Most of today’s containers are made of plastic, and wooden containers are becoming scarce.
When a collector finds a wooden round pantry box, it is coveted. It doesn’t even matter what the original contents were, the only concern is acquiring the wooden box.
Most of these wooden containers were used as a butter container. The early examples were finished by hand and have a different look than the later ones that were produced by a machine.
Original contents. As a collector becomes more familiar with round and oval wooden boxes, determining the original contents becomes easier.
For example, in a box that once held cloves, the distinct odor penetrates the wood and remains there for a long time.
Boxes that once held soda are sometimes stained white inside.
Wood types. The type of wood used was often determined by what was available in the area. Ash and oak bent easily but weren’t usually used for common boxes, only for special ones.
Maples was common because of its abundance and attractive appearance. Special-order boxes were made of bird’s eye or curly maple.
Birch was also often used. Although it was lighter in color, it sometimes resembled maple so closely that it was hard to tell the difference.
Beech was used a lot in areas where it was available.
The lids and bottoms were made of pine because it was odorless and could be shaped easily.
Pegs, nails. Wooden shoe cobbler pegs (small wooden nails) were used to fasten the tops and bottoms to the sides of the boxes. These pegs were water soaked to ensure a tight bond, similar to wooden pegs used in old house rafters.
A few boxes were painted, thus preserving the wood from aging.
Since purchasing paint from a dealer was next to impossible, the painter manufactured his own.
Painting. Red paint came from red clay, blue from indigo berries, yellow from pumpkins. Clays were baked with skim milk or eggs so the paint rarely faded.
Shakers seeking an easier method made boxes with laps, termed “fingers.” Small boxes had two fingers, larger ones had four.
These fingers were secured by small, copper brads. The cover and bottom were fastened with copper nails instead of wooden pegs.
The fingers and copper brads identify the shaker boxes.
Shaker. Shaker boxes were oval and made in sets. Earlier examples were made in sets of 12 and eight.
An unusual wooden box is made to hold two pies.
Another different type had eight, small, individual boxes inside. The boxes were bound with small tin bands around them.
On the other hand, herb and pill boxes were quite common.