Lift-top chest inscribed to Frederick Kleh, 1795


Bern Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania, 1795. White pine, poplar, original wrought iron strap hinges, original iron lock, original painted decoration, 21 x 49 ½ x 23 inches

Translation of painted Germanic inscription “Frit rich Im iah (/) 1795 20 meerz” is Frederick Kleh in the year 1795 the 20 March”

According to Lisa Minardi, Kleh is very likely a phonetic spelling of Klee/Clay; a popular surname in Bern Township, with numerous members intermarrying with the Blatt and Grim families.

With its distinctive form with wide short feet, drop pendant, and original painted decoration combing rampant black unicorns in combination with upright lions, this chest belongs to a rare group of five chests that share common authorship and that Patricia J. Keller has attributed to cabinetmaker “H” and decorator “4” in her article “Black–Unicorn Chests of Berks County, Pennsylvania,” The Magazine Antiques, October 1991, pp. 592-605.
The other chests from this group include:

  1. Lift top chest over drawers inscribed to Adam Minnich, 1796, private collection, illustrated in Skinner, Inc, “American Furniture and decorative Arts,” November 4-6, 2006, lot 700.
  2. Lift top chest over drawers inscribed to Maria Grim, 1796, Philadelphia Museum of Art, illustrated in Keller, Pl. XIV, p. 604.
  3. Lift-top chest inscribed to Johannes Gee, 1788, private collection, illustrated in Keller, Pl. XIII and XIIIa, p. 603.
  4. Lift-top chest inscribed to Frederick Heiser, 1799, private collection, illustrated in Monroe H. Fabian, The Pennsylvania–German Decorated Chest (Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2004), p. 205.

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