The keepsake or memory box has long been used to store artefacts and mementos from a special time or a certain event or from a particular person. They often contained things that marked the major events in a person’s life, like a christening, a wedding or a first Holy Communion. They were even used for birthdays, where items like photos, cards and letters would be kept. Antique woodenware keepsake boxes are often beautifully-crafted and valuable in today’s antique market. Age, condition, maker and type of wood used in construction are all factors in the determination of the price of a box. This buying guide will provide information about the history, types and styles of antique woodenware keepsake boxes. It will also offer advice on what to look out for before purchase and instructions for care and maintenance of antique boxes.
History of Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxes
One of the earliest uses for the keepsake box was to mark bereavement, especially of an infant. Thought to help with the grieving process, items like the birth certificate, small toys or a small lock of hair were placed inside the box. They were also used to remember the passing of adults. This sort of keepsake box was often personalised with a name and picture on the exterior. The nature of the occasion meant that most of these boxes, while beautifully-crafted, were not overly ornate or decorative. Some were covered in leather, and perhaps lined with satin. Eventually, keepsake boxes began to be used for other, less sombre purposes. Weddings were celebrated, with items like dried flowers, invitations and special cards saved for posterity. Boxes of this type were more likely to feature decorations like edging, banding or inlay. As craftsmanship evolved, hand-painting, pen-work, chinoiserie and decoupage also became popular.
Discover Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxes
There is a thriving collector’s market for antique woodenware keepsake boxes. But their worth extends beyond any investment advantage. An antique woodenware keepsake box represents the significant memories of past times and people. The style of the box reflects these memories and enhances the value of its precious contents. As a decorative item, the keepsake box can also add to the décor of a room.
Parts of Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxes
Depending on their purpose, the style of antique woodenware keepsake boxes could be understated or elaborate, but the essential components were common to most designs.
Could be hinged at the back or completely removable.
Depending on the purpose of the box, these could be plain or ornately-styled. Brass and silver are commonly used.
The main part of the box that holds its contents.
Secures the box lid.
Silk or satin
Common inner lining.
Most smaller boxes do not have handles, although larger boxes can have handles affixed to the side which can sometimes be folded into recesses.
Types of Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxes
Most antique woodenware keepsake boxes follow the same basic form. They are rectangular in shape with a lid, usually hinged. Styles can range from conservative to more decorative, but the type of box used was common to all purposes.
Factors to Consider When Buying Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxes
Shopping for an antique woodenware keepsake can be interesting, but a little research and knowledge will inform the selection process.
- Wood colour – Wood changes colour over time, so a genuine antique box will have slight variations in colour unless it has been refinished.
- Machine tool marks – If a box was made after 1830, then machine tool marks may be visible. Before this, all woodenware boxes were made by hand.
- Faked aging – Wear and tear that appears too uniform may have been deliberately weathered to look older.
- Ask questions – The buyer should ask the seller as many pertinent questions as they can think of. The seller will be used to this and will be happy to help. Sometimes the photo and description provided is not enough information to base a purchase on. The buyer should ask for as many details about the box’s origin and history as possible.
- Condition – The condition of the box will significantly affect its value. Study the photos provided closely for any marks, scratches or blemishes.
- Placement – The buyer should work out what they are going to do with the box. If they are going to display it decoratively, the buyer should consider if the box will fit with the existing decoration of a particular room.
Typical Features of Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxes
This refers to a border of veneer with a grain at right-angles to the grain of the adjoining veneer. Kingwood, rosewood and calamander were always considered a great choice.
This feature consists of a series of interlocking pins at the box’s corners. It makes the box extremely strong and the hand-carving practice is very delicate and still considered quite an art form.
Parquetry involves the use of wooden pieces to form a geometric, decorative mosaic. Sometime used on the top or front of larger antique woodenware boxes, parquet patterns are entirely geometrical and angular and can include squares, triangles and lozenges.
Marquetry refers to the art of applying pieces of veneer to form decorative patterns, designs or pictures. This technique was used on wooden boxes both large and small.
Most pen-work was done on the lid and featured stylised motifs of flora and fauna. It was often done in black fine lines on a light background, or in reverse, with a darker background and lighter design colour. Other coloured inks and paints could also be used, as well as gold leaf. Hand-coloured prints could also be pasted to the centre of the lid with a pen-work border. The print itself was often edged with gold leaf and decorated in lines of ink.
Keepsake boxes could also feature hand-painting, either directly onto the wood, or onto thin paper. Most scenes depicted naturalistic flowers, animals, classical images or people. Hand-painting is much rarer than pen-work on antique woodenware keepsake boxes.
The Chinoiserie process entailed building up Oriental lacquer in many layers on top of a very thin wood base. Often thicker wood was used for the basic box to provide sufficient structural support. The undecorated box was then varnished, or perhaps thinly gessoed first, and then varnished again. Antique woodenware keepsake boxes in this style were made in the second half of the eighteenth and the very early part of the nineteenth century.
How to Care for Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxes
The finish of an antique woodenware keepsake box is often as important as the box itself. Polishes, adhesives, fasteners and finishes should be avoided. UV light is also damaging to antique wood, turning clear finishes yellow or opaque. Curtains or shades should be used to diffuse or block sunlight. Antique wood does not need to be nurtured with oil to keep from drying out. Oils will temporarily enhance the finish, but leave a residue that can attract dust and dirt over time. It is best to use a high-quality paste wax which is stable, long-lasting, non-permanent, and offers protection from moisture and dust. A thin coat of wax applied annually will suffice. In between waxing, dust the box with a soft, lint-free cloth on a regular basis. Dampen the cloth slightly and turn frequently as a dry rag can cause scratches. Wax may not be appropriate for surfaces with a deteriorating finish. Consult a furniture restoration specialist if unsure how to proceed.
Makers of Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxes
- Betjemman & Sons
- Howell James and Company
- Jenner & Knewstubb
- Lovegrove and Flint
- William Lund
- Toulmin & Gale
Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxes
Antique woodenware keepsake boxes require special care, including products that can be useful for maintenance.
- Antique furniture wax or paste wax
- Mild soaps or cleansers
- Soft cloths or brushes
Finding an Antique Woodenware Keepsake Box on eBay
Once you determine the type of antique woodenware keepsake box you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on ‘Woodenware’, then ‘Boxes’ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.
Searching for Antique Woodenware Keepsake Boxeson eBay
Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique woodenware keepsake boxes. For example, to find a Victorian antique woodenware keepsake box, type ‘Victorian antique woodenware keepsake box’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for antique woodenware keepsake boxes with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique woodenware keepsake box you want, try shopping eBay Stores.
This guide provides much of the information necessary to search for antique woodenware keepsake boxes on eBay. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique woodenware keepsake box safely and securely on eBay.