The Henry Ford
Henry Ford Museum Greenfield Village IMAX Theatre Benson Ford Research Center Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Explore & Learn
pic archive  

Front view of cupboard
Click on the cupboard for a larger image

March 1997

Press Cupboard: Oak and pine, painted, used by Hannah Barnard (b. 1684 d.1716) of Hadley, Massachusetts
Date: 1710-1720
ID: 36.178.1

Henry and Clara Bryant Ford were building a collection of furniture for The Henry Ford by the 1920s. Agents, antique dealers and admirers urged Henry Ford to purchase beautiful, high-style pieces. As a result, our furniture collection here at The Henry Ford numbers several thousand pieces, and runs the gamut from rare upholstered chairs from the 1600s, to modern Herman Miller furniture we have recently acquired.

But Henry and Clara were also enchanted with imaginative furniture constructed by anonymous artisans that reflected tastes and penchants of those long gone, such as this colorful press cupboard painted for Hannah Barnard of Hadley, Massachusetts. It was a smart choice; today, this press cupboard is quite famous for its glorious decoration (largely original) as well as for the fact that a fair amount is known about Hannah Barnard whose name is emblazoned on the front.

We believe that Hannah Barnard was born in the late 17th century, probably in Hadley, Massachusetts. She was 31 (a "spinster") when she married John Marsh in 1715 and died shortly thereafter giving birth to her daughter, Abigail. We believe that this was Hannah's "marriage" or "dower" chest--a fairly expensive piece of furniture she received or had made specifically to be brought into her new household. Her press cupboard stored precious household linens which were time-consuming to make, and may have held silver or ceramics in the upper portions.

The colorful hearts, petal flowers, vines, and half-circles are characteristic of a number of "Hadley-chests" made around Hadley, Massachusetts nearly three centuries ago. Six of them include women's names painted on the front, such as this. It is unusual for a piece of furniture to be decorated with anyone's name, much less a woman's. Why was her name put on the front?

We're not sure. Perhaps, after thirty years as a Barnard, did Hannah not want to forget her family name as she entered into marriage with Mr. Marsh? Or did it mark the fact that Hannah was well aware that while women could not inherit property, they could inherit moveable furniture? Did she ask that her name be painted there? Or was she surprised and embarrassed when she received it from her family or her betrothed?

We can only speculate. What we do know is that it is one of the few pieces of furniture that we can say was made for, and used by a woman.

The Hannah Barnard press cupboard is currently on display in the Fully Furnished exhibit in Henry Ford Museum.


Copyright © 2015 The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford is an AAM accredited institution. The complex is an independent, non-profit, educational
institution not affiliated with the Ford Motor Company or the Ford Foundation.