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Norwegian Trinket Box

Trinket box brought to Wisconsin by Norwegian immigrants, c. 1870.
(Museum object #1993.6.2)

According to family history, Ole Olsen Kalvestrand received this trinket box from his father, who originally constructed it in 1794. His father intricately carved the front, top, and sides of his maple box with geometric shapes which stylistically suggest German or Danish influence. One interesting feature of the box is a secret pine drawer in its base hidden behind a movable side panel.

Kalvestrand's father later redecorated the box as noted in the overpainted mark, "OOSK 1817" (the "OOSK" stands for Ole Olsen son of Kalvestrand) when he passed it to Ole, his eldest son. The trinket box then passed to the oldest male child of the next two generations to another Ole Olsen Kalvestrand. This Ole Olsen Kalvestrand, his wife Ane, and small son Ole immigrated to Wisconsin about 1870 and brought the box with them on their journey as one of the relatively few possessions they could transport with them across the ocean.

The Kalvestrands that immigrated to Wisconsin were only one of many families that ventured to the state from Norway during the 1860s and 1870s. The first major influx of Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin occurred during the 1840s, soon forming the largest Norwegian-American community in the United States. These early immigrants sent "America letters" back to Norway that usually praised their new living conditions. These letters along with published immigrant guidebooks encouraged other Norwegians, like the Kalvestrands, to escape the overpopulation problems and rigid class distinctions of Norway for a new beginning in America.

When settling in Wisconsin, immigrant families faced many challenges and changes. Physical representations of the Old World, such as this trinket box, helped these families retain continuity between their European traditions and their new lives in the United States. The Kalvestrand family continued to pass this box down through two more generations in Wisconsin until the great-great-great granddaughter of its maker willed the box to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1995.


Posted on May 12, 2005

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