Sunday, 4 August 2013

Two identical chests from the citymuseum of Koln

There are two large identical medieval chests in the city museum of Cologne, Germany  (Kolnischen Stadtmuseum), which originate from the medieval tax office. The chests were used to hold the payments and taxes, as well as the documents relating to it. One stood in the so-called 'Wednesday' tax room, the other in the 'Saturday' tax room. At each office (and day) different types of taxes and rents were collected, for instance rents or wine and beer taxes.

 The chest of the Wednesday tax office: height 108.5 cm, width 185 cm and depth 62 cm.

The chest of the Saturday tax office: height 110 cm, width 190 cm and depth 62 cm.

Both chests have the look of a hutch type chest, though the construction is partly different. They are made of oak and reinforced with iron bands. The wood of the chests has been dendrochronologically dated at either 1296 or 1410 +/- 5 years. As the latter date coincides with the date of the furnishing of the City council tower in 1414 (the place where the chests were kept), this is the most likely construction date. Wood from the same tree has been used for both chests. What is most astonishing is that all sides of the chests are made of single planks, with a thickness between 3 and 4 cm. They show cracks nowadays, and some have been completely split, but you can still see by the continuing grain pattern or the irregularity of the split that they once were one piece. Thus, the tree providing all the boards must have been very large .... (at least by modern standards).

Left: The side of the 'Wednesday' tax chest, the side board is split in two, as is the lid. No dowels are visible on the side. Right:  The floor board is also a single piece of wood. The underside of the 'Wednesday' tax chest. There used to be a wooden rail in the middle supporting the floor board (see light coloured wood and holes).  You can see that the sawn-out front decoration is thinner than the  main board and inserted in a groove. At the back of the photos the other tax chest can be seen.

Furthermore, no dowels can be seen that secure the sides to the front legs or the front legs to the front board. Although for the latter the place where dowels are to be expected is a bit obscured by the iron bands to be absolutely sure of the absence of dowels. It is most likely that the complete chest is hold together by iron nails - a more primitive construction than dowels.

Left: The left decorative 'triangle' of the 'Wednesday' tax chest. Right: The same corner for the 'Saturday' tax chest. You can see part of the groove where the 'triangle' is attached to the leg.

The decorative 'triangles' are part of the front board. Looking at both chests feels like looking at 'find the 10 differences' images. One of those differences is that the Saturday chest also has some decoration on the lower parts of the sides, while the Wednesday chest does not have elaborate carvings. Furthermore, there is a small size difference between both chests.

The decorated underside of the side board of the 'Saturday' tax chest which is missing on the other chest.

The number of iron strips reinforcing the chest is the same, and they are placed approximately at the same places. Each chest has two locks with lock-plates that are integrated with the chest, and two hinges and rings that can be closed with a padlock.

 Left and right: The locks of the 'Wednesday' tax chest.

 One of the lock plates of the 'Saturday' tax chest.

We took the photos during our visit to the museum in 2012. Some details on the tax chests can be found in the museum catalogue 'Mittelalter in Koln. Eine Auswahl aus den Bestanden des Kolnischen Stadtmuseums' edited by W. Schafke and M. Trier. Emons Verlag, Koln, Germany. ISBN: 9783897056541.

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