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During the early part of the 19th century (1820 – 1840), Pennsylvania German craftsman, living along the river valleys near Schwaben Creek joining Northumberland and Schuykill Counties, built some of the most highly decorated, painted furniture known to the antique world. This assembly of pieces – there are some 57 pieces attributed to this area – is known as Mahantongo Valley furniture.
Pieces considered to be part of this group include blanket chests, cupboards, desks, hanging pieces and chests of drawers, decorated with motifs of angels, birds, horses, geometric designs, flowers and stamped rosettes (Fig. 1). (Some of the designs were etched into the surface, and may have been from stencils.) It’s common to find examples – the most sought-after pieces – with many of the designs added, but sometimes the pieces are limited to only a few embellishments. And the construction and paint decoration comes from a variety of cabinetmakers and painters.
Paint decoration is in vibrant colors of green, red, yellow and blue and is thought to be modeled after important documents to the communities, such as taufscheine (baptismal certificates)(Fig. 2). Winterthur’s Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory analyzed five pieces at the museum to determine that the base color of those pieces is Prussian blue, although many of the pieces appear to be painted on a field of green. (Yellowing varnish turns blue into green as time passes.) Other base colors include red and yellow.
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