In the beginning were Shaker boxes.....
Back before plastic, before Tupperware and baggies, people still needed a way to store tea, spices and other small items. Bentwood "pantry boxes" were used for this purpose because they were strong and light.
These boxes were popular with many people, not just the Shakers. They were made in a number of shapes and sizes. Long handles could be added to make them easier to carry, whether to market or for collecting eggs. (In fact, I use one myself, to collect eggs here at home).
This usefulness appealed to the Shakers and they adopted the style. However, as with other items, they soon modified it for their own needs and preferences.
Shakers disliked ornate and ostentatious work, preferring instead
the creed that "beauty is utility." Despite this emphasis on
practicality, they created work that was carefully and gracefully made.
This care resulted in work that was both useful and beautiful.This idea held not just for their furniture and their homes, but was also kept in mind when they made their boxes.
Boxes also became one of their "fancy work" items. That is, an item they made to sell to the larger community.
Shaker products were popular among non-Shakers because of the
consistently high quality of their goods. Shop owners would put signs in
their windows to advertise the Shaker products they carried as a way to
Thus, their particular style of bent-wood boxes became known as Shaker boxes and were valued because of the Shaker connection.
They made mostly oval boxes which they sold in nested sets - another modification that added to the efficiency of the boxes.
But they also made carriers with handles, round "dippers" (basically a box with a handle on the side that was used as a scoop for measuring dry goods), sewing boxes and other bent-wood containers. Today, Shaker boxes are valued as much for their beauty as their utility.
And now that you've learned a bit about their history, perhaps you'd like to learn how to make one yourself.
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