Antique Bible Boxes

By: Judy King Watson, King-Thomasson Antiques • May 03, 2012 • 0 Comments

The term bible box is loosely applied to any small portable oak box of sixteenth and seventeenth century England.

These small and charming boxes were used in the 16th and 17th centuries to contain the personal possessions of their owners. Items such as laces, candles, and game pieces were often under lock and key. There are records indicating that Henry VIII owned many such boxes and used them for storing chessmen, falconry equipment, perfumes, and dolls for children.

The term "bible box" was given to these boxes in the 19th century when the family bible was placed in these boxes which had been handed down from relatives of earlier times.

The boxes are usually rectangular and are joined by nails or pegs. Dovetailed boxes are more rare and paneled boxes rarer still. One often finds a small interior covered tray or till inside the box. These tills were probably used for coins.

There was a boxmakers guild in the 17th century as part of the Joyners Company of London. These boxmakers were skilled carvers and the variety of carving on these boxes is testimony to not only their skill but to their knowledge of earlier religious decoration and design.

Seventeenth century vernacular furniture displays endless repetition of simple formal patterns which are adapted in a regular manner to fit almost any available space or surface. The formula is rarely monotonous since there is a sense of vigour and originality.

Among the more common designs are lunettes, gadrooning, nulling, guilloche and vine trail. One also finds very abstract geometric patterns and lovely free floral designs.

King-Thomasson has been charmed by "bible boxes" since the start of the business 21 years ago. We have stands made for them and they are used as unique and attractive end tables and small coffee tables.

The boxes would never have been on a stand originally but rather would have been set upon a chest.