Painted and Decorated Poplar Black Unicorn Chest, inscribed "Bern, Berks County [Pennsylvania], Adam Minnich 1796," the dovetailed case with molded edges and a hinged top over two thumbmolded drawers on a molded base with a central drop and straight bracket feet; the original surface of blue-green ground has designs and geometric patterns in red, black, ivory and yellow enclosed by painted sawtooth edges and includes heavy red and black moldings and mottling; the facade consists of three arcaded panels the central of which shows two black confronting unicorns, separated by an urn issuing tulips and brown foliate devices topped with a yellow and black sovereign crown; the unicorns, bearing their teeth and red serpent-like tongues, with red horns and red birds atop their heads are joined by a red chain draped over their shoulders, all enclosed in a segmented tombstone border; this panel is flanked by two tombstone panels depicting opposed pairs of rampant lions topped with red and yellow sovereign crowns; all separated by red and yellow urns issuing tulips; the top and sides are decorated primarily with colorful pinwheels and other geometric shapes; the German printing in red paint on the facade translates into English to read: "Adam Menick in Bern Berks County in the year 1796," old replaced brasses, old surface, (restoration to base), ht. 25 3/4, wd. 50, dp. 23 1/4 in.
Note: The 1810 census lists an Adam Menick (born between 1765 and 1784) living in Bern Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. The early settlers of Pennsylvania produced such chests to contain household items gathered for a woman's impending marriage, and painted and decorated the chests with symbols from German folklore. They were often inscribed with a woman's or a man's name.
Literature: The Magazine Antiques October 1991 article, "Black Unicorn Chests of Berks County Pennsylvania," by Patricia Keller, pp. 593-605, pictures a very similar example, plates XIV and XIVa. This example, attributed in the article to Maker H and Decorator 4, is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Skinner gratefully acknowledges the cataloguing assistance provided by Peter Seibert, President, Heritage Center, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; and Clark E. Hess and Alan Keyser.