Antique Bandbox Guide (History + FREEBIE!)

I recently purchased an antique bandbox (sometimes called hat boxes) at an estate sale–for just $3–and decided to conduct some research on it. I knew I had a nice older example because of the antique wallpaper pattern and the brown age spots on its surface.

In the process, I discovered that the internet does not have much information about collecting antique bandboxes, and as a result, I’ve not been able to date mine precisely (or even imprecisely for that matter).

Other collecting posts that you might be interested in include: yellowware, cross stitch samplers, and autograph books.

Collecting antique bandboxes adirondackgirlatheart.com

History Behind Antique Bandboxes

The term “bandbox” is derived from the 17th century boxes manufactured in England to hold large, detachable collars popular at the time. Think Queen Elizabeth’s ruff. The 1636 last will and testament of Sarah Dillington of Ipswich, MA, contains the very first mention of bandboxes in America (Bandboxes, p. 9).

Perhaps her box traveled with Sarah from England, or she may have made it herself. Despite this early mention, bandboxes were most popular in the second and third quarters of the 19th century, primarily in the U.S.

Lillian Baker Carlisle in her book, Hat Boxes and Bandboxes at the Shelburn Museum (1960), explains that while bandboxes are found in many countries of the world, “nowhere are they found in such abundance and variety as they are met with in America” (v).

Later in the 19th century America, wallpaper manufacturers made these charming boxes–covered with their beautiful wall paper–to hold many different sorts of items, including gloves, hair combs, and ribbons.

Primarily found in round or oval shapes, you can find them in square and other shapes as well. Bandboxes, often mistaken for hat boxes, were of course the precursor to these popular boxes sold in conjunction with both men’s and women’s hats throughout the early part of the 20th century.

They commonly came with a piece of string or ribbon strung through holes on opposite sides for easy carrying.

These lovely boxes kept collars and the other items in such pristine condition that the term came to mean “neat and sharp in appearance.” And so it can be used colloquially, for example: “She looked as if she came out of a bandbox, (Merriam-Webster).

Hannah Davis: 19th Century Bandbox Creator

In writing this post, I came across an endearing story about a strong, self-starting New Hampshire woman who built a fortune creating bandboxes from her home. She happened also to be single and therefore needed to use them initially to trade for food and other goods for her survival. Her name was Hannah Davis.

Eventually she began selling them directly to girls working in the nearby factory towns of Nashua, Lowell, and Manchester for 12-50Β’ each. They needed suitable containers to use as a sort of luggage when traveling home to visit their families. These sales allowed Hannah to grow quite wealthy. 

hannah-davis-wallpaper-covered-wooden-bandbox--skinnersource

Here’s an example of one of Hanna’s band boxes. Measuring just under 7″ high and 10″ in diameter, It sold at auction in 2011 for $563.

The materials she used for construction really set her boxes apart. Rather than cardboard (or pasteboard), she used wood. In order to accomlish this, she invented a process for slicing wood in wide, thin strips that were malleable enough to bend into shape. She lined her boxes with newspaper and proudly placed a paper label bearing her name on the inside of each lid. I find myself fascinated by her strength of character and ingenuity.

Known in her hometown of Jaffrey, NH as a kind and caring person, Hannah was active in her local Baptist Church. It chose to remember her with a stained glass window, honoring her as “Aunt Hannah,” the moniker by which everyone in town knew her.

She never married and is buried in the church’s Old Burying Ground (JaffreyHistory.org).  You can find bandboxes covered with wallpaper designs of all sorts, classical architecture (popular at the time) and exotic animals, like giraffes and anacondas (inspired by animal exhibits from the time period). Important American historical scenes, buildings, and symbols, like the flag and eagles, also decorated many such boxes.

Lord Ellenborough and the Bandboxes

Here’s a little story to put a smile on your face today:

Band Box Seller by William Marshall Craig Museum of London [Public domain]

Lord Ellenborough, Chief Justice of England, was once about to go on the circuit, when Lady Ellenborough said she should like to accompany him. He replied that he had no objections provided she did not encumber the carriage with bandboxes, which were his utter abhorance.

During the first day’s journey Lord Ellenborough, happening to stretch his legs, struck his foot against something below the seat. He discovered that it was a bandbox. Up went the window and out went the bandbox. The coachman stopped, and the footman thinking that the bandbox had tumbled out of the window by some extraordinary chance, went to pick it up.

But Lord Ellenborough furiously called out, “Drive on!” The bandbox accordingly was left by the ditch side. Having reached the country town where he was to officiate as judge, Lord Ellenborough proceeded to array himself for his appearance in the courthouse.

“Now,” said he, “where is my wig?”
“My Lord,” replied his attendant, “it was thrown out of the carriage window.”

Table Talk of Samuel Rogers (The Magazine of American History With Notes & Queries, 1888). 

Back to My Antique Bandbox

Antique floral bandbox

So what about my pretty, unlined bandbox made of cardboard and wallpaper? I’ve decided that very likely a wallpaper company manufactured it in the late 19th or early 20th century.

At the moment, without knowing much more about it, I would value it in the $60-75 range. Thanks for reading along with me today on the fascinating topic of bandboxes. I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or perhaps a personal story about a bandbox in your life.

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Additional source: Hannah and Her Boxes

 

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23 Comments

  1. I’ve collected hat boxes for years. Have 2 stacks, almost to the ceiling in a bdrm. Decided I need to sell some of them at my antique booth in an antique mall. They don’t sell real well. I also have several gentlemen’s boxes. Have several from Chicago, New York, etc. Some came with old hats inside.

    1. I bet your hat boxes look stunning, Linda! What a collection. I’m with you; I haven’t found hat boxes to be great sellers. I’m trying out mine, since it’s older, at my shop, but I’ll turn to eBay next, if I have to.

  2. Fascinating as always! I loved reading about Hannah Davis. Her floral bandbox is outstanding, but I don’t think I’d be interested in one with a big snake on it!

  3. Very interesting story! I love reading the history of everyday objects! And as an entrepreneurial woman, I loved Hannah’s story!

  4. Thank You for ALL the info. LOVED the WIG story, best blog we have read in a long time! Keep up the great work!

  5. Wonderful post, Diana! Love the stories, especially about “Aunt Hanna.” I guess Lord Ellenborough got his comuppence, didn’t he? Ha, ha!

    Great research, fascinating facts. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. You’re so welcome, Naomi–I’m glad you enjoyed the post and the interesting characters I discovered!

  6. Hi, Diana! Great post, I think I have a matching glove box for your bandbox. I will have to find it and get a picture and compare. Great history, I have been meaning to do some, myself.

  7. What great background info. I never had a real vintage one, just reproductions. Yours is lovely. Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm. xoKathleen

  8. Thank you for your article! Last night I visited a new friend and she showed me her Hanna Davis bandbox in a glass case which was in between her floor-to-ceiling hatboxes! Although I collect hatboxes and vintage hats, I had never heard of her. What a great story! Thank you again.

    1. What a coincidence! I’m jealous that you got to see one in person πŸ™‚ I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Maya, and thanks for stopping by to chat–

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