Cigar boxes and syrup pails had many uses | TheFencePost.com

Cigar boxes and syrup pails had many uses

Ellen Campbell
Central City, Neb.

Someone recently sent a suggestion to a hint column about using cigar boxes for so many things and that they were free for the asking at cigar stores. I didn’t know they were even being made anymore. Actually I haven’t thought at all about how cigars are packaged, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find them in bubble packs. Everything else is.

We did use a lot of cigar boxes back in my childhood. Since my dad didn’t smoke cigars, I’m not sure where ours came from but they always seemed to be available. My first remembrance is of crayons kept in them after the original cardboard package gave out. They were also used at school for storing pencils, scissors, first-aid supplies and other stuff. I believe they served as jewelry boxes for some girls.

When Margaret and I started our first sewing project in 4-H we were supposed to get sewing boxes for our supplies. I think a few of the girls in the club had fancy baskets, but under Mom’s direction we made ours from cigar boxes. We covered our boxes in a light green cloth, and I can still picture them. They were nice looking and large enough to store our scissors, measuring tapes and other necessities. Our very first sewing projects were making felt needle cases and whatever kind of pincushions we wanted for our boxes.

Going through my mother’s possessions after her death, I came across a cigar box with small rocks gathered from trips to the mountains, another with sea shells, and one with old card decks. There were the Old Maid cards, battered from kids turning down the corners of the Old Maid to identify her, along with partial pitch and pinochle decks.

There was one cigar box in remarkably good shape which I now have upstairs filled with small family mementos including the monogrammed pocket handkerchief of my great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War.

Syrup pails were prominent in usage too, back in the olden days. I think they were all Karo Syrup. I don’t remember any other brand making those tin buckets. Log Cabin Syrup made theirs in the shape of a log cabin, and I’ll bet those are really in demand now among collectors. There were too many Karo buckets for them to ever become rare.

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Many a country school child carried lunch to school in one of those buckets. The lucky kids had the gallon size, but most used the smaller ones that resulted in crushed sandwiches and everything smelling of orange peel.

Guess what. I found some of those little buckets in my mother’s things too. One was really old, and I had a hard time prying the lid off. What I found inside were some little wool baby stockings and a fur collar for a child’s coat, probably stored in there to prevent moth damage. Another bucket was full of marbles. I cleaned those up and took them to one of those dealers who come around from time to time asking for old coins, jewelry and marbles. Unfortunately all of the marbles from my can were common with no value. Another bucket from Mom’s house was filled with buttons. Some of those were very nice, but most were ordinary ones cut from shirts and winter underwear. Everything was saved in those days.

I believe if those antique hunters on TV (The Pickers) had come to my mother’s basement they would have found plenty to take away with them. My sisters and I divided many of Mom’s things, we sold some, and now I have the rest in my upstairs or basement.