Gulielma Penn’s Dressing Box

Sharing the Common Wealth showcases objects, artifacts, documents, structures and buildings from the collections of PHMC.

Gulielma Penn’s dressing box at Pennsbury Manor. Pennsbury Manor/Photo by Thomas Heller

 

Gulielma Maria Springett Penn never lived in Pennsylvania. When her husband William Penn, founder and proprietor of the colony, made his first trip from England to America in 1682, she was too ill to make the journey with him. She had been deceased for five years before Penn’s second trip in 1699. Although Gulielma was unable to ever experience the splendor of the Penn country estate on the Delaware River north of Philadelphia, an object that represents her now resides at the reconstructed Pennsbury Manor.

For years this circa 1650 dressing box, with provenance listing Gulielma as its first owner, was preserved at Jordans Quaker Meeting House in Buckinghamshire, England, where William and Gulielma were married in 1672 and later buried, along with Penn’s second wife Hannah and 10 of his children. Made in England the dressing box is 18 x 15 1⁄4 x 9 inches and constructed of ebonized oak at the top and pine at the base. A compartment on the upper section can be accessed by a hinged lid. Two hinged doors on the front open to reveal a series of 10 drawers and a central hinged cabinet door. Mounted on the front panels of the drawers and on the hinged doors are delicate miniature pictures of allegorical scenes painted on mother of pearl, or perhaps abalone.

A label on the box indicates that it belonged to Gulielma and then several other owners until 1785. There are no records indicating when it first arrived at Jordans, but in 2005 the box came to America as a loan to the Pennsbury Society, the nonprofit membership organization that provides support to Pennsbury Manor. Two years later the box was officially donated to the society. In 2014 the society in turn donated the box to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The box is now on exhibit at Pennsbury Manor and joins a pewter charger as the second object at the site with provenance to Gulielma Penn.

 

Kyle R. Weaver is the editor of Pennsylvania Heritage.