Strike Up the Band(box)!

This ca. 1823 bandbox was made in Hartford by the firm of Putnam & Roff, which also manufactured wallpaper. CHS 1956.45.63

This ca. 1823 bandbox was made in Hartford by the firm of Putnam & Roff, which also manufactured wallpaper. CHS 1956.45.63

In recent years the issue of waste materials being sent to landfills has become a concern. Excessive packaging, involving paper, cardboard, plastic (don’t get me going on those impossible to open blister packs) and other materials, seems to be the norm now. And at home, we have large plastic bags filled with smaller plastic bags, just waiting to be dropped off at any store that will actually take them for recycling (for some reason these plastic retail bags are not accepted in many recycling programs). So we use some for around the house cleaning projects, but most await the trip to some store’s recycling bin.

Some bandboxes featured images of famous events or places. This example from the early 1830s, marked “GRAND CANAL”, depicts the newly opened Erie Canal at Little Falls, New York. CHS 1967.36.24

Some bandboxes featured images of famous events or places. This example from the early 1830s, marked “GRAND CANAL”, depicts the newly opened Erie Canal at Little Falls, New York. CHS 1967.36.24

In the first half of the 19th century store purchases might be wrapped in some type of paper Shopping bags as we know them were not typically available. But what about purchases like a woman’s hat? You couldn’t easily wrap that up in butcher paper like some rib roast and expect it to survive the trip home intact. Enter the bandbox. No, not a small baseball stadium, but a cardboard box used to carry hats and other merchandise. Where’s the band, you ask? Well, the term derives from the original use for these in 17th century England—to store men’s detachable shirt collars (or “bands”).

Hartford’s pioneering asylum for the education of the deaf and dumb is featured on this box from the 1830s. CHS 1956.65.1

Hartford’s pioneering asylum for the education of the deaf and dumb is featured on this box from the 1830s. CHS 1956.65.1

Bandboxes were popular in America in the first half of the 19th century, and small shops manufactured these in cities across the land. Constructed of bentwood or more commonly pasteboard (thin cardboard) these oval boxes came in various sizes (some in our collection measure 12” X 18” X 12”) and were almost always covered in a colorful printed paper (often wallpaper). As such, they could not only serve as protective packaging for new purchases, but also double as a safe (and decorative) storage container thereafter. One could also reuse them for future purchases, similar to the reusable shopping bags now offered by most supermarkets. Not surprisingly, I have found occasional newspaper notices in the 1820s and 1830s mentioning lost or misplaced bandboxes (and presumably their contents).

A March 1839 notice in the Hartford Courant listed railroad shipping rates for bandboxes on the Hartford and New Haven Railroad, suggesting these were manufactured in some quantity in Connecticut.

A March 1839 notice in the Hartford Courant listed railroad shipping rates for bandboxes on the Hartford and New Haven Railroad, suggesting these were manufactured in some quantity in Connecticut.

Were bandboxes big business? It probably varied with the size of the market and the manufacturer, but it is telling that in 1839 the Hartford and New Haven Railroad specifically listed bandboxes in their freight shipping rate schedule: bandboxes could be shipped between the two cities at a rate of fifty cents per dozen.

A late example dating to 1869, this bandbox bears the patriotic label of Hartford milliner William Bacharach. CHS 1959.79.2

A late example dating to 1869, this bandbox bears the patriotic label of Hartford milliner William Bacharach. CHS 1959.79.2

Bandboxes gradually fell out of favor by the Civil War, and many apparently were saved in closets, attics and basements. Collectors began to appreciate the decorative paper coverings and today such boxes, especially those with a maker’s label, can bring hundreds of dollars at auction.

That’s all well and good, but as for me, I’m still going to recycle those blister packs!

 

 

 

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About Rich

Richard C. Malley is the Head of Collections & Research at CHS. A maritime historian by background he previously served on the curatorial staffs of Mystic Seaport and The Mariners’ Museum in Virginia. He oversees research and collections functions at CHS.

2 thoughts on “Strike Up the Band(box)!

  1. Pingback: How Do I Store My Bonnet(s)? | If I Had My Own Blue Box:

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