Box Vox

packaging as content

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)

SoftnEasyHairSprayFrom 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…)

April 3, 2014

Recursive Bottles


Bottles containing bottles: 9 nested bottles from The Hordern-Dalgety Collection by an unidentified glassblower at Bristol University in the 1980s.

For “recursive bottles” of a different kind, consider the computer code below:

10 REM BASIC Version of 99 Bottles of beer
20 FOR X=100 TO 1 STEP -1
30 PRINT X;"Bottle(s) of beer on the wall,";X;"bottle(s) of beer"
40 PRINT "Take one down and pass it around,"
50 PRINT X-1;"bottle(s) of beer on the wall"

One of over 1500 computer programs, specifically devised for calculating the lyrics of 99 Bottles of Beer.

It started as a joke, and then multiplied. Recursively.

…initiated by a post to a humor mailing list, where somebody sent the full lyrics in early 1994. This was seen as a waste of bandwidth, the job could have been accomplished with six lines of BASIC.

The original poster made the mistake of slighting C++ programmers, so Tim rose to the occasion with his version of ‘99 Bottles’ in C++. It opened the floodgates and programmers from all over the world gave different versions in assorted languages.

See also: Coke Bottle Punt, Klein Bottles and Nested Packaging

April 2, 2014

An Incomplete Mens Fragrance Package: Colours


Another example of what I like to call an incomplete package: Alexander Julian’s “Colours” mens fragrance packaging.

Not that what’s lacking is necessarily necessary. But by wrapping the Egyptian style bottle image around the corner of the carton, as they’ve done, two panels of the box, each provided a truncated, incomplete picture of the package’s contents.


Packaging, designed in this manner, can accomplish a couple of things…

At the corner of the box, the two parts of the bottle meet to form a more 3-dimensional, convex image.

And — although, I don’t have a photo of it — this is the kind of design where, if the packages are lined up alongside of one another in a group, they will complete each other. (See also: The Incomplete Package Revisited)


(More “Colours” after the fold…) (more…)

April 1, 2014

Hollow Nickels & Roach Motels


A bit more about Soviet spy, Rudolf Ivanovich Abel and the hotel where he was arrested in 1957:

In addition to the aforementioned Sucrets boxes, Abel was also in possession of a number of objects that had been hollowed out and transformed into containers. A pen, a shaving brush, a block of wood, etc. —each designed with a secret compartment for concealing encoded messages. It was a hollowed-out nickel, paid to a paperboy in 1953, that eventually led to his arrest.


Last week we read a description of New York’s Latham Hotel (and Abel’s arrest there) that made it seem thoroughly disreputable. For a contrasting view, consider how his arrest is portrayed in the 2009 Russian biopic, “U.S. government against Rudolf Abel.” (directed by Vladimir Nahabtseva, starring Yuri Belyaev as Abel)

Here, Abel is not the “scrawny, stoical man” described in U.S. newspapers, but a dignified and reserved секретный агент, who (by his own account) outsmarts the FBI to a certain degree. And although, in the FBI’s account, he answers the door in the nude, in this film, the FBI breaks down his hotel room door and he’s wearing underwear.

Also getting a more flattering portrayal in the Russian movie: the Latham Hotel.

In 1977, when NYC’s Department of Buildings deemed our shared loft at 85 South Street unsafe without sprinklers, the city temporarily housed us (my roommates at the time: JD King, Dan Walworth, John Miller and me) in a room at the Latham Hotel.

Like Rudolf Abel, we were aspiring artists, although unlike Col. Abel, none of us was a Soviet spy. At least I know I wasn’t. I can’t really say for certain about the others. (And, come to think of it, in 1977, from a certain angle Miller did bear a passing resemblance to the young Abel.)

Looking back at our time there, I don’t remember thinking it was as disreputable in 1977, as the media made it out to be in 1957. Consulting with my former roommates, Walworth remembered that we had a hot plate in our room, which reminded me that we also had a small refrigerator. These appliances may have been a clue that our hotel also served as an SRO, but to me, at the time, I thought it a luxurious convenience not to have to eat out for breakfast every morning.

Miller remembered that our rooms had roaches which we had tried to combat with the newly trademarked “Roach Motel.” Unfortunately the cleaning staff kept throwing them out when they cleaned our rooms, so I tried attaching signs to them that read: Please do not discard roach motels. Don’t remember whether that worked. The problem was, as Miller now puts it: the roaches “checking into” a motel when they were already hotel guests.


These hollow, rectangular roach traps with their simulated wood grain, now strike me as oddly analogous to Abel’s “sanding block” which was also thrown into the trash at the Latham Hotel…

[FBI agents] searched the room, but didn’t find much except, in the wastepaper basket, a piece of two-by-four. just a block of wood. No one could figure out what it was, but it had to have some significance; you didn’t just find pieces of two-by-four in Manhattan hotels. Finally, one of the agents got disgusted and threw it against the wall. It split open. Inside was a cavity containing microfilm.

Mark Riebling
Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11.
How the Secret War Between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security


But in the 1977, we were thinking about bugs, not bugging devices or secret compartments. It just seemed like a funny paradox that the thoroughness of the Latham’s cleaning staff would mean more freedom for roaches.

While the FBI may have considered it a flop house for spies, there was time when the Latham Hotel was fairly elegant… (more…)