Mass. (Hartford, 1919), p. 3). While the early family history of the chest offered here is unknown, extensive research of Hampshire County genealogical records have revealed only one young woman with the initials LG who was living in the county during the early decades of the eighteenth century. Lydia Graves (1692-1777) was the daughter of Isaac Graves (1655-1740), a prominent figure in Hatfield and as noted by Philip Zea, one of the woodworkers who may have been involved in the production of Hadley chests (Zea 1984, p. 100). Furthermore, Lydia’s grandfather and great uncle, John Graves (1622-1677) and Isaac Graves (c.1620-1677), were, like previous generations of the first owners of subgroup C chests, among those who received land allotments in the layout of Hatfield in 1661. In 1719, Lydia married her second cousin, Thomas Graves (1693-1784) and in the 1730s, the couple moved to Belchertown, Massachusetts.
As recorded on the back of an old photograph, the chest was purchased in New Hampshire and at the time, had many layers of later paint which were removed. The notation bears the initials EHB, for Edward Harris Brewer (1874-1964), the present owner’s great-grandfather and in all likelihood, the chest was part of the renowned collection of his father, Edward Spaulding Brewer (1846-1911). Described in 1893 as “one of the largest and most perfect of exciting collections of furniture, household belongings, china, literature, documents, and other curious pertaining to the colonial period and the earlier years of the United States,” this collection also included an uncarved paint-decorated Hadley chest (“Personal Gossip,” The New York Times, 2 November 1893, accessed online; Christie’s New York, 22 January 2016, lot 56).
The other nine chests in Kane’s type 3, subgroup C classification comprise the following forms with their initials, their presumed first owners and references: HB, Hannah Belding (Luther 11, Kane 48); LB, Lydia Belding, Old Sturbridge Village (Luther 12, Kane 49, Zea 1984, cat. 10); HD, Hepzibah Dickinson (Luther 23, Kane 50, Zea 1984, p. 118); SF, Sarah Field, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 68.176 (Luther 34, Kane 51); SK, Sarah Kellogg (Luther 46, Kane 52, Zea 1984, p. 118); MM, Mary Meekins, Forbes Library, Northampton (Luther 54, Kane 53); SW, Sarah Williams (Luther 96, Kane 54); MS, Smith family (Luther 74, Kane 55); HM, possibly Moody family (Luther 48, Kane 56).