Evaluating Condition

Since these boxes are more than 50 years old, it is very difficult to find a perfect specimen. There are different types of damage which we have come across.

Structural Damage

There are stresses and tensions contained and balanced within a block of wood. When a shape is turned on a lathe from a block, a large percentage of the mass is removed. Inevitably, the balance is changed as the material is removed, and the shape will change over time to adjust to the new balance. The roundness becomes distorted. To avoid this problem, master lathe turners follow these steps:
  • Make sure that the stock to be turned is aged, and dry.
  • Rough turn the block removing most of the wood, but leaving a comfortable excess, for later.
  • Age the rough turned work, allowing the wood to distort according to the new balances.
  • Finish the turning.
The manifestations of not following the above rules are lids which don't fit and structural cracking. The majority of the boxes in our collection fall short of the mark here. It seems that these boxes were produced quickly and relatively inexpensively.

Lid Fit

The lid should be snug, but not tight. When in place, it should blend visually with the body of the box. The lid should be able to rotate through a full circle on the box without having it bind.


It is not uncommon for parts of a box to develop a hairline crack. Sometimes, this is due to not adequately aging the wood prior to turning it. Cracks can also result from forcing a lid, which doesn't fit, onto a box.

Surface Damage

Over the years, many of these boxes have been neglected or abused. We often get them with the wood so dried out that the thin coasters are apt to crack, with just normal handling. Luckily, a couple of applications of a furniture cream serves to re-vitalize the wood nicely.

Stained surfaces are another common problem. If the wood was dry and porous, as it often is, when it came into contact with whatever caused the stain, the stain probably has penetrated the wood permanently. We haven't found a way to reverse this kind of damage, but we're open to suggestions.

Other kinds of surface damage include chips and paint lifting.


It is quite common to get coaster sets with some, or all, of the coasters missing. The coaster set boxes are usually nice enough to stand on their own, but we know what they are supposed to contain.

Occasionally, we'll get boxes without lids or lids without boxes. Because they were manufactured individually, as matched pairs, we've never been able to make a complete set out of these orphans.

Copyright 2000 by Marc Kahn; All rights reserved.

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