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.