Box Vox

packaging as content

April 24, 2014

Smashing Boxes: Violence & Philosophy


BoxSmashedFlatDetailIn yesterday’s post we looked at Ed Ruscha’s 1961 painting, Box Smashed Flat. Ruscha, himself, characterized this “smashing” as a form of violence.

The thing is, while the box may be flat, in the way that unfilled folding cartons generally start out, it doesn’t really look like a box that’s been “smashed.” If we accept Ruscha’s spatters of red paint as a reasonable depiction of pulverized raisins, then maybe the contents of the box are smashed, but the box, itself? Not so much.

Of course, you cannot spatter red paint around without reminding people of spilled blood. In the Independent’s recent discussion of the painting, the “blood” was a reference to the Civil War battle at Vicksburg: “The field from which the Sun-Maid rises is a battlefield, watered with blood.”

For a different interpretation of Ruscha’s flattened out Sun-Maid box (with its blood-spattered effect), consider the violent, history of the brand in the early 1920s:

Elmer Erickson, one grower who was willing to give Colvin his name, told the agent that the contract he was forced to sign “became smeared with blood from cuts [he] received in the struggle.” Knowing that they could not submit the bloodied paper to Sun-Maid, the night riders tried to get him to sign another one, but he refused.

Augustus Jewett… was unwilling to commit details to writing or to permit Colvin to disclose his name, for fear that “the Raisin K. Klux Clan” [sic] would seek revenge.

… Sun-Maid admitted that most of the night riding was committed by “growers who had always been associated with the Sun-Maid” but depicted night riding as an unavoidable hazing ritual.

Victoria Saker Woeste
The Farmer’s Benevolent Trust:
Law and Agricultural Cooperation in Industrial America, 1865-1945

(Another, more truly “smashed” depiction of the Sun-Maid raisins box, after the fold…) (more…)

April 23, 2014

Box Smashed Flat


Ed Ruscha’s 1961 painting, Box Smashed Flat. (via: MKTG)

“Box Smashed Flat is the title of the painting. It’s a rendering of a Sun-maid Raisins box smashed flat. I was into the violence of things then, smashing.”

–Ed Ruscha

from: “A Conversation between Walter Hopps and Edward Ruscha, Who Have Known Each Other Since the Early 1960s, Took Place on September 26, 1992”


Ruscha’s Box Smashed Flat… indicates the substance behind the trademark: Ruscha depicts not only the exterior packaging but also the smeared raisin blot that speaks of messy interior contents.

Rebecca Peabody, ‎Lucy Bradnock, 2011
Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Art, 1945-1980


Of the several ways of looking at Ed Ruscha’s Box Smashed Flat (Vicksburg), the least obvious is as a self-portrait.

That, though, is what this painting, begun in 1959 when the artist was 21, turns out to be. Box Smashed Flat is a work of two halves, split laterally. In the top, on a white field, is the photorealist image of a packet of Sun-Maid Raisins, apparently squashed by something heavy: a spray of red spurts from it. The picture’s lower half contains the word Vicksburg in Victorian type, sloppily painted over in the yellow of the sun on the box. It is a mess of a work, and it is meant to be.

And the self-portrait? In 1959, Ruscha, an Oklahoma boy, was studying in Los Angeles at what would become the California Institute of the Arts. His pre-Angelino life had been the down-home one of a million middle-Americans: Vicksburg was a Mississippi town Ruscha had passed through when hitchhiking, aged 14 — these were simpler times — to Florida. The young Edward Joseph Ruscha IV had thought to train as a commercial artist, and the picture’s rubbed-out lower register suggests a youthful project abandoned. Over it rises not just the sun but — infinitely more wondrous in 1959 — the Sun-Maid. Here is a brave, new, American world of brands and branding, of a consumerist reality better, bigger, brighter than the merely real. Across the continent, in New York, that same sun was shining down on Andy Warhol. The thing we would call Pop Art was about to be born.

And yet this picture’s story is more complex than that. Vicksburg may have belonged to Ruscha’s past, but it also belonged to America’s. Barely a century before Box Smashed Flat, the town known to Abraham Lincoln as “the nail that held the South’s two halves together” fell to Union troops in the last major action of the Civil War. In US history as in Ruscha’s, Vicksburg marked a split, a division of after from before. The field from which the Sun-Maid rises is a battlefield, watered with blood.

Charles Darwent, Ed Ruscha: 50 years of painting, Hayward Gallery, London
April 2014, The Independent

(See also: Claes Oldenburg’s 1964 “Giant Toothpaste Tube” as self-portrait)

Study for “Box Smashed Flat (Vicksburg)”, 1960 (from: Harvard Art Museums)

April 21, 2014

Coins as Containers: The Queen’s Scent Box

Curious Antique Victorian Tiny Coin Shaped Container “Queen’s Scent Box” (Sold on eBay: £22.00)


I’m no numismatist, but when a coin is also package containing something—well then, naturally, I’m all over it.

Another type of hollow coin is shown above—not a spy coin or a schraubthaler, but a nineteenth century, coin-shaped container for miniature coins or “medalets.”

To conclude this article, some mention can be made of cylindrical metallic boxes in which certain discs were sold, particularly when these were tiny ones. The Wellington victories set was contained in a tall gilt cylinder depicting his head on the lid. There were simple little boxes about 14 mm. diam. and 3 lllln. deep depicting Victorian royalty on the upper portion, and on the lower portion inscriptions such as THE QUEEN’S SCENT BOX, PRINCE ALBERT’S SNUFF BOX; perhaps originally containing the royal family miniature medalets.

Minor Products of British Nineteenth-Century Diesinking
By R. N. P. Hawkins

I wonder if “scent box,” in this case, was a pun on “cent box.”

(A similar, but larger 19th century coin-shaped coin-box, after the fold…) (more…)

April 18, 2014

Coins as Containers: Schraubthalers

1632 Schraubtaler aus einem Leopoldstaler via: Coin House SESAM Basel


As promised in our April 1st post about the hollow nickel, we are now looking at a much earlier precedent for using a coin as a container: the schraubthaler or “box thaler.”  Here the idea is less espionage, more “collector’s edition” commemorative coin.

What were these silver ‘coin boxes’ designed to contain? Small, round pictures.

There were many new large silver coins issued in the sixteenth century, and they could easily be regarded as decorative pieces, thalers especially. Many still survive showing signs of having been gilded and/or mounted for wear. Some were also turned into what became known as schraubthalers (‘box thalers’) which became fashionable toys in seventeenth-century Germany. Augsburg was a particular center of their manufacture.

To make a schraubthaler, a thaler or pair of thalers was cut in half along the edge and hollowed out, with a groove added so that the two halves could be screwed together. One could place small pictures inside: religious symbols, portraits, or other miniature pictures were common (including pornography)

Eventually, schraubthalers were purpose-made at the mint, using genuine coinage dies. The Hall mint in Tyrol was a particular center of these novelties…

The British Museum


A 1730 silver schraubthaler with 17 hand-painted roundels via: The Medieval & Modern Coin Search Engine

I like the way the pictures here were connected by ribbons into a folding network of roundels.

(Another schraubthaler, after the fold…) (more…)

April 17, 2014

2 Coconut-Shaped Containers


Like, eggs or bananas, coconuts are one of those naturally occurring containers that food manufacturers, with enough packaging hubris, will sometimes try and improve upon. Above are two, fairly recent recent examples.

(Further details about both packages, after the fold…) (more…)

April 15, 2014

Soft ’n Easy Hair Spray (in the decorator can)

SoftnEasy-McCallsFrom 1965: “Soft ’n Easy” hair spray in an anthropomorphic “decorator can.”

Wish I could have have found a color photo of this packaging, but it may be too rare. Seems to have only been on the market for that one year. Using the aerosol spray’s cap as a pill box hat is nice touch, I think.

Early ads introducing the product cite its “decorator can” as a selling point: “new Soft ’n Easy comes in a beautiful decorator can you’ll be proud to display anywhere.” And: “the one hair spray you will not hide!”

How compelling a selling point was this for women buying hair spray in the 1960s?

Well, we have the focus group below, debating that very topic

Chairman Neighbors: All right, there is another question that came up: How important is decoration to an aerosol can? This came up from both panels. Someone indicated — was it you, Ann — that  the look of a container, an aerosol container is not really important at all. And as I recall, I believe it was you, Linda — Linda B — who felt that the look of the container, especially a metal container, was terribly important. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? How important is the decorative element of the metal container?

Miss Bogan: Well, when I said that it was important — this may sound like a cliche, but it is all in how you look at it. It depends on what you want it for.

Now if you have a vanity table or a stand where you’re going to put on your makeup and you — I — and I want to keep my deodorant — if I should ever switch over to hair spray, my hair spray — anything like this out, I don’t want an ugly looking can sitting with all my makeup, with other things that are in my apartment. I just don’t like that. If it is the kind of thing that I’m going to keep in the medicine cabinet then I don’t care at all. But if I like the product and I like the can, I will pay extra for the can.

Mrs. Plager: I agree with you, if it was something I was going to display I would want it to be pretty. However, most of the products I use I keep in the medicine chest or in the bathroom and they are not on display there. Therefore, I still would rather have a utilitarian can than a decorative one.

PrettyEnoughtobeSeen-1965Mrs. Grimshaw: I think my comment earlier was that the can sitting out on display didn’t bother me at all. If it is something such as hair spray that I use everyday and generally is an acceptable product, I have no qualms at all about leaving the can with the advertising on it. I wouldn’t necessarily even choose a decorator can.

Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, 1967

The news squib on the right was clearly about Soft ’n Easy hair spray, although, for some reason, they never actually get around to actually naming the brand.

They do mention, however, its anthropomorphized packaging: “…pretty enough for any dressing table, the lovely miss in her floral dress knows that something special is inside.”


(Another Soft ’n Easy hair spray ad, after the fold…) (more…)

April 11, 2014

Lang’s “Droste Effect” Chocolate Bunny Box


With Easter approaching, now seems like a good time for us to unveil the Chocolate Easter Bunny box that we designed for Lang’s Chocolates.

It’s not everyday that a suitable project comes along for showing a picture of the package on the package, itself. But this Easter Bunny had to be holding something in his hand, and what better treat for him to offer than the very box that he, himself, appears on?

This is that recursive, world-within-a-world phenomenon that we’ve written about so many times before: the “Droste effect named after Droste B.V. (also a chocolate company) for their 1904 packaging.

Lang’s Chocolate Easter Bunnies are available for a limited time on Amazon in milk chocolate, dark chocolate & white chocolate.


The illustrations (from Shutterstock) are by Andrei Nauharotski (the bunny) and Viktoriia Kryzhanovska (the sun-dappled background).

April 9, 2014

Beer bottle gun (by Richard Box)


From artist, Richard Box’s website: a “work in progress, beck’s bottle” gun.

See also: Gun-Shaped Bottles and (while you’re at it) Bubble Gun | Chewing Gun

April 8, 2014

Cosmic “dodecadodecahedral” bottle

photo by Nathan Branch

anim41A bottle designed by Solange Azagury-Partridge for her 2007 “Cosmic” fragrance is dodecadodecahedral in shape. Which is to say, it’s a “dodecadodecahedron” (the “dodeca” so nice, they named it twice) — one of a number of interesting polyhedrons with star-shaped faces.

From the press release:

“A shooting star falls to earth revealing its meteoric and potent charms. … Solange has thrown her imagination out to the furthest corners of the universe and created the exquisite Cosmic — an intergalactic liquid jewel enclosed in a star-faceted silver orb. The bottle’s shimmering surface glints and winks from every angle, literally a Cosmic addition to every girl’s dressing table.”


Cosmic_Solange_Agazury_PartridgeA random sampling of comments about the bottle’s design:

Cosmic probably also appeases my inner sci-fi geek. Check out Nathan’s photos for fantastic images of the bottle design.

… it’s expensive. Cosmic is $285 for a bottle, but for me, I find the kitschy bottle design endearing and I grew to crave the scent.

I Smell Therefore I Am


She designed the bottle and she shopped around for bottle manufacturers, cap manufacturers… and the rest. It might seem easy on the outset, but it all has to be controlled with precision if you hope to make any money at all. I was surprised to hear that it took her last fragrance, Stoned, a year to break even. But she took this in stride. So what was her biggest surprise upon entering the perfume game? “No one would have let us do something as expensive as this,” she said at the launch party of Cosmic last night. “My cap costs as much as my bottle! That never would have happened if I was at a big company. They would have insisted on a plain screw cap.”

Lauren Goldstein Crowe, Solange Azagury Partridge’s Cosmic
Upstart Business Journal, 2007


The box itself is a pleasant enough gleaming silver on the outside with its angular star logo and a clear stone serving as the “o” in “cosmic”, but as you’ll be able to see from the following photo, there was a complete lack of attention paid to the interior, with no stabilizing or support material included for the bottle during transit, with the unfortunate result of the bottle banging around inside the box during shipment.

…The “cosmic” theme is overtly represented in jutting, repeating star shapes that comprise the shell of the bottle, with the neck and cap pushing upward (or outward, depending upon the angle of the bottle) to resemble a single shooting star. The bottle is silver, reflective, gleaming and cool as deep space — it’s also severely pointy and sharp, which could make for a very effective self-defense weapon should you be caught in the middle of a home-invasion with only your perfume collection to save you. #1) Spray the burglar in the eyes with the perfume; #2) Bean him over the head with the bottle; #3) Call the police.

Nathan Branch, 2009
Photos: Solange Cosmic (by Solange Azagury-Partridge with Lyn Harris)

(Photos of the box, after the fold…) (more…)

April 4, 2014

Burley Bottles Within a Bottle


OldSpiceBurlyBottleLineArtFrom Old Spice Collectibles: another example of bottles contained within a bottle.

The 1969 Old Spice/Shulton “Burley” brand gift set #3133 included a 4.75 oz. bottle of after shave and a 4.75 oz. bottle of cologne, packaged together in a bottle-shaped, transparent plastic case.

Not recursive exactly (since the two inner bottles do not each contain pairs of even smaller bottles), but certainly a mildly fractal, self-similar package design.


The object, however, was not entirely to create a paradoxical “impossible bottle.”

The package was part of a promotion, where, by “submitting a coupon and $2.50, you received a small ship” that could be displayed in the bottle-shaped display case—in place of the bottled products.

Sorry to see that the burlap-covered cap, shown in the catalog photo above, appears to have been changed, to a plain cardboard tube.

Clearly burlap was supposed to be an integral part of Burley’s rough-hewn branding, but I reckon, at some point, the company decided that it was too expensive a touch for a $6.00 product retailing for $4.50.

(Surviving examples of this packaging design, after the fold…) (more…)