Antiques column: Bible boxes once outnumbered bibles

This bible box realised �120 at auction.
This bible box realised �120 at auction.

Bible box is a 19th century term to describe the vast array of small storage boxes produced from the 17th century onwards.

The boxes were not always, as the name suggests, constructed for bible storage. It can be remembered in the 17th century relatively few families would even have had a bible. Bible boxes in the 17th century far outnumbered the amount of bibles.

Boxes were numerous in the 17th century as it can be remembered drawers were rare until the late 17th century / early 18th century. The only piece of storage furniture was the storage chest or alternatively named coffer. It is hard to believe the time without chest of drawers but it was not until the mid-18th century for them to be anywhere near commonplace.

Bible boxes remained popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Oak was by far the most popular material for construction although some walnut examples do exist. Numerous boxes had carving to the front panel. Designs included lunettes, guilloches, nulling, lozenges and vine trails. More expensive boxes, for wealthier clients, tended to make greater use of carving than their simpler country made counterparts.

Boxes were normally made of boards joined by nails or pegs. Panelled and dovetailed boxes from the 17th century period are extremely rare. Boards, at the end, are sometimes seen to have small notches chiselled out of them to prevent the wood splitting along the grain.

Most boxes had a lock. This was in case the box was to be used for the storage of private possessions. Homes in the 17th and 18th centuries were far more open than they are today, hence the need for this added security.

Of all 17th century furniture still in existence the bible box is the most common.

Surprisingly 17th bible boxes can still be picked up in the saleroom for under £300. Rare examples, however, can make significant sums. Initials and a date also add value to a box. A good patina can also help value considerably.

Chris Clubley and Co are holding their next sale on 18 April. The sale, besides the normal eccentric assortment of items, will include a considerable range of plants. Entries are still being taken for the sale alongside the fine art and antique sale on 16 May. Further details are available via www.chrisclubley.co.uk/auctions/ or call 01430 874000.