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Bentwood, Shaker boxes still made the old way

Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris
Globe Correspondent / March 17, 2007

WILTON, N.H. -- The classic bent wood boxes of yesteryear have a distinct aesthetic appeal in this age of disposable "take-along" plastic containers and flimsy cardboard cartons. But in their heyday, they were as functional as they were attractive.

Before scales became the standard measure for trade, everything from flour to produce to fish was sold by volume. Graduated wooden boxes were the principal measure, and Frye's Measure Mill turned them out in half-bushel, peck, quart, and two-quart sizes. The mill still produces similar Colonial-style boxes, using the same 1850s machinery powered by a water wheel and driven by leather belts.

Since the late 1960s the mill has also been making Shaker boxes at the request of Eldress Bertha Lindsay of the Canterbury Shakers, who approached the mill to carry on the tradition that had died with the last Shaker box maker, Delmer Wilson, in 1961. Based on examples in the Canterbury collection, the mill crafts the oval Shaker boxes with native maple bent around wooden forms and secured with copper tacks.

A 90-minute tour of the facility is offered on Saturdays from June through October. But if you miss the tour, the work area is visible from the gift shop and displays show how the boxes are made. They may be folk art today, but they are still useful for holding sewing notions, buttons, jewelry, gloves -- or game pieces. One box comes with a checkerboard painted on top.

Frye's Measure Mill, 12 Frye Mill Road, Wilton, N.H. 603-654-6581, fryesmeasuremill.com . Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday noon-5 (through March 31 Thursday-Saturday 10- 4, Sunday noon-4 ) . Tours June-October on Saturday s at 2 p.m., $5.75, under age 12 free.

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