- Illustration courtesy of Lane Hall

What's in the box?

In Greek mythology, when the gods presented Pandora with a box (actually a lidded jar; blame a bad Latin translation) for a wedding gift, they told her never to open it under any circumstance. That's like showing your kids where you hid the Christmas presents and saying: "Don't peek."

Gifts aside, Pandora was no different from the rest of us, and her curiosity won out. I wonder how long she waited. When she finally caved and lifted the lid, she unleashed irretrievable evil on an innocent world. Well, shoot.

Present-day box collectors often cite the same inclination Pandora had when they spot an intriguing example. Initially, they notice its design and wonder what it held. They want to pick it up. They have to open it. Old boxes contain a certain charm.

There are as many types of collectible boxes as there are contents: jewelry, cigars, music, writings, trinkets, snuff. Even old lunchboxes are highly sought. Each category has particular attributes for which collectors hunt, and as always, rarity and condition are major factors.

Prices for antique writing boxes, or slopes, are all over the map but don't appear to be in high demand. Maybe it's because people don't take time to write anymore. (Reference my article in the March issue of Joy.) Some lovely, handcrafted, wooden examples well over 100 years old didn't fetch $150 on eBay. Might be a good time to buy.

The box in this sketch shows my late 19th-century, locking tea caddy. It is pine with oak veneer, carved rim and floral marquetry (pieces of veneer from a different wood inlaid to form an image or design). Because of some condition issues, it would only bring about $20. In the old days, a person's tea stash was valuable. All old tea boxes, or caddies, included a locking mechanism. For a peek at a stunning collection of 18th- and 19th-century tea caddies, jewelry and writing boxes, see The Box Shop of London's website at

Here are some fun sales facts: A solid-gold, French snuffbox from the 1800s, appraised on "Antiques Roadshow," sold recently for $2,900. A "Beverly Hillbillies" metal lunchbox went back to the hills for $222.50. For $1,300, you could have owned an 1810 English rosewood music/sewing box with implements in the shape of a piano. Or, if you can shell out $16,499.99, you could be the proud owner of an antique, English music box made of rosewood with exquisite, inlaid pharaohs on top. With its bells, drum and three cylinders that play six songs each, it could claim top honors among local music-box collectors.

We left Pandora in a terrible fix earlier, and I can't abandon that poor, mythological girl. Pandy could have been me, excepting intimacy with immortals. I've been guilty of unleashing a few evil thoughts, especially from behind the wheel of my Honda.

But to finish the story: Zeus (being Zeus) knew all along that Pandora would open the box, so he included a Cracker Jack prize at the bottom. Her name was Astrea — angel of hope.

Freelance writer Peggy Dover lives in Eagle Point. Email her at

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