Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Collecting Boxes

QUESTION: I love old boxes and want to start a box collection. But where do I begin? What sort of boxes are highly collectible?

ANSWER: Collecting old boxes is a great introduction into collecting antiques. Boxes are small enough so as not to take up too much room, yet intriguing enough to keep you interested as your collection grows.

Boxes are popular with collectors. The shape of a box reveals clues as to what it once held while the quality and type of workmanship are a key to the type of individual that owned and used it. And when you life the lid of an antique box, you’ll smell exotic aromas of times gone by—the scent of peppery clove, the fruity wood smell of tobacco, the delicate odor of beeswax or bayberry.

With the passing of time, the styles and functions of boxes have changed . Early settlers used rustic wooden and tin boxes to hold necessities like salt, flour, and candles. Colonials in Ben Franklin's day toted their snuff in convenient pocket-size boxes, the elaborateness of which indicated a gentleman's social standing. Elegant Victorian ladies who indulged in the luxury of lace gloves and cloth beauty patches kept them in ornate silk- and velvet-covered boxes. Today,  boxes like these bring a bit of history to any room and can be used to hold keepsakes or simply enjoyed for their own unique charms. So you want to start a box collection? What’s involved?

Before you buy any antique box, research it carefully. If you're looking for boxes made in the late 19th century, for example, read books on the subject, view historical displays of that period in museums, and browse antique shops and shows.  Once you decide on the type of boxes you want to collect, go to auctions, estate sales, and quality flea markets to see what's available.

Once you begin finding boxes to add to your collection , select on the best ones and avoid those that show more than normal wear. Bypass wooden boxes with warped veneers, cracks, and damaged hinges. Check porcelain, pottery, and glass boxes for chips and cracks, and avoid metal boxes that have bad dents. Always buy the best your budget will allow. Quality boxes do appreciate in value with time. Plan to keep any box you purchase at least 10 years to realize this appreciation.

Box collectors particularly favor those handmade by American craftsmen in the 19th century. Many of these are rustic and were designed to hold everyday possessions, such as salt and seasonings or grooming aids. The contents of a box usually determined its shape. A box made for a three-cornered hat, for instance, was triangular, while a candle box was long and narrow. Craftsmen decorated some boxes with carving or delicate hand-painted designs while they left others plain.

Brightly colored boxes made by Pennsylvania Germans, and boxes with finger-style joinings made by Shakers are excellent examples of folk art, and command high prices today. Fortunately, most antique shops and shows have many other types of primitive boxes at reasonable prices.

Boxes made during the early 20th century are also gaining popularity with collectors. Victorian women used some of the most common ones, made of cardboard covered with silk, velvet, paper, or shells, to store gloves, handkerchiefs, sewing items, and trinkets. You’ll find these boxes for $15-20 and up. Other early 20th-century examples include assorted sizes of Japanese lacquered  boxes, selling for $20 or more, small brass Oriental ones with metal appliques, and porcelain "fairing boxes," originally sold at English country fairs. You’ll usually find these “fairings” in antiques shops or at shows, starting at around $125.

Collecting boxes can be addictive because there are so many different kinds out there. The more focused your collection is, the better.

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