Captivating Curiosities Uncovered: Mahantongo Valley Furniture

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(Fig. 1) Furniture from around the Schwaben Valley creek includes images of angels, children, animals and more, all painted in vibrant , strong colors.

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.

Important Motifs

(Fig. 2) Motifs painted on Mahantongo Valley furniture were copied from documents, such as baptismal certificates, important to the Pennsylvania Germanic peoples living in the region.

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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2 thoughts on “Captivating Curiosities Uncovered: Mahantongo Valley Furniture

  1. I like this piece a lot. The apparent simplicity of the parts is very attractive. So, I have to ask, is this chest of drawers deceptively simple to build?

  2. Seen this book:

    A good read if you are interested in the Pennsylvania Dutch, Anabaptist and associated groups and how they brought along their old-world ideas into the new world.

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