I would like to know what this box was made to hold and how old it might be. I found it when cleaning out a storage room at work. I have never seen another box like it. There are no markings on it, but the bottom is covered with worn green felt. It is 15-1/4 inches tall in the back and 9 inches tall in the front. It is 8-3/4 inches wide and 12 inches long. Any information would be helpful.

Dear Helaine and Joe:


I would like to know what this box was made to hold and how old it might be. I found it when cleaning out a storage room at work. I have never seen another box like it. There are no markings on it, but the bottom is covered with worn green felt. It is 15-1/4 inches tall in the back and 9 inches tall in the front. It is 8-3/4 inches wide and 12 inches long. Any information would be helpful.


Thank you,


C.W., Hanover Park, Ill.


Dear C.W.:


There are all sorts of boxes that collectors find interesting. There are sewing boxes, snuffboxes, Bible boxes and strong boxes, to name just a few. However, almost any kind of old box will be noticed by somebody if it has an interesting feature, such as a printed advertisement or other decoration.


The box in today's question is generally referred to as a knife box. It is a surprise that C.W. did not guess this purpose right off because the inside fitting is missing, and this would have had the slots where knives and spoons were stored and locked away when not in use.


A little history: During the Middle Ages, you were expected to bring your own cutlery to dinner at someone else's house. This was generally just a knife in a leather case.


The fork as a cooking and eating instrument had been used since ancient times but did not gain great popularity in Italy until the 14th century. In northern Europe, the acceptance of the fork was slower, and in England the use of such a device was thought to be "unmanly" and did not reach widespread use until the 18th century.


Over time, it became customary for the host to supply the cutlery, and this was often stored in a box -- or pair of boxes -- displayed proudly in the dining room. Such boxes generally had a lock because the contents were precious and homeowners wanted to discourage theft by the household staff.


English knife boxes were most commonly crafted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and these are the ones most commonly found in the United States. They were made in a variety of shapes.


The one in today's question appears to be in the English Hepplewhite style and was probably made around 1800. There are numerous reproductions of knife boxes out there, but the lock on this one and the obvious wear to the wood -- plus the missing small ring in the escutcheon on the lid -- suggest to us that this example is old and original.


It has banded inlay all over the serpentine front and the top is inlaid with a star on the inside and a beautiful shell on the outside. Knife boxes such as this are most desirable to collectors in pairs, and since this is a single and missing the inside fittings, this example has only a modest value.


A pair of knife boxes similar to this one might bring as much as $4,000 at auction ($2,000 for the pair is more normal), but at auction, this single box would probably fetch a price in the $400-$600 range. For insurance purposes, this lovely knife box should be valued at about $800-$1,000.


Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, PO Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at treasures@knology.net.