Shaker Boxes

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.

stack of Shaker boxes

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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).

A Short History of Shaker Boxes

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.

Shaker boxes

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 draw customers.

Shaker swallow tails

Recommended books about Shakers

The photos of the Shaker carriers (top of the page) and the Shaker dipper (just above) are from Shaker Style: Form, Function, and Furniture, by Sharon Duane Koomler, Courage Books, 2000.I recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Shakers.

The other book is by a well know furniture builder and is also a good source of information.

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.

nested Shaker 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.

Shaker dipper

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