Vintage wooden crate.

Golden Glow beer wood crate with craved handles.

You see vintage wooden crates everywhere at flea markets. Many vendors don’t sell them, but use them to carry their wares from the car to the booth, and back to the car. They don’t consider a crate as a nostalgic thing, imbued with some hidden beauty. It’s just a convenient way to schlep things around. From these people you can get the best deals on crates. Although, sometimes, they don’t want to give them up because they know it’s hard to find another box that sturdy.

Vintage wooden crate

Roast Beef wooden crate.

I think you still see so many wooden crates today because once they were used for everything. Every product imaginable (as long as it fit inside) was packed and transported in a wooden crate. The difference between a crate and a box is that latter gets usually destroyed (or taken apart) when removing  the product. A crate can be re-used as is.

Soda bottle wooden crates.

Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up crates.

Together with woven baskets, vases and amphoras, wooden crates are believed to be the oldest form of packaging. Corrugated cardboard boxes were only invented in the 1870s, and plastic crates weren’t used before the late 1940s. When companies started switching from wood to plastic, a lot of wooden crates probably ended up in a fireplace. I wonder how many old and broken plastic crates ended up with a romantic evening in the fire

Antique wooden crate.

Old wooden crate with metal siding for extra support.

I’m always surprised by the weight of wooden crates. When I hold my empty Golden Glow crate, and imagine the additional weight of twenty four bottles made out of thick soda-lime glass, plus the beer, I can’t help but think what a wimp I am. Were people so much tougher sixty years ago?

Many crates have metals bands wrapped around the edges to make them more durable.

WWII ammunition crate from Dupont/Remington Express.

Ammunition crate during used during WWII from Dupont/Remington Express.

I’m not a fan of war memorabilia (I grew up in Germany), but I couldn’t resist those box joints (somewhat similar to dovetails). Today, you will have a hard time finding this kind of dedication on an expensive piece of furniture.

Wooden crate with dovetails.

Wooden crate with dovetailed corners.

The paint has been completely washed off, but the outlines of the letters are still readable. The ink must have been applied under substantial pressure.

Crate for 7-Up Bottling Co., Los Angeles.

7-Up Bottling Co. crate from Los Angeles.

12 Comments

  1. Posted December 1, 2009 at 12:11 AM | Permalink

    Equally fascinating to me is the printing on these crates, both the typography but also the actual printing process. While some of the markings appear to be simply screened (like the Pepsi?), the debossing on many of these- Golden Glow, Remington, Roast Beef- suggests that some sort of plate printing was used, ie. an engraved plate was made, inked, and then under pressure transferred to the wood. So much effort, care and craftsmanship for such a utilitarian object! Could this be the roots of why today we sometimes see "made with care by XXXX and team" (or some such) printed on the bottom of corrugated boxes? Thanks KM!

  2. Michael B.
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 12:35 AM | Permalink

    The straight-fingered joints used in the ammo boxes are "Box Joints". Dove tails are joints interlock by shaping the fingers in the form of a dove's tail, as your wikipedia link shows. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  3. Posted December 1, 2009 at 3:46 AM | Permalink

    Steven, Thanks for your comment. I agree, the printing on these boxes is remarkable. I actually have a picture that shows how deep the wood is pushed in. I will upload it when I have more time later today. I also found this great book from 1921 called "Wooden Box and Crate Construction" by the Forest Products Laboratory – here is a link: http://tiny.cc/CrateConstruction. It will tell you everything that you ever wanted to know on the production of crates, but unfortunately doesn't mention anything about the printing. S.

  4. Posted December 1, 2009 at 3:50 AM | Permalink

    Michael, Thanks for your comment and your note about the joints. It's already fixed. S.

  5. alan richmond
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 8:30 AM | Permalink

    I am sending boxes to florida and i wanted to find out about putting the boxes into one large crate.

  6. Brian Bouley
    Posted June 19, 2010 at 7:38 AM | Permalink

    I just found a stash of colorful soda crates and bought the whole lot. There are over 100 and am asking $20 each. Interested? call me at (808) 870-1268 and ask for Brian

  7. Eddy Hibbitt
    Posted August 29, 2010 at 11:01 PM | Permalink

    Does anyone know the print process or machinery that was used to press the lettering into the wood?. Its use was widespread but I can find no reference to the process in books on printing and I guess its been rendered obsolete by inkjet printers.

  8. Posted April 26, 2011 at 12:24 AM | Permalink

    I thought you would find this interesting. I found beautiful crates outside a studio (commercial shoots) once and the guy who was throwing them out was very relieved that we wanted them. When they finally got too tatty to use, I was going to chop them up, but noticed that the sawdust was bright red in places. I polished a little piece and loved the wood. I built this little fly tying station with it, and I'm making the baffles of a small set of speakers from the last bit. http://www.flickr.com/photos/33849873@N08/5331899

  9. Sebastian Kaufmann
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:22 PM | Permalink

    @ Danie That is indeed very interesting. Well done.

  10. Posted June 6, 2011 at 6:56 AM | Permalink

    I have an antique wooden Seven-Up Bottling company of Los Angeles crate and want to sell it. please call Delainya 858-220-9041. I have a photo I will share. Its really bitchin but i'm pretty sure theres somebody out there that will appreciate it much more than me! :)

    delainyabell@yahoo.com

  11. Posted February 17, 2013 at 10:10 PM | Permalink

    Does any one know where I can buy a 1900 Bee Soap and/or Circus Soap company transport vintage shipping crate?

    Facebook: Larrier House

    Backstory: yesterday when shopping at Chesapeake Market Place & antique Market in Southern Maryland I saw a 1900 bee soap crate I wanted to buy. I asked for assistance from a woman who was working at the antique shop. I described the exact item I saw, including the vendor number and price of the item. I had one additional question that she could not answer. I was directed to the front desk where the clerk called the owner to get the information I needed. I agreed upon a price $50.00 and when I went to pay for the box, the first women had allowed another couple to pick up and claim the box. To say I am disappointed is to put it mildly.

    Thanks

  12. Julie
    Posted March 29, 2016 at 11:34 AM | Permalink

    I love old antique crates with writing on them I got a cool dovetail Kentucky biscuit one that is in rough shape but wanted to hand the writing part in my kitchen any one know how to get the dovetail apart without wrecking it

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

Click here to subscribe (via RSS) to the comments of this post.