Chests and coffers are one of the most commonly recorded objects in English probate inventories. One specific form of these objects, counter chests, are typically found within shops and warehouses in the inventories of merchants and traders. The 1490 inventory of merchant Henry Bodiham includes an entry for “a counter cheste” towards the end of a long list of textiles, haberdashery-ware, and related sundries which were recorded within his shop. In addition to storing merchandise these chests also functioned as countertops; offering a surface for goods to be weighed or examined during transactions whilst serving to separate the merchant or retailer from the customer.
A counter chest is depicted in a 1497 woodcut of the personification of avarice from the poem le Roman de la Rose. In this image avarice is shown as a wealthy mercantile woman standing behind a chest upon which a set of weighing scales are set. The characteristics of a surviving counter chest, now held by London’s Victoria and Albert museum, suggest that these objects were used in a similar manner to the one depicted in the woodcut. Its intricately carved back, with the inscription N. FARES, was the panel visible to customers. The chest’s front is comparatively plain and its left stile, which would have been placed against a wall, is completely devoid of decoration. The top of this chest is flat and undecorated which would have allowed it to be used as a countertop by its owner.