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How to Start a Hope Chest for Your Children or Grandchildren

Updated on November 22, 2016
The author's current "hope chest" - now mostly filled with years of writing materials, poetry and scribbles that no one has ever seen, etc.  Source:  Sharyn's Slant
The author's current "hope chest" - now mostly filled with years of writing materials, poetry and scribbles that no one has ever seen, etc. Source: Sharyn's Slant

What is a Hope Chest?

Traditionally, a hope chest is a wooden chest or trunk that would store special items for a bride to use when she got married. Although, over time, the tradition has changed.

History of the Tradition

The tradition has evolved out of necessity. Centuries ago, when families attempted to arrange the marriages of their children, a groom’s family that was wealthy offered the bride’s family money and material possessions such as a piece of land to secure her hand in marriage. The bride’s family, in turn, would supply the new couple with material things they needed to begin their new life together.

The gift from the bride’s family was called a dowry and could be quite elaborate to include items such as expensive

  • silverware
  • china
  • linens
  • furniture
  • appliances

Yet even if the bride’s family could not afford luxurious dowries, they still wished to offer the groom what they could to symbolize the significance of marrying and taking care of their daughter.

This chest is at least 125 years old.  It was handed down through generations on my mother's side.  It is in my father's basement and currently holds vintage Christmas decorations.  Source:  Sharyn's Slant
This chest is at least 125 years old. It was handed down through generations on my mother's side. It is in my father's basement and currently holds vintage Christmas decorations. Source: Sharyn's Slant

A hope chest could also be known as a...

  • dowry chest
  • cedar chest
  • glory box
  • bridal trousseau
  • wedding chest

Handcrafted Hope Chests

Hope chests were often built for young girls by their fathers who would spend countless hours creating and decorating this special gift. In many cases, they would become a family heirloom as they were passed down from mother to daughter.

Daughters were taught by their mothers how to sew, knit, crochet and embroider at an early age. In preparation for marriage, young women would accumulate a collection of their handcrafted items to store in a special chest.

This chest was a symbol of hope for the future. It would contain items such as quilts, linens, aprons, and even lingerie. The box and its contents would become part of the new bride's household.

I don't know the history of this chest.  It's been around for at least 40 years.  It is in my father's basement filled with mostly photographs now.  Source:  Sharyn's Slant
I don't know the history of this chest. It's been around for at least 40 years. It is in my father's basement filled with mostly photographs now. Source: Sharyn's Slant

The Lane Furniture Company

The tradition began to lose its popularity in the U.S. by the beginning of the 20th century. But during World War I which began in 1914, the government offered a contract to the Lane Furniture Company to build ammunition boxes for the military out of pine. Once the war was over, the assembly process transformed to production and promotion of cedar boxes. And hope chests became popular again for many decades through World War II in the 1940s and beyond.

Since then, the tradition has somewhat gone astray. Although today, hope chests are seeing a resurgence and change of purpose.

This chest is about 40 years old and currently holds more photo albums at my father's house.  Source:  Sharyn's Slant
This chest is about 40 years old and currently holds more photo albums at my father's house. Source: Sharyn's Slant

Have you ever had your own hope chest?

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Does It Have to Be a Wooden Chest?

No, absolutely not! A hope chest could be any chest or storage trunk-type piece of furniture. But it could also be something like a toy box. It could be a cardboard box. It could even be a plastic under-the-bed storage container. In fact, hope chest items don’t really need a chest at all. A simple shelf in a closet will do!

Today, Not Just for Girls

Nowadays, hope chests serve different purposes. Why not start a hope chest for your son or grandson? Although many people still believe in the old tradition that a hope chest is for young girls prior to their marriage, today, they are thought of as a collection of items to be used when children leave their parents' house.

Therefore, girls and boys accumulate items that they can take with them into adulthood.

Modern hope chest that boys would appreciate too!
Modern hope chest that boys would appreciate too! | Source

What to Include in a Hope Chest

There is no right or wrong items to include. The idea is to accumulate and store special things that will be used by the girl or boy recipient in their adulthood.

Keep in mind that tastes for specific décor will change over time, so try to avoid specific schemes. In addition, they should include mementos and family keepsakes.

Ideas for Items to Include in a Hope Chest

PRACTICAL ITEMS
SENTIMENTAL ITEMS
Blankets and quilts
Christening gown
Bed linens
Old diaries, cards and love letters
Dresser scarves
Heirloom wedding dress
Table clothes, napkins & runners
Firsts: stuffed animal, X-mas ornament, etc.
Towels
Favorites: blankie, toy, etc.
Aprons
Family recipes
Silverware and dishware
Special cookbooks
Cookware
Childhood books and school projects
Cooking utensils
Family bible and religious items
Tools and tool box
Photos and videos
New (future) baby items
Vintage jewerly
Silver and Gold
Scrapbooks
Books
Crocheted and knitted items
Sewing basket
Handmade items
Safety items such as smoke alarms
Handwritten notes about the significance of the specific hope chest items
Source: Created by Sharyn's Slant

Do you plan on starting a hope chest?

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Preserving Memories and Creating New Ones through a Hope Chest

Anyone can start a hope chest. You can even create one for yourself!

It is a place to store keepsakes, preserve memories and make new ones for future generations. Have fun creating your special treasure.

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    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      I didn't exactly have a hope chest, but inherited my grandmother cedar hope chest when I was older. It is beautiful and I have now given it to one of my sons. This is an old tradition but timely always. This is a great idea that you can work on over a period of time if the expense is a problem Very nice hub. Voted up.

    • Lilleyth profile image

      Suzanne Sheffield 4 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

      I think it is a wonderful tradition for a family to follow.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Sharyn...I am so glad you wrote this. I haven't even heard the word, "hope Chest" mentioned since I was in High School, as my Mom created a Hope Chest for my sister and I. It was such an exciting thing for a young woman and I appreciated the traditional aspect of it. I still have my chest, which is filled with various memorabilia....and I really have no good excuse for never having thought to start a hope chest for my granddaughter (I know her Mom hasn't done so, although she has every intention to pass on some family treasure to her daughter when she has her own home. But, of course, that's not the same as the once precious Hope chest. Great hub and perhaps you've just encouraged a rekindling!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Pam ~ I agree that this is something that you can work on over time and it does not have to be costly to add new items to the hope chest. Thank you so much for your feedback. I hope your son enjoys your grandmother's cedar chest.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Lilleyth ~ I really think it's a wonderful tradition too. Thank you so much for stopping by to read and comment.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Paula ~ You haven't talked about a Hope Chest since high school? :) I'm happy to hear that you and your sis had one. And starting one for your grand daughter is an awesome idea. It definitely is something to be cherished. If I've "rekindled" the idea, great, cuz it's a good one. Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      My husband refinished my mother-in-laws hope chest as a Christmas gift. She loved the completed work and stores many family treasures inside. I think your suggested list is a nice add and gives great ideas on how to use the chest for keepsakes.

    • sunkentreasure profile image

      BERNARD LEVINE 4 years ago from RUIMSIG, SOUTH AFRICA

      PRECIOUS CHILDREN By BERNARD LEVINE

      Bless your children with the power of prayer

      Celebrate their uniqueness

      Feed them encouragement and inspiration

      and let them feel they are greatly loved.

      Teach your children the beauty of kindness

      Enrich them with the wonders of nature

      Fill their hearts with joyful melody

      and always be their friend.

      Clothe your children in goodness

      Make their world full of nice surprises

      Help them to follow their dreams

      and thank God they came into your life.

      © Bernard Levine

    • HoneyBB profile image

      Honey Halley 4 years ago from Illinois

      Hi, when I was young I always wished somebody would make me a Hope Chest. It has some kind of romance to it. I also wanted to give one to my daughter but never had the opportunity and now with my son, I guess the plastic bins filled with all his old toys, school papers, and books could be considered his hope chest. Thanks for sharing Voted+++

    • profile image

      ignugent17 4 years ago

      I am not familiar with hope chest and it is very interesting to know about the tradition behind.

      Thanks for sharing the informatiion. :-)

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi teaches ~ Aww, that's so nice that your husband refinished his mom's hope chest. Very special. Hope chests are great for storing family treasures to be passed down through generations. Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Awesome and voted up. What a wonderful idea. I have so many keepsakes for my daughter and they are scattered throughout our house. I really ought to do something like this for her. Thanks for bringing this to us. Shared as well.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Bernard ~ simply beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi HoneyBB ~ there definitely is some sort of "romance" that comes from the tradition of the hope chest. Personally, I don't feel a hope chest has to be a specific wooden box or trunk. I think plastic bins works just fine. Thank you so much for your feedback.

      Sharyn

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      My mom started a "hope chest" for me when I was sixteen. The first items she put in there were a beautiful set of towels and a hand painted tablecloth. I still have the table cloth. I added to it over the years and had quite a bit of stuff when I move out on my own. My hubby made a "hope chest" in high school shop. Our daughter now has that one. I still have mine and have so many keep sakes in there. It will be our daughters one day and I am sure she will treasure it and it's contents. Wonderful hub! Up and awesome. :)

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi ignugent17 ~ so you've never heard of a hope chest. Well I am happy to help you learn about this special tradition. Thank you so much for stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Glimmer ~ Thank you for the compliments. Your daughter will definitely appreciate the keepsakes you are saving for her. Doesn't matter if they are in a "box." Thanks for sharing this.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi SG ~ That is so cool you still have the table cloth. And so neat that your daughter has a chest that your husband made in school. What awesome memories.

      My mom had things put away for my sisters and I as our "hope chest." I was in my mid twenties when I finally asked my mom if I could please use the nice silverware she bought me. I wasn't married and kind of had to beg, but she let me use it :) I appreciate you stopping by, thank you.

      Sharyn

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      What a cool idea! I love your explanations of what a hope chest is and I might have to start one sometime. :) I used to have a chest when I was younger, but it was storage for seasonal clothes. Hehe. Very cool!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      Such a lovely idea. My aunt actually gave me a hope chest that my late uncle had purchased at an antique sale and refinished. It's truly beautiful, with craftsmanship you never see these days. She has now passed on too, but I have the hope chest and will keep it forever.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi CC ~ definitely, you should start a hope chest. It can be for yourself, why not? Even if you simply store special keepsakes to be passed on through generations, that is a wonderful gift to yourself as well as whomever receives it. Thank you so much for your stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Crystal ~ that is so awesome that you ended up with an antique hope chest. I love those pieces of furniture with unique craftsmanship that you cannot find anywhere else. I can tell you will cherish it forever. Thanks so much for your feedback.

      Sharyn

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 4 years ago from Indiana

      I remember as a small child being in awe of my mother's hope chest. She would occasionally open it and show us some of the wedding gifts and linens she had. I have since inherited her and love having it my bedroom. Very nice hub on a beautiful tradition!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Kris ~ That is so cool that you have your mother's hope chest. What an awesome keepsake that you can pass on to others as well. Thank you so much for your feedback!

      Sharyn

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

      I love the hope chests that you have pictured. They do remind me of the hope chests that some of my friends had in high school. I thoroughly enjoyed your hub, and love the idea of starting a hope chest for young girls and boys.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Stephanie ~ Thanks! The really old chest really looks kind of "dumpy" in the photos, but in person, it is really kind of neat. I'm glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Always wanted a hope chest when I was a young teenager but never had one. Once I was married I had an old family trunk given to me which I've filled with blankets. I suppose I could start hope chests for my sons, in hopes that they soon marry and leave the nest :)

      Enjoyed your hub as always. Great job!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hiya SZ ~ I hope you don't mind that I giggled when reading the end of your comment. Now, it is totally appropriate to have a hope chest for males also. And sure, you could start one for kids in the 20's to help push them out the door, ha. Why not! Thanks so much for sharing this article.

      Sharyn

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 4 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Sharyn I enjoyed this hub very much. It brought back memories of my own hope chest before I got married 43 years ago. I am starting one now for my grand niece who is graduating from high school in a few months. I plan to collect a set of Blue Ridge Pottery dishes for her. That will be a great starting point for her hope chest.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Thelma ~ So happy to hear this brought back good memories for you. Your grand niece is lucky that you are starting one for her. No doubt she will cherish the contents and your thoughtfulness. Thank you so much for stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • Little Grandmommy profile image

      Gail 4 years ago from Small Town Tennessee

      Very nice hub. Very good idea! Thumbs up!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Grandmommy ~ great to meet you. So glad you enjoyed this hub. Thank you so much for stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 4 years ago

      I've never heard of a hope chest before Sharyn

      I'm happy I came across your hub and how it can

      be beneficial for kids

      Voted up

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      What a great idea! I think Mine was the last generation to have a hope chest. My husband actually bought it for me for my birthday and my Mom and I filled it up. Of course I still have it, but I never thought of doing it again...with two granddaughters this is a great idea.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Torrilynn ~ Hope Chests are a great idea and still common today. I'm glad you liked this hub. Thanks for stopping by!

      Sharyn

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      This is neat. I had an old chest when I was a kid that I called my hope chest. I had various dishes and things I was saving. I used the stuff in my first apartment away from home! Many votes on this one!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
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      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Mary ~ When you say your generation was the last to have a hope chest, I'm not sure how old you are but my sisters and I had a hope chest. But it's becoming more popular again today. I hope you decide to start one for your grand daughters. What a wonderful gift that would be. Thank you so much for your great feedback.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Vicki ~ It's fun to hear that you had a hope chest growing up. That's exactly what I did - use what I had "saved" in my first apartment. Thanks so much for your feedback and votes.

      Sharyn

    • wabash annie profile image

      wabash annie 4 years ago from Colorado Front Range

      What a wonderful hub!!!! I loved your family's hope chest ... the picture was beautiful. My mother had a hope chest ... I wrote some 'yummy' recipe hubs. These recipes were taken from her notes found in that chest. I acquired vintage chests for my three children when they were just babies and they love them too. Thanks for writing about these chests and I hope your ideas give your readers incentives to find them for their own keepsakes.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Annie ~ I love your story about finding recipes in your mom's hope chest. I know what it is like to come across those treasures. I do hope that others continue this fun and meaningful tradition. Thanks so much for your feedback!

      Sharyn

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      That's beautiful. Awesome.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 3 years ago from Midwest

      I love this. My grandmother made one for me and I still have it. It had some odds and ends in it, I can't really remember all of it, but the chest itself and the symbolism is what I held dear to my heart. :)

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
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      Sharon Smith 3 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi WiccanSage ~ thank you! I appreciate you stopping by!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 3 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi ChristinS ~ You are very lucky to still have the chest from your grandmother. I'm sure you cherish it dearly. Thank you so much for your comments!

      Sharyn

    • Howie Watts profile image

      Howie Watts 3 years ago

      Ironic that I stumbled upon your article. I was just asking my wife a few days ago if girls still had hope chest's these days. I have two older sisters and I do recall that they did indeed have hope chests. That was the 70's and well...the world is much different. I have two older daughters, 30 and 28, that I do not recall having a hope chest. For some reason though, while out shopping with my wife, I saw a trunk and thought... that would make a nice hope chest for my daughter who is now 14. When I asked my wife, well, she was not sure if girls still did that these days either. After landing here and reading your hub, I guess I can report back to her that the tradition is indeed still alive and well :-)

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 3 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Howie,

      Sorry it took me so long to respond to your comment. I'm so glad you found this article. I hope you and your wife have started a hope chest for your 14 year old daughter. But, just a thought, why not start a sort of hope chest for your older girls as well. Begin to fill it with family treasures you want to make sure are passed down through the generations.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your great comment!

      Sharyn

    • Howie Watts profile image

      Howie Watts 3 years ago

      That is a great idea :-)

    • profile image

      Doris Clipston 2 years ago

      Hi. I

      I have three granddaughters, ages16,13 n 5. Gave my eldest my old hope chest. My husband lined it with cedar as it was an old seafaring trunk my gramma gave me at 16. Vix asked me about the tradition last fall, so kids are are talking about it. I have started picking up treasures for her. My aim is to get her kitchen set up. The kitchen is the heart of a family in my French and Irish family. So excited to be part of this. Planning on doing it for all three girls. Grandson also but papa will be concentration on tools etc.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      That is really awesome Doris. I love to hear that you are creating hope chests for your grand daughters and also your grandson. That is very special and something they will remember forever. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. Best wishes!

      Sharyn

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 18 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Wonderful idea and tradition that has evolved to include the sons as well. I have the hope chest from my 95 year old auntie and its a Lane cedar chest with a waterfall top. Love storing my treasured vintage items inside. Pinned your Antique Trunk photo!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Peg,

      Your hope chest sounds beautiful!!! Thank you so much for pinning this article. Happy Holidays!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 18 months ago from America

      We had a hope chest for our daughter. It was something I had always wanted. Be very careful if you buy an antique hope chest. Years ago two little girls in Wisconsin climbed into a hope chest and couldn't get out they suffocated. Lane's chest were one of the chests with a button that had to be pushed to get out they are air tight and you couldn't get out from the inside.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
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      Sharon Smith 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Moonlake,

      Wow, that's horrible. Let's hope that never happens again. The newer chests that I have do not have any type of open/close hardware on them, they just lift up. Thanks for your feedback. Happy Holidays!

      Sharyn

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