CONSTRUCTION: All dovetails are wedged. Drawer sides are all thick and slightly beveled/rounded at top. The back board on the large central drawer is nailed on, not dovetailed–unusual construction since other two drawer backs are attached in the usual dovetailed fashion.
MAKER: This chest over drawers is among the finest examples of paint-decorated furniture made in the South. It was most likely a product of the Jacob Anthony (1745-1835) shop, which included Jacob’s son Henry Anthony (ca. 1777-1862), and probably Adam Reitzel (1779-1855) and his younger brother George (1790-1856). These men were all Germans whose families had migrated from Pennsylvania to settle on Stinking Quarter Creek in Alamance (then Orange) County.
The Anthony shop attribution is based on construction similarities between the decorated chest and a walnut chest now at the North Carolina Museum of History, which came down through the Anthony family, along with Anthony family woodworking planes. The foot profile on the two chests is identical as is the use of two wedged dovetails to join the drawer fronts and sides.
The Reitzel family involvement with the Anthonys is based on the fact that Adam Reitzel was an executor of Jacob Anthony’s 1828 will, along with Jacob’s son Henry Anthony. When Adam Reitzel died in 1853, his estate inventory included 18 planes, a workbench, 17 chisels, and other woodworking tools. Another definite link between this chest and the Reitzel family is an inscription on a similar paint-decorated chest made in the same shop and decorated by the same hand, but in much more compromised condition. Scribbled on the till lid is “Josiah C. Foster the 10 of October 1849.” In the 1850 census, 19-year-old Josiah Foster was living in the Adam Reitzel household in Guilford County, on Stinking Quarter Creek, just across the Guilford/Alamance line.
The “GR” on the front of the chest are likely the initials of Adam’s younger brother, George Reitzel, who himself was a woodworker, probably trained by Jacob Anthony or his own brother Adam Reitzel. When George died in 1856 in Randolph County, his estate inventory included 1 glue pot, 210 feet of walnut plank, 15 planes, and a workbench.
DECORATOR: It is very possible that the maker and decorator of this chest were two different people. Perhaps its decoration was executed by another German living in the region, someone like John Spoon, a known fraktur artist, or one of the local German potters from the Loy or Albright families, who were very familiar with Germanic decorative motifs.