Boxes, Boxes Everywhere!

When Woody and Buzz were moving house, there were indeed boxes everywhere. The sight of that many boxes is not as intimidating to the hardy archive worker as it seems to be to Woody. Boxes are an important tool for those of us is the archiving business! Let us take a moment to think about where the humble invention that is the box came from.

The early box-makers used wood in the form of thin chips or scales. As a natural material it was widely available. Before the 19th century, cardboard was made by hand. It simply took too long and cost too much to use in packaging. The first machine made cardboard was produced in the 1800s making the creation of cardboard boxes possible. One of the first recorded uses was for a German board game “The Game of Besieging”, a game of strategy produced between 1810 and 1820.

The Game of Besieged. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museums

Robert Gair emigrated from Edinburgh to New York in 1853 aged 14. He was a printer and made paper bags. A real innovator, he used pioneering concrete construction techniques to build his factories in New York. He also connected his buildings by underground tunnels and aerial bridges in the early 20th Century. In 1879, a worker at one of his factories accidentally cut through 20,000 paper seed bags. However this incident lead to Gair discovering a method for more efficiently producing cardboard boxes by printing, cutting, and creasing cardboard in one process. Yes, he had invented the flat pack box! Gair went on to provide boxes for major companies such as Bloomingdales, Colgate and Nabisco. Find out more about Robert Gair.

An advert for Uneeda Biscuits – in boxes made by Gair

The earliest entry in Dundee Directory for “Package-case Makers” is in 1876. As wood was still widely used, most of those listed come from a joinery, timber merchant type background. By 1949 there are more businesses listed, including Langlands & McAinsh.

Directory Packing case makers
Packing Case Makers in the Dundee Directory for 1876

We use literally thousands of boxes in the City Archives. Boxes of all shapes and sizes to fit the different types of documents we hold, such as brochures, diaries, photographs, minute books, registers, log books, and much more. Here are a couple of examples:

Church Mins
Kirk Session Minute Books stored in a standard box
Caird Hall Brochure.
A small acid-free cardboard box containing a brochure for the opening of the Caird Hall in 1923.

We use boxes to keep items safe on our shelves. We can group together smaller items in boxes to make sure they don’t get lost. They help us make best use of the space therefore enabling us to store more. As we intend on keeping items for a long time, we have to use boxes which are safe for the documents. This means that we use acid-free cardboard boxes to make sure they aren’t slowly damaging the items they contain.

SS Martos

We hold ship plans and records of the Robb Caledon and the Gourlay Bros. shipbuilding companies . We need specialist long boxes to protect the very fragile large rolled plans.

Town Council Mins

On occasions, items require a custom made box to protect and preserve them. These are Dundee Town Council Minutes, which have been boxed individually. We hold Dundee Corporation/Burgh/Council records from 1553 onwards. By putting these volumes in their own box we can stop them rubbing against each other and reduce the amount of harmful substances that get to them, including dust and oils from human hands. These minutes are consulted frequently, so the extra protection of the box help in their preservation.

Although boxes may not be the most inspiring of objects, they are an essential for good record and archive keeping. So let’s hear it for the humble cardboard box!

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