The Complete Guide to Buying an Antique Box on eBay

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The Complete Guide to Buying an Antique Box on eBay

Antique boxes are sought-after collectables. There are many styles of boxes, including many different construction materials that have been used over the years. Some people collect a specific type of box. For example, jewellery box, snuff box or writing box. Others could choose to collect by the decorative style of the box. For example, they could start a collection of boxes with paintings or that employed parquetry as a design technique. Antique boxes range in value from a few pounds to thousands of pounds. Age, artwork, condition, the maker and the construction material used are all factors in determining the value of a box. This buying guide will provide information about the history, types and styles of antique boxes. It will also offer some factors to consider before buying an antique box and instructions for care and maintenance after purchasing.

History of Antique Boxes

Stylistically the development of decorative boxes in Britain can be summarised as follows:

  • Rococo around 1760s
  • Neoclassical around 1780s
  • Neo-classical with diverse influences 1800-1840
  • Late 19th century and onwards

Rococo period boxes were often made of solid mahogany. This was mainly due to the sturdiness of the tough but beautiful wood. By the late neoclassical period, other materials were being applied to the exterior of the wood. These included enamel, ivory, lacquer, mother-of-pearl, marble, leather, brass, copper and even papier mâché. Advances in craftsmanship also enabled the creative use of the grains of different woods in design. A greater choice of decorative devices also appeared. Edging, banding, inlay, stringing and other techniques were used to enhance the appearance of the box. By the early 19th century, hand-painting, pen-work, chinoiserie and decoupage were commonly employed. Improved mechanisation eventually saw veneers become thinner, and many beautiful boxes were produced in the second half of the 19th century using thin walnut veneers. It is also worth noting that boxes were also being made in other parts of world, mainly China and India. These were highly regarded in Britain and Europe and influenced domestic style, techniques and decoration. In today’s market, there are larger-sized items like tool boxes, toy boxes, hope boxes and even packing and delivery crates.  

Discover Antique Boxes

Antique boxes have many unique features not found on modern boxes. Beautiful mother-of-pearl inlays were sometimes employed. Many boxes were completely covered with artfully designed brass or copper. Ivory and enamels gave an Oriental look and feel to many boxes. Many also feature detailed hand-painting or engraving.  All of these features make an antique box more appealing to collectors. The sheer range in styles of antique boxes creates many possibilities for different decorating styles. A small cheese box can work in the kitchen to hold cooking utensils and implements. Jewellery and vanity boxes can still be used for their original purpose. The creative opportunities are endless. But if a box is fragile or very valuable, it might be better used for display purposes only.

Parts of Antique Boxes

There are nearly limitless styles of antique boxes, but the essential constituent parts are similar to all. Below are the standard components.




Can be hinged on one side or removable.


Many small boxes may have ornate or stylised hinges.


The main part of the box that holds its contents.

Types of Antique Boxes

Below are some of the most popular types of boxes.





Snuff box

Small, often ornate box for containing snuff, a kind of tobacco.

Can be re-purposed to hold other small items.

One of the most collectable types of antique woodenware boxes.

Writing box

Portable box for writing materials.

Likely to be delicately crafted.


Vanity box

Held personal items for men.

Beautiful craftsmanship.


Jewellery box

For ladies to put away jewels, gold and other personal items.

Beautiful craftsmanship, still ideal for this purpose.


Sewing box

Holds sewing items.

Beautiful craftsmanship, still ideal for this purpose.


Toy box

Used to hold toys, usually has a hinged lid on top.

Adds charm to a child’s room and yet useful.

Ensure there is no mould or mildew.

Kindling box

Holds logs and kindling for a fireplace, often completely covered in brass or another metal (repousse).

Repousse kindling boxes are very attractive and make beautiful pieces of furniture.

Check for insects such as termites and beetles which could have been present in original logs.

Packing crate

Usually large, can have company name embossed, engraved, painted or labelled on.

Adds charm and historical interest.

Can also include original company slogans.

Tea caddy

Hold contents for tea.

Very detailed construction.

Date back to the introduction of tea to Britain.

Cigar box

Used to hold cigars.

Can be re-purposed for household knick-knacks, such as coins.


Cutlery box

Holds cutlery for special occasions.

Distinct in purpose, can still be used for this.

Ornate designs.

Lure box

Holds fishing lures and other tackle.

If sturdy, can still be used for this purpose.

Check bottom for water damage.

Nutmeg grater

Held nutmeg for grating into drinks or onto food.

Small and ornate.

Collectable as nutmeg was valuable and expensive before the 1900s.

Tool Box

Holds tools, usually open on top with a carrying handle that runs the length of the box.

If sturdy, can still be used for this purpose.

Oils and solvents can damage the antique wood.

Factors to Consider When Buying Antique Boxes

Antique boxes are valuable because they are antique, and should look the part. Recent trends toward restoration have blurred the line between reproductions and genuine articles. It is not uncommon for some early boxes to be sanded down and varnished, destroying the character and patina. Take note that while this may be aesthetically pleasing, it will affect the historical value of the box, as well as its value for future resale.

Typical Features of Antique Boxes

1.  Engraved logos

Wooden boxes used to transport goods often bore the maker’s name on the side, and sometimes even a company slogan. These were engraved, painted or even applied as a label. 

2.  Repousse

This is a technique by which metal is shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a low relief design. This metal could be affixed in various sizes to a wooden box, or used to completely cover the outer surface. This was often done to beautify small boxes and also added to kindling boxes to protect the wood from sparks from the fireplace.

3.  Parquetry

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.

4.  Marquetry

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.

5.  Open top

Open top boxes were common for delivery of items like milk bottles. These can be used as attractive storage bins in the living room or hallway. They can also be flipped upside down and used as tables or display platforms for other items.

6.  Pen-work

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.

7.  Hand-Painting

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.

8.  Chinoiserie

This process entailed building up Oriental lacquer in many layers on top of a very thin wood base.

How to Care for Antique Boxes

Not all antique boxes have monetary, artistic or historical value. In fact, proper restoration, refinishing or repair can sometimes increase the value of boxes. That said, the finish is often as important as the box itself. Stripping removes the original coating and time-worn patina. Once gone, they can never be recovered.  

UV light is damaging to antique wood, turning clear finishes yellow or opaque. Curtains or shades should be used to diffuse or block the sunlight on un-adorned antique boxes. Heating and air conditioning ducts, fireplaces and stoves should also be avoided as the heat can shrink the wood and loosen glue joints, veneers, and inlays. Changes in humidity can also cause wood to expand and contract with similar negative results.

Antique wood does not need to be nurtured with oil to keep from drying out. Lack of moisture does this, so hot dry areas should be avoided. 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 long-lasting 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.

Soft cleansers and cloths are also fine for the various outer shells such as ivory, enamel, mother of pearl marble etc.

Buying an Antique Box on eBay

Buying an antique box online can be a daunting process but with enough information and research you can confidently find and buy one to suit your needs. This section will address making the process easier and alleviating any concerns customers may have of completing online transactions. eBay aspires to create a safe and secure experience for their customers while shopping. Below are a few tips on how to buy an antique box on eBay.

Research the seller

Have you found a lovely antique box that is listed at a fraction of the price of other sellers? Perhaps it is indeed ‘too good to be true’. A good method to ensure that sellers are going to deliver exactly what they have promised is to research that seller. Click on the seller’s hyperlink; this will bring up a variety of information available about them.

A few possible questions to consider are:

  • What is the seller’s feedback rating? How many transactions have they done? Ideally, the feedback rating should be over 95%. And it might be a bad sign if a seller doesn’t have very many completed transactions.
  • The buyer’s comments? Are they positive?
  • Does the seller offer a return policy? A money-back guarantee?

Always pay with Paypal

When making payments online, Paypal is the most secure and eBay advises that you use it over all other forms of payment, as it offers superior protection against unauthorized use. Try to avoid sellers that claim their Paypal account is not working, as well as less secure online forms of payments such as Western Union or moneygram.

Ebay Safety centre

If there is an issue with a seller, or you as a buyers wants to collect all available information in order to best make a safe and secure purchase check the following link. There is a variety of information for protecting yourself in online transactions available at eBay's safety centre.

Makers of Antique Boxes

  • Asprey
  • Betjemman & Sons
  • Bramah
  • Chubb
  • Edwards
  • Hancock
  • Howell James and Company
  • Jenner & Knewstubb
  • Leuchars
  • Lovegrove and Flint
  • William Lund
  • Toulmin & Gale

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Boxes

Some accessories for the care and maintenance of antique boxes include the following:

  • Antique furniture wax
  • Mild soaps or cleansers
  • Soft cloths or brushes

Finding an Antique Box on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique box you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on ‘Decorative Arts’, 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 Boxeson eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique boxes. For example, to find an antique snuff box, type ‘antique snuff 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 boxes with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique box you want, try shopping eBay Stores.


This guide provides much of the information necessary to search for antique boxes on eBay. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique box safely and securely on eBay.

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