Lane Miniature Cedar Chests
Jul 18, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Dear readers, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of comments on our cedar chest article. It’s so fun to hear about the beloved family memories connected with these hope chests: grandmothers who received these pieces for their high school graduation or as a gift from their love-struck beau. We could all use a little more hope these days and perhaps that’s what makes the Lane miniature cedar chests extra-special for collectors. We’ve introduced you to vintage Lane expert Chad Hilkemeier in an earlier feature and we’re happy to report he’s joining us again to introduce his fantastic new site: Lane Cedar Box. This website is the definitive resource for any and all collector information. We’ve asked Chad to walk us through the history of these little gems and answer some of your burning questions – let us know your thoughts in the comments!
What makes Lane miniature cedar chests such an iconic part of American furniture history?
Miniature Lane cedar boxes are iconic American symbols of “days-gone-by”, “remember when” and “back-in-the-day.” Lane, mostly know for cedar hope chests, manufactured and distributed an estimated 27 million miniature boxes from 1925 to 2004 and their innovative Girl Graduate Plan was one of the most successful marketing programs of the 20th century. Lane Furniture’s Girl Graduate Plan presented the little boxes to young ladies as a high school graduation gifts through their national network of dealers. To this day, women all across the country treasure their little boxes as reminders of their high school graduation and that special time in their lives.
Your new site is fantastic! Tell us a bit about how you brought this idea to life…
It started with four years of research into the virtually unexplored world of these little vintage boxes. All this information was compiled into an exhaustive online resource, aimed at shining a light on this fascinating part of the American experience and our cultural heritage. The website, www.lanecedarbox.com, contains an unbelievably detailed description of each of the nine distinct variations of the little cedar boxes. Additionally, each feature of every box is beautifully photographed and annotated for the casually interested person or the serious collector.
The main objective of the website is to bring awareness to the little cherished boxes and to connect a yet-to-be-recognized collector community. Because, even after four years of intense research and searching, no collector, let alone collector community, has been found.
As a self-proclaimed Lane Box Historian, my mission is to collect not only information about the boxes, but also stories of what they meant to their owners. It’s just unbelievable to me that people collect everything under the sun, from Hotwheels cars to Zippo lighters and from fine porcelain to rocks but I haven’t found another single collector in this modern digital age after 4 years of searching! Astounding isn’t it?
What are the Lane miniature boxes worth?
Short answer: they are worth what someone will pay for them. Boxes can be found at garage sales for as little as a couple dollars or on-line for around $25. Unfortunately, there isn’t any real rhyme or reason regarding their “value.” Some sellers consider rarity or condition when pricing the boxes – but not many at this point. Some boxes are definitely worth more than others based on age and rarity but at this time those are not being recognized. Interestingly, the city or town branded under the lid may lead some buyers to value one box over another for purely sentimental reasons.
What was the inspiration for Lane’s Girl Graduate Plan?
The miniatures were offered to the young ladies as a gift from Lane but it was required for the young lady, usually accompanied by her parents, to pick up the gift at the Lane dealership. These visits to the store were very well choreographed by the Lane and the dealer. The point of the visit was three-fold. One, congratulate the young lady on her graduation. Two, offer a discount on the purchase of a full sized Lane cedar chest as a graduation gift from the purchaser (parent, grandparent, boyfriend, etc.) to the graduate. And three, to introduce the young lady to the dealer because Lane knew, especially in the early days of the Plan, that half of the graduates would be married and setting up a household (in need of furniture) within eighteen months of graduation. The Lane Girl Graduate Plan of 1925 was one of the first marketing initiatives directed specifically at young women in our country’s history.
I’m a lady that graduated between 1925 and 2004. Why didn’t I receive a box from Lane?
At the height of Lane’s Girl Graduate Plan in the 1950’s and 60’s, Lane estimated that between one-half and two-thirds of graduating girls were offered a box. Lane furniture dealers facilitated the Plan and each dealer had to qualify for access to it based on sales of Lane cedar chests and the Lane furniture line. In the 1970’s it became increasingly difficult for Lane to access addresses of young ladies. Therefore, dealers had to use other methods like having the names provided by senior class representatives. Some school districts were more strict than others but these privacy concerns, along with other issues, marked the slow decline of the program into the 80’s and 90’s. So, one-half to one-third of young ladies didn’t receive a box and the later you graduated, the less chance you had of getting one.
Are all Lane miniatures made of cedar wood?
No, in the waning years, the Miniature department at the Lane factory did make boxes of pine. These were mostly sold through specific licensing deals with companies like Disney or sold directly by Lane through their dealerships and were not part of the Girl Graduate Plan. Lane experimented with walnut and mahogany as well but these never made it to market. These experimental boxes do exist and are mostly owned by former Lane employees and their family members and they are very rare and beautiful!
Dear readers, we encourage you to check out Chad’s new site and become part of the unfolding story around this burgeoning collectors’ community. And take heart – if you have a vintage collection and haven’t found your community yet – start one! Here at Cause A Frockus we are always happy to support kindred spirits through feature articles that will bring us together…