Wooden boxes are so common; most people don’t give much thought as to their uses. This was even truer years ago, before plastics and resins became commonplace, and tools made metalwork easier and cheaper. For hundreds of years, wooden boxes were the only containers available to most people. The wealthy could invest in the artisan work needed to produce brass or iron boxes, but anyone with a saw and a few nails could make a wooden box.

Hardwood boxes were strong and sturdy, suitable for all types of travels. Almost every child has heard tall tales of pirates burying treasure in wooden chests. Whether those stories are true is up for debate, but wooden boxes were used aboard ships as everything from toolboxes to spice chests. The apothecary chests on those same ships were wooden boxes fitted with numerous drawers and partitions for holding remedies and medical supplies.

Wooden boxes were also preferred for land travel. Some stagecoach lines would carry mail in wooden boxes to keep it protected from the elements between stations. Those that carried passengers also usually had a strongbox, a locked box for valuables.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, steamer trunks held the worldly possessions of thousands of immigrants sailing to the US. These large trunks, constructed of wood covered with cloth or leather, were the predecessors of the modern footlocker. Steamer trunks were so plentiful that many can still be found today in antique shops and online. There is also a brisk industry in refinishing these chests for use as decorative furniture.

In more modern times, boxes can be made out of many materials, but wood is traditionally chosen for specific purposes. Trousseau chests, often called hope chests, are traditionally gifted to young unmarried women upon their engagement. These large wooden chests, often lined with aromatic cedar, linens, curtains, and other items the new bride and groom will need to establish their household. Spanish cedar is also the preferred material for cigar boxes, as the sap from the tree has a component, which helps to keep the cigars free of insect or fungal infestations.

Today, wooden boxes are often used as jewelry boxes, pill boxes and holders for small keepsakes. Many different decorative techniques have evolved, from the Chinese tradition of lacquering, to Polish style carving, or simpler American Shaker styles. Additionally, artists can add their own designs, with the pattern or décor commanding as much attention as the box itself.