Vintage Lane Expert | Chad Hilkemeier

Vintage Lane Expert

The collection! – photo credit: Chad Hilkemeier

Be still your cedar-loving hearts dear readers, for we are embarking on another fact-filled Lane Furniture adventure. (As you know, Lane’s products are shrouded in so much mystery that getting genuine insight is like hitting the jackpot – and boy are we winning Vegas style today!)

Remember when we spoke about those swoon-worthy miniature cedar chests handed out to high school graduates? Ever since that article went live I’ve wanted to know more about these little gems. As luck would have it I met the guru: allow me to introduce you to vintage Lane expert and collector Chad Hilkemeier. His blog, Lane Cedar Box, is a must-read for every mid-century enthusiast.

Here, within each post, you will find a treasure trove of information and inspiration. If you are looking for a new space-saving collecting genre, this is it! His blog is a fun place where questions are asked and answered, allowing you to start this new venture with confidence (if you wish to interact further and be part of the conversation, I encourage you to check out their Facebook page). So what drew Chad to these boxes? The following hits at the heart of his collecting spirit and I think you’ll all identify with the spirit of this quote! Join us as we get to know more about these small but mighty prized possessions.

I love these little boxes because of the romantic notion of it all.  There were over 27 million of these little boxes presented as high school graduation gifts to only individual young ladies (like my mother and my wife).  Each box really has a story of its own to tell. How many boxes held precious mementos like class rings, love notes and graduation tassels? As a young lady, how could you part with such a symbol of your youth?  This is why vintage appeals to me.

We all love Lane, but what drew your focus to the cedar boxes in particular? (And for readers just joining us – what are the Lane cedar boxes?)

Vintage Lane Expert

Tall Fluted Feet (or TFF) – photo credit: Chad Hilkemeier

For nearly eight decades beginning in the 1930’s, Lane Furniture manufactured miniature cedar boxes and distributed most of them as graduation gifts to young ladies just graduating from high school. This Girl Graduation Plan was a groundbreaking marketing idea. Believe it our not, advertising to young ladies was almost unheard of back then.

For many years between one-half and two-thirds of all girls graduating from high school received a box. The boxes were usually available to pick up at local Lane retailers. While at the retailer, the girl and her parents could view the full size cedar chests offered at some kind of discount – hint, hint. It was once estimated by Lane executives that nearly 27 million of these boxes were made and given away! Fortunately for nuts like me, many of the little boxes are still around because, I feel, they are cherished keepsakes.

As the demand for hope chests waned in the late 1980’s, Lane continued to make the boxes on a much smaller scale for distribution through companies like Disney, NASCAR, JCPenney’s and many others until at least 2004. Some, during this time weren’t even (Gasp) made of cedar!

For as long as I can remember, we had one of these little boxes in my house. Ours was received by my mother when she graduated from high school in 1962. This box ended up in my room and contained some of my most prized possessions. Keep in mind, the boxes have a lock so young ladies (and I) could keep possessions private and away from parents and nosy siblings. Another box, containing dominoes at my grandparent’s house, was probably obtained by my life hero, my grandfather, who worked for 30 years at a furniture store that carried Lane furniture. Both boxes were branded under the lid with the Lane logo and Ballentyne’s Furniture Inc. of Norfolk, NE. So, I guess you could say I have a sentimental attachment to the little boxes. Side note: My home town, Norfolk, NE, shared by Johnny Carson but I digress…

Vintage Lane Expert

Please remember – photo credit: Chad Hilkemeier

My wife also received a box when she graduated from high school in Phoenix, AZ in 1985 so when we married we had two boxes. Over the next few years those two turned into six and then I got hooked. I noticed the boxes I found in antique and thrift stores were similar but not identical. I didn’t know the whole Lane story but, as a marketing guy, I was captivated by what I learned about the Girl Graduation Plan.

Please tell us all about the project, the process, and what your goals are with the site.

I figured since everything in the world can be found on the internet, I would be able to locate information on the boxes to satisfy my curiosity about the different boxes and when they were made. Much to my surprise, three years later, I have not found another half-way serious collector! I can’t be the only one interested/obsessed, right?

Unfortunately, by several accounts, Lane lost most of the company’s records and archives in a massive flood and, therefore, the current iteration of the company is of little help in researching the boxes. The Virginia Historical Society, who maintains the Lane company archives, is very accommodating. However, they don’t have much useful information about the boxes either. Part of the challenge with determining the age or chronology of the little boxes is that they don’t have any model or serial numbers. Therefore, I have to rely on anecdotal evidence to come to any conclusions about age.

Having exhausted all the research avenues I could think of, I turned to writing a blog about my quest for knowledge in hopes of locating other collectors. Readership to my blog is growing and I enjoy hearing from other curious Lane collectors. So to anyone out there interested in knowing more – reach out and be part of the conversation. My main quest to date is understanding chronology and where styles/variations fit into that design timeline.

Vintage Lane Expert

A spot for your treasures – photo credit: Chad Hilkemeier

The thrill of discovery is definitely a big bonus of the research process; what’s your favorite moment / memory of this project?

About a year ago, through my blind phone calling campaign to Altavista, VA (where the boxes were made) I was able to track down a 75 year old retired Marketing Executive of Lane Furniture. He was with Lane from 1963 to 2001 and still lives in Altavista. This gentleman was actually the head of Marketing Department (and therefore the Girl Graduation Plan) for many, many years. Although he provided some nuggets of information, the chronological questions I have remain unanswered. Regardless, it was a thrill for me to speak to someone so close to the Girl Graduation Plan. (More to come on this exclusive interview soon!)

There’s also a recent thrill I’d like to share – I have obtained a box unlike any I have seen before. At first appearance it looks like many of the other boxes except much shorter with the key hole part of the box missing. To an “untrained” eye, one may assume someone just cut the box down. However, given the shape of the box and other little clues, I now believe it may have been made short on purpose – likely in the factory. For now, it is a one-of-a-kind find!

Your posts are so fun to read; one favorite is the “Collections” post. You have a great collection – tell us about some of your stand-out pieces.

I now have over 70 boxes in my collection and it’s growing quickly. The problem is how to pay for them and where to put them! There are over 100 boxes for sale on e-bay at any given time. Currently I am only adding to my collection when I find a box that is rare or unusual (or really cheap). The crazy thing about e-bay is that the boxes are being offered for sale for $10.00 to over $100.00 with no rhyme or reason as to the difference. I understand wanting to get “top dollar” but, from what I see, no one understands the market because age, rarity, details and even condition are rarely considered or factored in at all.

Vintage Lane Expert

A couple gems – photo credit: Chad Hilkemeier

I know Lane distributed boxes in all 50 states. I have about 25 states represented in my collection. I don’t, at this time, need to have all 50 states. However, if I get to 45 or so, how could I not complete the set?

I have isolated eight distinct types of boxes based on size and style alone. I developed my own nomenclature to help organize my burgeoning collection. For example, THBF stands for a box that is Tall, has a Hasp for the lock and has round Bun Feet. TFF stands for Tall with Fluted corners and Feet. There are several other variations on the eight sizes and styles based on lid brand, key hold escutcheons, etc. Finding a new style is a huge thrill!

It always seems that once you embrace vintage in one aspect of life, it starts to inspire in other areas. What’s been your biggest take-away from this project?

My hobby is woodworking and furniture restoration so it’s fun for me to find an old,beat-up box and bring it back to life by gluing up a crack or fixing a hinge. I don’t “re-finish” the boxes. As soon as the original finish is gone, you remove the character – patina and history is lost.

I am thoroughly baffled by the lack of information and interest I have found in three years of devoted research. People collect everything from bubble gum wrappers to Zippo lighters and there are collector clubs for almost anything that is collected. Yet, I have found no one with more information than I have been able to uncover. Maybe I’m a trendsetter!

Vintage Lane Expert

Tall Hasp Bun Feet (or THBF) – photo credit: Chad Hilkemeier

Again, I believe and have been told that because ladies remember receiving these boxes upon graduation, they are sentimentally attached to them and are often very reluctant to get rid of them. Case in point, I was talking to my neighbor about my collection and the next day he showed up with his wife’s box in his hands! She graduated from high school in 1970. These simple, cute little boxes are woven into the fabric of our country by Lane Furniture and through the ladies that received them.

Many relate these miniature cedar chests to their “hey day” in the 1950’s and 60’s, not knowing they were distributed from the 1930’s to the late 1980’s in the Girl Graduation Plan (with the exception of the WWII years). Those people I have come across that do realize there are different sizes and styles are equally baffled by the question of chronology.

We’re a bit obsessed with the unique markings and notes you’ve found on some of the boxes – really makes them come to life. What are some of the special markings you’ve found?

Along with the eight different box sizes and styles, there are at least that many different Lane company logos branded on the underside of the lid in most of the boxes. Of course, just to keep me on my toes, the logos and the box styles don’t always remain consistent. The name of the retailer and the city where it was located is also usually found branded there as well.

It is always a great thrill when I find a box that has been annotated by the owner – her name and the year she graduated is an awesome find and really makes the whole experience much richer. Also, these handwritten dates are often the only clues I have to date the boxes. The oldest written note I have is from June 1935.

Vintage Lane expert

The note! – photo credit: Chad Hilkemeier

If you could travel back in time and ask Edward Hudson Lane one question what would it be?

Fortunately, as you and your readers know, Mr. Lane presented “The Company’s First 50 Years” which I have read several times. In reading that short publication, it is obvious how proud he was of the company and the people and the communities where they were active.

If I had one question, I would ask, “What in the heck do the “ears” or “handles” on the side of rectangular part of the Lane logo represent? I understand the tree-lined “lane” but what’s up with the other part?” By the way, as far as I can tell, the tree-lined Lane logo is only in the full sized cedar chests, not in the boxes. Maybe they thought there wasn’t enough space?

If I would have been able to Google search “Lane Cedar Boxes” and get the full history back a couple of years ago, what fun would that have been? Researching, finding, hypothesizing and collecting has been a welcome diversion for me. Maybe the whole story will never be known for sure…I guess that’s just fine with me if I can continue being excited by the journey. I do know this, when I tell people about Lane Furniture, the Girl Graduation Plan and all of the different boxes, they are completely fascinated and captivated by the quest I have undertaken. Hopefully this article can continue the conversation for many others as well.

Replies for “Vintage Lane Expert | Chad Hilkemeier

  • Pingback: OK, you waited long enough… | Lane Cedar Box

  • Deb W

    I need a vintage Lane expert!! I have a beautiful cloverleaf coffee table with a wood top and inlaid wood design. I cannot find the collection. The serial number is 066080 and style number is 939-04. Thank you for any help you may be able to offer. I can send pics.

  • Bonnie Schilling

    I am looking for a key to open the Old Vtg 1950’s LANE CEDAR CHEST Girls Hope Chest MAY & CO. Furniture It would be the bow on the right in the photo above “A couple gems”

  • Bonnie Schilling

    I am looking for a key to open the Old Vtg 1950’s LANE CEDAR CHEST Girls Hope Chest MAY & CO. Furniture I had my purse stolen and the key was in my purse. It looks like the box on the right in the above photo “A couple gems”

  • Karen rodriguez

    I have my mother’s from 1951, Altavista, Va. but do not have a key. Any ideas? Does it harm it if I refinish?

    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Karen,
      Sometimes Lane customer service can help with keys – and you can refinish without damaging the value, but you’ll want to have a furniture restoration expert guide your efforts to be certain!

  • james brightly

    hi Chad, i have a kunudrum, i have a lane standard Altavista Va. cedar chest 48″ long 17″wide.i have pictures id like to send. my big question is the bottomin ink is has some faded letters and the number 4801…the letters look like they said something(undiscernable letter)then LE No 4801. it has the lane stamp inside the lid along witrh the paper tag in the upper left lid corner. id like to send you pictures to see if you could shed some light on this unit for me. its been in my family for unknown amount of time, everyone thet would have known about it has passed so im trying to figure it out. i would appreciate anything you could offer. much thanks, james brightly

  • Brandi

    Hi I have acquired a Lane Vintage Desk I have searched the serial number 4385239 and style number 92620 and cannot find any pricing I am looking to sell it … any advice??

    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Brandi – unfortunately we don’t offer appraisals, but here’s what I would do in your shoes. Find comparable pieces from a similar time period on Etsy/Ebay to give you a rough idea of resale. Then take pictures of the piece to local vintage shop owners to get the local market value. Between those two data points you should have a more dialed in estimate. Local shop owners may also offer consignment to sell it on your behalf or can provide furniture restoration recommendations if they feel any repairs could substantially impact value. Best of luck!

  • Kurt

    I located a Lane cedar chest with the serial number. 937260. And the style number is 441719. Would love to know how old and what style name it was called. Any help would be greatly helpful

    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Kurt,
      Thanks for reaching out – based on the serial number your piece was made in June 1939. I’m not 100% sure on style name – but will reach out if I find out more. Enjoy!

  • Heather

    Hi, I have two matching end table with serial number 208311 and style number 967 57. I would love to know what year these two pieces were made? Thanks

  • Tom Barbato

    Hello and Thank You for all your time time and effort dedicated to the Lane Chest!
    I have a Lane chest with no serial number. It has 2 marks, one on the inside wall that is stamped “Lane, AltaVista, VA” and the other is a stencil, in yellow, on the outside bottom stating style number 6344.
    I have a searched for the style number with no results.
    Do you have any info on that style number, or, could you point me in the right direction to find the info?
    Thank You
    TJ Barbato

  • Sally Palmer

    I currently have ten of these delightful little boxes. One that I received at graduation. The others I have bought in antiques stores fro as little as $2.

  • Jane Herrmann

    I have a Lane Cedar chest with what looks like the following stamp on the bottom: YIH No. 48506. Would like to know how old this is? Not sure where to look for Style No? Thank you!

  • Kim McDonald-house

    I am the proud owner of 4 of these beautiful mini cedar chest. The most I’ve paid for one is $15 only because it came with the key. My most beautiful one (tall fluted feet) was only $0.99. My grandma(1947?) and mom (1967) also have theirs from highschool. My high school didn’t give them out in when I graduated (1989).

  • Jeffrey Black

    I have a set of Lane Altavista VA end tables or nightstands, not sure which. I’m trying to get more info on them. They are style no: 1063-92 and serial no: 2968211. Can’t find any info anywhere. Please help.

  • John Lyles

    For the past year I have gotten into buying and refinishing cedar chests, mainly Lane, but also a Roos. Recently I bought a Lane (style number 481721, serial number 931370). This one has options I haven’t seen before. It has removable inside shelves and a drawer on the bottom, and it also has a light on the inside. The wire has been cut, or broken off from the back of the lid. I plan on re-wiring the light after restoration. I guess Lane had “high end” models as well as more affordable ones. Are these rare options, or pretty common?

    Thank you


    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi John!
      Thanks for reaching out – sounds like an amazing find – the serial number indicates a manufacturing year of 1939. I have not seen options like this before either, but I’m afraid I can’t speak to the rarity per se (As you know access to Lane archives is tricky!) If you want to send along pics to we can dig in more. Enjoy! – Becky


    Would there be any way to get (buy) the original paperwork that came in the Lane Cedar Chest. Exp Moth Ins paper Key envelope etc. Really need paper work to finish my restoration of a Lane chest. Ty I know someone out there has it from an old chest.

    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Scott,
      Thanks for reaching out – I would recommend starting with a local antique mall. There are typically vendors there who specialize in paperwork and pictures from the vintage (even antique!) era. Also, I’ll encourage any of our readers to reach out to you directly if they have a lead… Enjoy!

  • Scott Wood

    Hi Just re sending a post sent a couple months ago still looking for lane paper work. Ty

    Would there be any way to get (buy) the original paperwork that came in the Lane Cedar Chest. Exp Moth Ins paper Key envelope etc. Really need paper work to finish my restoration of a Lane chest. Ty I know someone out there has it from an old chest.

  • Ruby Valdez

    Can someone please help? I have a lane cedar chest and I need help with finding out the year it was made.. the serial number is 2175110 and style number is 243691 can y’all help?

  • Claire

    Hi, I need help. Thank you for all of your helpful tips for all of us Btw. I bought a blonde lane cabinet today. I’m not sure if it’s authentic. It has serious wear issues and attempting to find it online. The only marking besides a lane sticker and stamp is in yellow ink/paint that says 1013-66 (or maybe GG)-White/oval any info is greatly appreciated

  • Robert Johnson

    Hello, I have a cedar chest made by Cache collection by Lane also says Sweetheart chest on Certificate and according to the date on the bottom of the chest it was made on June 25, 1912 it is in excellent condition and was wondering if someone could help me with a rough estimate of the value of it. Thanks

    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Robert,
      Thanks for reaching out. We don’t offer appraisal services, but an Etsy/eBay search can help you figure out a baseline, then local vintage shop owners can give you a more dialed-in figure. Best of luck!

  • sheri macboyle

    I am trying to determine the age of my Lane Chest. I’ve had it in my hands for 30 plus years. I received it from my great grandmothers passing back in the 80’s. I am unable to find a serial number anywhere. I can only find a stamp with all the Patent numbers on it. I am very eager to find its true age. Can you help ?

    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Sheri,

      The patent numbers can help us track down some clues on age – if you could email pictures (esp. of the patent numbers), we’ll dig in! (

  • Jenn

    I’m curious is it big no no to paint a lane altavista va cedar chest? I recently bought one and it’s in almost pristine condition, just a little scuffed on the top and I wanted to paint it.


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