Lynda Hal­li­nan:

the glory box gets a manly makeover


In March of 1912, it was the talk of the town­ships. “A new fad,” de­clared the head­line in the Taranaki Daily News, Wan­ganui Herald, Cen­tral Otago Gazette, Oa­maru Mail and South­land Times. In the Manawatu Times, this trend fea­tured on page seven, in a col­umn sand­wiched be­tween an ad­ver­tise­ment for Van Houten’s Co­coa – “for Strength, Pu­rity, Di­gestibil­ity and De­li­cious Flavour” – and a re­port about the local chrysan­the­mum show.

“Amer­i­can girls,” wrote the anony­mous cor­re­spon­dent, “meet at dif­fer­ent homes, spend the af­ter­noon work­ing for what they call their ‘hope chest’ and then have a so­cia­ble cup of tea. The girls of for­mer days have done much the same work with the same hopes, but only the mod­ern girl (who re­ally is far less in­clined to feel that mar­riage is her only am­bi­tion) has given it this name.”

Un­til then, the hope chest was more com­monly called “the bot­tom drawer”, be­cause that’s where most brides-in-wait­ing kept their best linen. Also known as a glory box or trousseau, from the French for “truss” or “bun­dle”, it was a so­cial bank ac­count of sorts, a place where young women could as­sem­ble house­wifery es­sen­tials be­fore mar­riage ne­ces­si­tated their res­ig­na­tion from paid work.

In the United States, hope chests were tra­di­tion­ally cut from moth-re­pel­lent cedar wood. The most fa­mous man­u­fac­turer was The Lane Com­pany of Vir­ginia, whose pro­duc­tion lines crafted lock­able am­mu­ni­tion boxes for the mil­i­tary and glory boxes for war brides. Their pop­u­lar­ity soared when Shirley Tem­ple signed on as a brand am­bas­sador, and mil­lions were sold. But in 1996, all those an­tique chests – some made as far back as 1912 – were re­called for re­pair af­ter Lane’s patented au­to­matic latch­ing sys­tem caused the deaths of six chil­dren who climbed in­side and suf­fo­cated.

In New Zealand, the clas­si­fied ad­ver­tise­ments in the Na­tional Li­brary’s Pa­pers Past ar­chive sug­gest that the hope chest’s pop­u­lar­ity peaked in the 1920s. (In 1923, they even made it into a lit­tle lug­gage joke in the union­ist paper The Mao­ri­land Worker: “A mat­ri­mo­nial farce in three acts! Act I. Glory box. Act II. Hon­ey­moon trunk. Act lll. Di­vorce case.”)

In those days, it was gen­er­ally ac­cepted that every new­ly­wed needed: six dou­ble sheets, eight sin­gle sheets, 12 pil­low slips, 12 nap­kins, five coloured and six white bath tow­els, six table­cloths, six dusters and 12 tea tow­els. Lace doilies were op­tional. Young ladies were urged to “hem the bot­tom and scal­lop the tops” of their sheets and, if their em­broi­dery skills were up to it, add their mono­gram too.

My mother-in-law, Mau­reen, reck­ons she got mar­ried in the wrong era. “My hope chest was full of plas­tic con­tain­ers,” she sighs. Money was tight in 1969 when she eloped all the way from West Auck­land to the down­town reg­istry of­fice, celebrating af­ter­wards with a small re­cep­tion for “10 peo­ple at the pub”. None­the­less, my in-laws have just cel­e­brated their 48th wed­ding an­niver­sary, and Mau­reen’s pantry is still well-stocked with Tup­per­ware.

Like so many mod­ern-day de facto cou­ples, my hus­band and I were al­ready liv­ing to­gether when we got mar­ried; we didn’t need an ex­tra toaster or an elec­tric ket­tle, let alone a hope chest filled with sil­ver cut­lery and Crown Lynn crock­ery. It’s a shame, re­ally, be­cause the spirit of the hope chest – and all that hap­pi­lyever-af­ter op­ti­mism it rep­re­sented – is surely as rel­e­vant as ever. I of­ten think it would be handy to keep all those do­mes­tic es­sen­tials, such as a Phillips screw­driver, a de­cent gar­lic crusher and

The spirit of the hope chest is surely as rel­e­vant as ever.

Fresh bay leaves keep the in­sects away.

a set of Allen keys for as­sem­bling flat-pack fur­ni­ture, in one place.

I re­cently bought a pair of wooden chests in which to store the pre­cious me­men­toes of my sons’ early years, from their ul­tra­sound scans to their first hand-knit­ted baby booties. As they grow up, I’ll add their best (and worst) art­works, school re­ports and a se­lec­tion of em­bar­rass­ing fam­ily pho­tos for their 21st par­ties. But while care­fully fold­ing their new­born one­sies, I had a brain­wave. Per­haps I could start a new fad: the hope chest for prospec­tive husbands. Why not source a se­lec­tion of manly must-haves for our boys?

While it’s no longer con­sid­ered kosher to pluck the bris­tles off the bums of un­sus­pect­ing bad­gers to make shav­ing brushes, every mod­ern man surely needs a good pais­ley neck tie, a pair of cuff­links and a Swiss Army pock­etknife, not to men­tion a set of bil­liard balls, a de­cent tape mea­sure and a vin­tage spirit level so their pictures don’t hang crooked.

I’ve also stocked my sons’ hope chests with wooden clothes pegs, a dish­brush, a can opener and a darn­ing nee­dle to fix the holes in their socks. And, for the sake of the sis­ter­hood, I’ve also slipped in some light read­ing: Betty Friedan’s The Fem­i­nine Mys­tique, Celia Lash­lie’s He’ll Be Ok and The

Hus­band, from the satir­i­cal La­dy­bird How it Works se­ries. (Pic­tured, on page six: “This is a hus­band. He may look com­pli­cated, but he is in fact very sim­ple. He runs on sausages and beer.”)

In 1930, the Otago Daily Times’ Notes for Women urged hope chest col­lec­tors to think out­side the linen cup­board, and turn their at­ten­tion to the kitchen in­stead, sew­ing aprons out of sugar bags and com­pil­ing col­lec­tions of favourite recipes from mar­ried friends: “A large ex­er­cise book into which recipes may be copied will soon be­come of more prac­ti­cal use to her [the bride-elect] than any cook­ery book, for she will have per­son­ally tested all the recipes, and of greater in­ter­est for ev­ery­one will be a re­minder of this or that friend who had as­sisted to com­pile it.”

It’s time­less ad­vice. For the price of a 1B5, I’ll be able to send my boys out into the world, safe in the knowl­edge that they, too, can bake good scones, whip up a pav and cook a hearty Sun­day roast. Their fu­ture wives can thank me later.

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