Cedar chests, also called hope chests, are large wooden boxes made with cedar wood. Some hope chests are made from a different outer wood with cedar planks that line the inside. Cedar boxes have a history that dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who used cedar chests to store valuable items such as jewelry and papyrus scrolls. These chests were likely made from cedar timbers imported from Lebanon.
Cedar boxes and chests have been popular throughout world history due to the amazing natural properties of cedar wood. Cedar boxes were brought to America during the great European migrations and took root as an American tradition. Read on to discover the top seven reasons why cedar chests are used.
Table of Contents
1. Cedar Chests are Durable
Aromatic cedar chests have always been used to store valuable items. In every culture where these chests were used, they were usually hidden away with valuable jewels, linens, silver settings, and items locked inside.
Cedarwood grows in very moist and stormy climates. The timber harvested from these trees exhibits the same durability for centuries after it is cut, milled, and finished into a beautiful piece of furniture.
Cedar does not shrink, decay, warp, or swell even in humid or arid conditions. This is unique and enables craftsmen to make pieces of furniture with fine joints and seams that will last for generations.
2. Cedar Chests are Beautiful
The unique properties that make cedar timber so resilient also mean that it does not need to be stained or finished to give it longevity. A craftsman can make an unfinished piece of furniture that lasts hundreds of years.
Cedar chests always have unfinished wood on the interior so that the wood can impart a fresh aromatic scent to the articles inside. Normally this would be detrimental to the wood, and it would slowly decay away. However, cedar planks will be as beautiful 200 years later as they were on the day they were milled.
3. Stored Clothing A Cedar Chest Bug-Repellent
The aromatic cedar planks that are used inside cedar chests naturally repel bugs. This means there is no need to include mothballs or other pest deterrents with the clothing stored inside the box. Moth balls contain chemicals harmful to humans and pets, so keeping clothing bug-free without them is a health benefit.
Items such as woolen sweaters, scarves, and mittens are highly susceptible to decimation by carpet beetles. This is why hope chests have been used for centuries to store bridal trousseaus, household linens, sentimental baby clothing, and other items that would normally become moth-eaten. If they are stored in a cedar box, they will be safe.
This natural bug-repellent benefit of cedar chests made hope chests such a valuable family heirloom throughout the centuries. This is why families made the Atlantic journey with hope chests aboard ship. These chests could contain heirloom lacework, blankets, dresses, books, family Bibles, heritage records, and other priceless valuables that would be safe from insect pests.
These chests could be added to during a woman’s lifetime and passed on to a daughter to keep these heirlooms in the family. Many heirlooms came west on the Oregon Trail safely tucked away in cedar hope chests.
4. Cedar Chests Are Valuable
The value of cedar chests remains stable throughout the years, especially if they are kept in good condition. A new cedar chest is an investment in the future.
Cedar chests in rough condition can be refinished easily if not ornate. The outside can be sanded and stained. A coat of polyurethane keeps the outside looking shiny and new. The interior needs only a light sanding to refresh the aromatic cedar.
The resale value of cedar chests is respectable, even for ones that have not been refinished. As people rediscover the benefits of cedar chests, the value will remain stable and may buoy upward.
5. Cedar Chests are Historic
People use cedar chests because of the historical value of them. Some people use cedar chests passed down in their own families. Others start new cedar chests, intending to become family heirlooms.
These cedar chests join a long history of heirloom cedar chests or hope chests. Many hope chests are gifted to brides as they begin preparing for marriage. Others are given to young ladies in the expectation that they will begin collecting items needed for married life and storing them in the hope chest.
This use of the hope chest comes from Medieval European tradition, in which the bride’s dowry was collected in a cedar chest. The chest would be filled with finery and valuable items brought into the marriage. This tradition was used even for royal marriages, but the chests were made with elaborate carvings and paintings.
In less wealthy families, a box would be constructed for each daughter and carefully decorated over time. As the daughters would learn to sew, spin, knit, and weave, they would make household items over the passing years and store them in the box. By the time they were wed, they would have a nice collection of household linens to use in a new home.
By the 15th century, the Italian Cassone, or marriage chest, represented the high point in the legacy of hope chests. These chests were incredibly elaborate. Famous painters would be paid to decorate these chests with coats of arms, Biblical scenes, mythical scenes, and other art. Some of these pieces still survive in museums.
Interesting fact: the second coffin of King Tutankhamun was made of cedar. The Egyptians did not store only precious jewels and parchments inside cedar. They stored precious people inside it as well. They knew this cedar layer would help preserve the body inside the stone and gold coffins.
6. Cedar Chests Can Serve Multiple Purposes
Another reason people invest in cedar chests is because they are generally small, portable chests that are beautiful and can serve multiple purposes.
- A cedar chest makes a very nice coffee table. Protect the top from dings, rings, and scratches by putting on a protective cloth or a specially-made piece of glass.
- A cedar chest can make a nice bedside table. A cedar chest can double as a nightstand for those with enough bedroom space.
- A cedar chest can make an entryway bench. If the chest sits directly on the floor or has very sturdy legs, it can double as an entryway bench so that people can sit on it to remove shoes before entering the home.
- A cedar chest is a beautiful bench at the end of the bed. This is a traditional placement for a cedar wedding hope chest.
Cedar chests can be used for storing many different things inside. For those unsure that they have room for another piece of furniture, it can help to think of secondary uses that the cedar chest can serve.
7. Cedar is a Sustainable Wood
Cedar trees contribute a huge amount of oxygen to the environment. Young trees uptake more carbon dioxide and emit more net oxygen into the atmosphere than old trees. When older cedar trees are milled for wood, they are replaced by three new cedar trees, thanks to forest conservation initiatives. These trees absorb much more carbon from the atmosphere than the harvested tree.
Also, wood plank production produces less carbon dioxide and uses less energy than any other construction method. Add to that the final benefit that wood decomposes completely, which equals a very environmentally friendly and sustainable way to produce furniture.
A cedar box made sustainably today can be used for several lifetimes, possibly hundreds of years. When the piece’s lifespan is over, it can decompose naturally back into the earth, completing the circle.