For centuries Americans have used various methods of storing and protecting their important belongings. The variety of those items would at times dictate how the containers were made. What was at hand and suitable gave variety to creating the type and size of the boxes. For example a primitive box in our SALE collection is made from only 3 pieces of wood: the 4 sides carved from a large tree branch with an added top and a bottom. Likewise, the double saltbox was created from only one piece of wood and with only crude carving tools.
As the needs of the settlers grew to store documents, so did the functionality and the beauty of their boxes. Boxes were painted and decorated to enhance the importance of the piece such as can be found in the painted lift-top box and especially in the wallpapered trinket box. Many of our boxes even show the progression in design and availability of materials such as metal handles, locks, hasps, and keys through the years.
In May, Historic New England, the oldest and largest regional heritage organization in the nation, offered a special day at Cogswell’s Grant in Essex, MA to showcase 148 boxes in the collection of Nina Fletcher Little (1903-1993). Little lived in the historic home, which is now owned by Historic New England and utilized as a museum. She authored the book, “Neat and Tidy: Boxes and their Contents Used in Early American Households”.
Although we 21st century Americans might not need to store documents, recipes, photos, watches, writing tools, stationery, or create special boxes for our spices in the same way; we are still charmed by the look, color, design, textures and the history of these early handcrafted containers.