Readers ask about Lane cedar chests
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  • Treasures in a little girl’s keepsake chest
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    Auction Finds

    Black high schoolers & Lane mini cedar chest

    About a month ago, two Lane mini cedar chests came up for auction at one of my favorite auction houses. They were lovely little trinket boxes no longer than 9″ that likely held someone’s treasured keepsakes.

    When the auctioneer got around to them, he announced that they were “salesman’s samples” of the larger more popular Lane chests, and probably shouldn’t be in this regular sale. So, thinking he could get more money for them at their Decorative Arts sale, he pulled them.

    Well, two weeks later, they were back in the regular sale. Apparently, he found out that they were not saleman’s samples but just regular little boxes given out by the thousand by furniture companies across the country to high school girls. Many were handed out during the 1950s and 1960s to girls at graduation, with the hope that they would be inspired to buy the larger size, which cost hundreds of dollars.

    Inside the lid of each box at auction: Lane Cedar Chests, Altavista, Va. Presented by Jaffe Furniture Co., Tarentum, PA. The other one held the name B.E. Block & Bros.

    In Googling, I found a lot of these small chests, and in some instances they were being sold as “saleman’s samples.” But even more were being sold as they were meant to be.


    The Lane Co. began distributing the free chests, which came with locks, in the 1930s when young women fresh out of high school had marriage on their minds, according to Wikipedia. Some stores were giving still them to high schoolers up into the 1990s, although the Lane website says that it no longer has them available. A Lane Company official said in a Washington Post story from 2005 said the girls were required to pick up the chests from the local furniture store.

    According to one website, the miniature chests were first made by the company in 1925, and five years later a sales manager thought it would be a good promotional idea to make them available through the furniture stores.

    Hope chests are nothing new; they’ve been around at least since the 1700s and their purpose has changed little over the centuries. One of the best display of the workmanship is in a collection at the Smithsonian Institution, a sulphur-inlaid chest – called the Dietrich chest of 1783 – made by German immigrant cabinetmakers in Lancaster County, PA., between 1765 and 1820.

    Women had been filling hope chests them for years as trousseaus for marriage. Mothers put aside linen, clothing, home furnishings and other niceties for their daughters. During World War II, Lane advertised the chests to GI’s, urging them to buy for their beloved back home. Shirley Temple became the model face for the company.

    I came across testimonials from women who recalled going to a furniture store to retrieve the boxes. Or their mother or grandmother handed them down. One woman talked of storing letters from her first boyfriend. Another talked of keeping a daughter’s kindergarten tassel. Yet another kept a prom picture and graduation ring in hers.


    They were nostalgic about the memories those chests evoked and what they meant to them. It made me wonder if any of the furniture stores ever gave them to black high school girls during those times. Do black graduates have those same memories or were they robbed of them?

    Did a salesman ever bother to give them the free boxes? Or did a black mom have to pay for the chest if her daughter wanted one? At a time when black mothers and daughters were expected to use the back door to enter establishments, I suspect the answers are no and yes.

    Am I wrong? Were you a black high school girl in the 1950s or 1960s (or earlier) and got a Lane cedar mini chest from your local furniture store for free? Do you recall the chests? Do you have any such memories to share?

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    44 Comments

    1. I found one of the Lane Furniture mini cedar chest at a dear driend of mines Flea Market. I had bought a large one from her which i adore and she happened upon several small ones at auction and got them for me. One is a Lane one that has the label in place on the bottom that tells you of how it is a promotional item from Lane. And it also has where a lady named Lynda Williams and it come from John Tucker Furniture company and i am even more intrigued by the date hand written on the box which is 1932. So this box i am adsuming is one of the first ones ever made. I just wanted to share my newly found passion to collect. Thanks for your time.

    2. Hello Sherry,
      I can see this is a older story, but wanted to share. Was just at a local consignment shop and spied a Lane Jewelry Box from Chris Furniture, Livonia, Michigan. I bought it for $6.95. I received my 1st box in 1985, from a local Art Van Furniture. I have always loved it and it hold letters, concert stubs, trinkets. I have bought 4 now & have given them as gifts to my children! And to newly minted Grads! Unfortunately not a one has a key! It is fun to see others who love these little boxes too!!

    3. My mother received her box from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, CA (predominantly black at the time) in the ’50s. I received mine from Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, CA (predominantly Jewish at the time) in the ’80s.

    4. I am a male and received one for graduation in 1969. Still have it but have misplaced the key. My guess is that they just saw my first name and thought I was a girl. Don’t think any of the other boys got one. I have one daughter and plan to give this to her.

    5. Hi,

      My dad and I owned two furniture stores in Andrews & Georgetown, SC in the ’80’s & ’90’s and we sold Lane Cedar Chests. We gave away hundreds of the small boxes to graduating girls over the years. Occasionally some woman will recognize me and thank me for her little box! To bad Lane went out of business.

    6. Sherry,
      Please check out by blog, lanecedarbox.wordpress.com. I have been gathering (or trying to gather) information on our little boxes earnestly for the last year or so. I have been unable to locate any “expert” on the topic or really anything authoritative when it comes to the age of one style of box to the next. I am keeping a chronology of the boxes and most is documented on my blog. I have documented from 1935 to 2004 with a lot of gaps in between.
      I love the history and the stories from the ladies about how they received the boxes and how precious they are to them.
      I have a collection of about 40 boxes so far. I am only buying them lately if they are a good buy (around $10 or less) or if they are unique in some way.
      We share the same passion it appears. Please keep in touch.

      • Hi Chad. I will certainly check out your blog. I’m not sure if you saw this particular blog post of mine …

        http://myauctionfinds.com/2012/12/14/readers-ask-about-lane-cedar-chests/

        … but in it I quote one of my readers who suggested I check the local library and invited me down to AltaVista for a visit to talk to people who live there. At the time, Mrs. Lane was around but a reader recently sent me a link to her obituary. She died a few months ago at age 84. Unfortunately, I never made it to AltaVista.

        Sherry

    7. I have one I received when I graduated high school in 1980. It’s in mint condition. I have always used it to keep “special momentos” in. Love opening the lid and smelling the wonderful cedar fragrance.

    8. My older sister was eligible to get one when she graduated in 1965, but she never did. When I graduated in 1972, the stores were no longer giving them out in my area. I felt bad, because I always wanted one. I went into Goodwill a few months ago and saw one in great shape WITH the key for $5.00. I was so excited!

    9. I also have the same box. In 1969 the graduating girls were given a coupon that had to be delivered to a local furniture store for the little box. You had to walk thru the store and be shown different styles of hope chests. The purpose was to get you to buy a hope chest since most of the girls were engaged. My school was integrated in 1967 and all of the girls received the coupons.

      When I told the elderly salesman that I was going to college, he just gave me the box. I still use it for keeping small items. My son used it with his GI Joe toys for a few years. One day it will be given to my granddaughter.

      The box is well made and still has the cedar smell.

    10. I received my Lane box in 1963. Since then I have been picking them up as I travel around the country. It’s fun to go into antique stores, junk stores, flea markets and garage sales to see if they have any. I pay anywhere from $20.00 to my most recent of $3.00 ( I do love a good deal!). Unfortunately, I have only 2 keys, but I’m always on the lookout for more. Love my boxes and keep them displayed and used.

      • Good for you, Lois, for collecting and using them. Also, I always appreciate someone who loves a bargain just as much as I do.

    11. I inherited my mother’s chest a few years ago and love it to bits. It sits on the mantle and holds little keepsakes from both her and my own life. She graduated in 1947-48, and the box is in amazingly good condition. I recently visited Sebastopol, CA and found another box in one of the town’s many vintage shops. It is not marked with the city of origin, sadly. I am going to try to collect one from every state. I really enjoyed your article!

      • haha. i also am trying to collect one from every state! fun thing to look for when i go junking. i got mine in 1968, but i don’t remember going to the furniture store. i thought they were passed out in home room. who knows?

    12. My mom received one of these in the late sixties when she graduated high school. She gave it to me. Then, when I was married about 15 years ago, I received one (it looked brand new!) as either a bridal shower gift or wedding gift. I love that I have two, but I’d like them even for my boys to use as valets for their watches, etc…

      I will have to see if my local Lane carrying furniture store has any of them…love hearing everyone’s stories…

    13. My mom graduated in 1952, she ended up with 2 of the cedar chest. She passed away last year and I now have both chest and their keys.

      She often spoke highly of the little chest and what they meant to the other girls as well, but I have often wondered why the boys didn’t get one also…..the only thing I got for graduation was a Draft Notice.

    14. I also found these comments while looking for more information on the little Lane wood boxes. I have many of these that I bought over the years at Estate Sales, flea markets, etc. But the one I treasure the most is the one that belonged to my mother – it was from Troy, AL. I always thought she received it when she bought her full size Lane cedar chest, but now I’m thinking she received it when she graduated from high school in 1951. When I graduated in 1974 we didn’t receive these little boxes.
      Since I have so many of them and use them for storing jewelry – especially my holiday jewelry. I have noticed that they are different sizes – some measure 4.75″ x 8.75″ and others are 4″ x 9″. I wondered why they were different sizes. All of the boxes are marked inside the lid with different furniture stores across the USA. If anybody has any information about these boxes I would love to know.
      Enjoyed your information and all of the comments.

    15. Hi Sherry, I just ran across your site. The responses are very interesting. So let’s keep this going. I am not of A.A. Descent, but I attended high school in a very diverse area in So. Calif. where I and all the girls (anglo, a.a. & hispanic) in my graduating class of 1967 received these adorable mini cedar chests. Mine is filled with love letters from my GI boyfriend. When my daughter graduated from HS in 1986, they were no longer giving them out. I imagine I will pass it down to her someday.

    16. Our local furniture store in Anderson,SC had a graduation party in 1983 for all the girls in the county. All who attended recieved the box. A group of us went together and there was a total melting pot of attendies. I remember how excited we were when they passed out the invites-girls only. Sorry boys. Yes,a treasured memory

    17. I have my 1974 chest, and my daughter got hers in 2003, in Scarborough, Maine.

    18. I just found this post while trying to find out if Lane still offered these little cedar chests to graduating girls. My mother received on in 1955 and believe it or not I was still able to get mine in 1988. I was hoping to be able to get one for my daughter.

    19. Hi Sherry,
      I have 2 lane cedar chests that were my Mothers’ her paternal uncle Baltimore Arnold worked for Lane in Alta Vista VA .One was given to my mother upon her engagement to my Father.I have pictures of the chest filled with her wedding gifts and linens.I can’t find any information on African American employees of Lane.I’m guestimating he worked there at least in the 40’s.Do you know how I can research this? I loved your post. Many Thanks to you for this information.
      Yvette

      • Hi Yvette. That’s a tough one, so I googled Lane and came up with a site that accumulates business records of VA companies: http://www.vahistorical.org/rbhc/main.htm. I’m not sure how detailed their records are – especially when it comes to employees – but it’s one place to check. You should also talk to family members who knew your uncle and remember him working at Lane. Check to see if there’s an historical society in Alta Vista that has historical documents on the company. Lastly, maybe there are some Auction Finds readers out there who could offer other suggestions.

        Sherry

      • I too have a little Lane Chest that I was given by a furniture store in Phoenix, AZ when I graduated from HS. It is special to me because I now have lived in Altavista, VA (one word) for 12 years. I see the old smoke stack from the Lane factory each day. I wanted to let you know that the majority of people who lived here in the 40’s probably worked at Lane. Mrs. Lane is still alive and still lives in town. The best way to find information on someone who worked here is to plan a visit! We are a little town where everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows them. Our library has lots of historical information, but you get the best from the people who are still alive! Check out our town at http://www.ci.altavista.va.us/home.htm

        • Hi Lori. A trip to Altavista. That sounds like fun. I’ll try to plan a visit this summer for a follow-up blog post about a little town that produced a product that touched a lot of people.

          Sherry

    20. Have been discussing these mini Lane cedar chests on Facebook with the different alumni from my HS… It seems either that people weren’t aware of them and missed out or as the majority (although a few have somewhere lost theirs) -they still have the “keepsake” box.

      I also put my tassel, old letters and a few other “treasures” in mine. It’s so interesting to find that it wasn’t just a local tradition but seems it was across the USA.
      Found your article here when we were all wondering if the boxes were still available …sad to know they are not beyond Ebay or other such sources.

      Tori

      • Hi Tori. Yes, they seemed to have been a national tradition. It was good marketing on the part of Lane – even better because the little chests were functional.

        Sherry

    21. Sherry,
      I have one of the little Lane chests that you pictured. Do you happen know the model name of the chest? I was unable to match it to a full sized model on the Lane website.
      Any information about that style/model would be helpful.
      John Young

    22. i stil have the one i got in 1964 at graduation in michigan

    23. I have one like pictured above, but it says presented by M C Thomas. Any input?

      • Hi Keith. Unfortunately not. My basic research showed that they were given out by furniture companies. Maybe MC Thomas was a furniture store owner or someone who gave them out as gifts.

    24. February 10, 2011

      I was just doing some research on Cedar Chests when I came across your site.
      I am a proud AA lady of 50’s……
      Yes indeed, as a high school graduating senior in late 1960’s , my little city did give us certificates for a free complimentary mini Cedar Chest!

      I value it yet today, and I will pass it down…..

      Blessings to you! A nice blog!

      Elane

      • Thanks, Elane. I’m glad to hear that they were being given to African American girls, too. What, may I ask, little city was it?

        Sherry

        • I am also an African American lady close to 50 years old. I, too received a small Lane chest when I was a senior in high school (Ohio) . I still have the little chest filled with memories

    25. Was wanting to buy some of the small cedar chests for Christmas presents. I received mine when I graduated from Guthrie High School in 1964. All the girls got one. I don’t remember what if anything that the boys got. Several years ago I was able to buy one at Mathis Brothers Furniture store in Oklahoma City. I plan to contact them to see if they still are able to get any of the boxes.

      • Hi Jo. Interesting that you were able to find one a couple years ago. I didn’t think they were still being made. There seems to be a lot of folks with fond memories of them.

        Sherry

    26. do you have an address for the Lane cedar chest co ? thank you ! Lila

    27. Great info! I was surprised to see my little cedar chest pictured in this story. I have an identical one and it dates to the mid to late 1930’s. When it came to me- it had some Madame Alexander doll clothes and a prom corsage inside it. I’ve often wondered what it was for- thanks for the info!

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