Unlocking the Secrets of the Brown Box… or Adventures of the Antiques Detective…
Last Summer I found a heavy wooden Brown painted Box at an estate sale. The box was full of nuts, bolts, old furniture hardware, both kinds of nails – straight and bent and other pieces left over from someone’s repair projects. I had my eye on a couple of door knobs, the furniture hardware and the box seemed like just a convenient way to carry the stuff.
When I got to Shady Lawn, I sorted out the items that I could use and discarded the rest. The empty Box seemed much heavier than I expected. I noticed that the box was made out of maple (a heavy dense wood) and then I just left it sitting on my workbench for several months.
I was still thinking that this is just a box that someone hammered together to hold their old hardware stuff. You know the “junk-drawer” stuff that we all have stashed somewhere.
The Box was solid but had a couple of minor problems. The top of the box wasn’t deep enough (by 1/2″) to line up with the front edge of the box so the little latch wouldn’t work. Further there was a 1/2″ gap where the bottom board didn’t touch the front of the box. There was some cotton rag type material jammed into the bottom crack so the small stuff wouldn’t fall out.
I decided that no one would buy a box with a gap (1/2″ crack) in the bottom and a lid latch that wouldn’t work. The solution was simple – knock the front board off and cut the sides back a 1/2″. The gap in the bottom would be gone and the lid would match-up with the front of the box.
When I knocked the front off, I noticed that it was nailed to the box with old square nails. That alone would date the box to the 1800′s. It was then obvious that both the bottom and top boards had dried out and shrunk through the years. The maple probably wasn’t fully dried out when the box was built.
I cut the side boards off a 1/2″ and nailed and glued the front back in place – problems solved! After the glue had dried, I started washing the dirt and grime off of the box. I then noticed what appeared to be something printed on the wood under the brown paint. I carefully scraped off some of the brown paint and slowly some painted or printed on image began to emerge. At that time I was thinking that this box was made out of some old shipping box wood.
By the time that I had scraped the brown paint off of the lid, it was obvious this box was originally made to hold tobacco. I scraped the brown off of all of the sides and the same IXL showed up to further reinforce that this was an original tobacco box. This box is a curious size at about 14″ wide by 14″ deep and 4 1/2″ tall which is larger than the modern cigar box but smaller than a shipping “crate”.
The graphics on the box lid indicate that it was made for or by “B & R. CLAYTORS, IXL TOBACCO, LYNCHBURG, VA.”
I then began my computer research to see what I could find out about this box. It turns out that a Claytor who was a tobacco merchant and a state senator bought the oldest house in Lynchburg in the 1830s. A newspaper report indicated that a Confederate soldier died in the Claytor’s Tobacco Factory Hospital in 1862. Further research indicated that the height of tobacco production in Lynchburg was in the 1880s.
So far I haven’t found out anything specifically about this box. Antique dealers and/or Appraisers like to find what we call a comparable or a similar box from another manufacturer, but I haven’t. I do however think that the Claytor and tobacco information that I have found would enable me to date this box to between the 1860′s and the 1880′s.
I’m still intrigued enough to try find out more about this box but unfortunately I may never totally satisfy my curiosity…