Boxed storage was commonplace in the rural American home. Although pasteboard boxes were available, most rural individuals preferred boxes made from wood. There simply was something sturdy and lasting about a wood box.
Boxes were designed for specific tasks. Among the most commonly found forms are candle boxes, document boxes, jewelry, and knife boxes. Everything imaginable was stored in boxes—clothing, salt, spices, and trinkets, just to name a few. Often the family Bible was kept in a Bible box.
The name “band box” came from the utilitarian, lightweight pasteboard boxes used in England to store men’s neckbands and lace bands. During their period of greatest popularity in America, 1820 to 1850, large band boxes were used to store hats and clothing while smaller boxes held gloves, handkerchiefs, powder, ribbons and sewing materials.
Most band boxes were covered with highly decorative wallpaper. Floral, marble, and geometric designs were commonplace. The most desirable boxes are those covered with paper picturing an historical theme, e.g., the Erie Canal or a balloon ascent.
Individuals, such as Hannah Davis of East Jaffrey, N.H., made a living as band box makers. A maker’s label can double the value of a box. Band boxes also were sold as sets. A matching set commands a premium price. The folk art collecting craze of the 1970s and 80s drew attention to the painted box. A grain painting revival occurred among contemporary craftspersons. The Country movement became enamored with “primitives,” i.e., crudely constructed boxes. Completely overlooked were the high style and better constructed boxes, many of which were imported from abroad.
During the early American revival, from the 1930s through the 1950s, a great hoopla was raised over Bride’s boxes, ornately painted oval bentwood boxes, many of which featured a picture of a bride and groom. Many were passed as American in origin. Research has proven that almost all originated in Europe.
In fact, there is a strong painted furniture tradition in a number of European countries—Norway, southwest Germany, and many Slavic countries. Although different in color tone and design, many novice collectors buy these items believing them to be American in origin.
References: Arene Burgess, “19th Century Wooden Boxes,” Schiffer Publishing, 1997; Martin and Maryann LaBuda, “Price & Identification Guide to Antique Trunks: Their History & Current Values,” published by authors, 1995.
— Harry L. Rinker
“Official Price Guide to Collectibles”