The unicorn is a legendary creature that has been described since antiquity as a beast with a large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. Unicorns are not found in Greek mythology, but rather in the accounts of natural history, for Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the reality of unicorns, which they located in India, a distant and fabulous realm for them.
In European folklore, the unicorn is often depicted as a white horse-like or goat-like animal with a long horn and cloven hooves (sometimes a goat's beard). In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin. In the encyclopedias its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness. In fact, in medieval and Renaissance times, the tusk of the narwhal was sometimes sold as unicorn horn.
These lovely creatures – real or not – are beautifully represented on the center panel of this Pennsylvania German dower chest, dated 1778.
Dealer Roberto Freitas describes:
This chest was made for Johannes, or "Hannes", Derr, one of Berks County's earliest pewterers, and was passed to his son Peter Derr, who worked in iron, brass and copper. James F. Spears first recorded this chest and the other furnishings of the Derr family house in Berks County in his book “The House of Derr”. In that volume, Spears interpreted the numerous religious and mythological symbols of the chest. He suggested that the five panels represent the fifth Sunday following Epiphany; Matthew, 17th chapter states "Let us make here three tabernacles, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias." The center panel depicts unicorns rearing up for battle in front of an "olaf baum" or olive tree, the symbol of peace. Most other chests of this period substitute a tulip tree for the olive tree. Spears notes that the painting of the outer front panels depicts tulip trees supporting the orange-crimson flowery crowns of royalty, and that in this detail the chest is "peculiarly singular, for unlike any other known chests, it very definitely links Germanic Pennsylvania with the House of Orange and Brunswick" (p. 84). The date of 1778 is also pertinent to the painted decoration, as this was the year the coat-of-arms of the State of Pennsylvania, designed by Caleb Lownes, was adopted. The motifs are very similar, and the state seal depicts two horses rearing up against a shield with an olive branch and corn stalk.
Close parallels to the symbols and painted motifs are found in other area decorative arts, including stove plates, textiles, and other dower chests. This chest relates closely to several other chests found in the vicinity of the Derr house and of Belleman's Church in Tulpehocken Township.
From Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry, we see fine jewelry depictions of this legendary animal.
On the left: a magical mythical unicorn brooch crafted in rich 18 karat yellow gold. The unicorn is serenely seated with a luxurious textured coat. A small diamond adds a little sparkle as well as tiny ruby eyes.
One the right: a richly detailed and beautifully crafted whimsical unicorn pin sparkling with 2.00 carats of round brilliant-cut diamonds and an emerald eye.
A recent study, published in the American Journal of Applied Sciences proves that unicorns did actually exist — though, not as pretty horses with pearly white manes, wings, and horns. Thanks to a newly discovered skull fossil found in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan, we now know that the unicorn - or "Elasmotherium sibiricum" - roamed the planet roughly 29,000 years ago and looked more like a rhinoceros than a horse. Bottom line? Unicorns are real!