This blanket chest is the earliest example of sulfur inlaid furniture from Virginia. It is one of at least four related chests made between 1788 and 1793 in Shenandoah County, Virginia. It was made in 1788 for Abraham Käge (sometimes spelled Kägey). Abraham was born in Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1764. When he was four years old his family journeyed down the Great Wagon Road to Virginia. The Käge family was predominantly Mennonite, though at least one of Abraham’s brothers was a Dunkard.
On January 10, 1801, Abraham married Anna Neff, the daughter of Jacob Neff; Her name is written in pencil or chalk on the lid of the till. Abraham’s brother Christian (1776-1834) married Anna’s cousin Catherine Neff (1777-1872). The two girls were actually double cousins: their fathers were brothers, and their mothers were sisters. Like the Käge family, the Neffs were German Mennonites who settled in southeastern Pennsylvania before decamping to the Shenandoah Valley.
The Neff and Käge families were also closely related to the Graybill family. The MESDA Craftsmen Database records at least four members of that family who self-identified as carpenters, gunsmiths, and blacksmiths. These were the same trades practiced by Godfrey Wilkins in northern Shenandoah County who made a sulfur inlaid blanket chest that is now in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum.
SULFUR: To date more than one hundred pieces of sulfur inlaid furniture have been identified, ranging in date from 1764 to 1805. The blanket chests, schranks, corner cupboards, clock cases, and other furniture, inlaid with sulfur demonstrate the flow of a particular decorative technique among the Pennsylvania German communities up and down the Great Wagon Road. Of those with firm regional attributions, roughly ninety-five percent were made in the region surrounding Lancaster County. However, regional pockets of sulfur inlay on furniture have been observed outside of Pennsylvania in the areas surrounding Washington County, Maryland; Shenandoah County, Virginia; and Alamance County, North Carolina.