1880s Shipping Crate – What’s a girl to do?

Husband has the day off today…
perfect opportunity to refinish the shipping crate (aka trunk)
that I mentioned earlier
while he baby wrangles.

Or so I thought.
I took the crate outside to give it an initial primer coat
and thought, “I wonder what the front of it says?”

I could barely make out what was initially branded into the wood
so I used a sheet of white paper and did a charcoal rub.

The rub revealed,

Mayer & Loewenstein
New York
So, I Googled it.
My curiosity causes me do that often.

This crate is from the 1800s!
(I knew it was old but I was thinking 1920 or 30s.)
So now I don’t know what I should do
and I need you to convince me that 
a) it’s okay to paint it or 
b) tell me that I’m a fool if I do.
Don’t get me wrong.
I want to leave it as is because the 
weathered, chalky patina
is p.e.r.f.e.c.t. 
this crate is in rough shape in certain spots
with puddles and drippings of paint. 
For those of you that think I should go ahead and paint it,
I intended to paint it a warm white and distress the edges.
Also, I was going to use a foam roller
and lightly roll over the cracks, crevices, worm holes, etc.
so that I don’t get paint inside of them.
I will not paint the nail heads either. 
I think the rustic contrast would look great against the white.
And, as I said before in my chair refinish post,
I have a really hard time completely removing
the maker’s hand from an antique.
For those of you that may have growled 
when I mentioned painting this thing,
here’s my thinking:
I don’t know how to get rid of the paint drippings
and puddles without it looking like
there used to be paint dripping and puddles there.  

What’s a girl to do?

Paint or no paint?
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Due to “scraper” websites that earn revenue by scraping feeds (like an automatic copy & paste) and stealing the creative content of others, I can no longer provide FULL blog posts via email subscriptions. I apologize that you now see a partial post and have to click over to my blog for the rest. I try to create lovely and original content so I appreciate your understanding. If you don’t, I am sorry to see you leave and thank you for being a part of my journey while you were subscribed. {Jami}


  1. Shaunna says:

    Oh, girl, either way will be beautiful!!! It really is lovely! -shaunna :)

  2. alikaye says:

    I love it the way it is Jamie, unfortunatly I have no ideas what to do about the paint drips…sorry I am really no help!

    Also, can you please describe the technique you used to read what it said on the front as I have never heard of this!


  3. I agree with My Yellow House to go with the paint and glaze. Personally, I consulted Marian @Miss Mustard Seed about a table once, she is great with info and I realized that I didn’t want to paint the piece(but then gave it to a friend just so I couldn’t paint the piece!)

  4. If you’re looking for something that removes paint, you can’t go wrong with Goof Off! Elmer’s makes a more non-toxic remover which is very effective on glue residue; I haven’t tried it on paint.

    I hope that helps!

  5. i would try an extremely fine steel wool to get the paint off. i got paint on my wooden stairs and that took it off without leaving a mark. make sure if you try that that you wear gloves so you don’t get tiny steel wool slivers which really hurt! and then i think i would keep as is… i love the look if it now! if anything, maybe go over it with a paste wax to protect its current state.

  6. i would try an extremely fine steel wool to get the paint off. i got paint on my wooden stairs and that took it off without leaving a mark. make sure if you try that that you wear gloves so you don’t get tiny steel wool slivers which really hurt! and then i think i would keep as is… i love the look if it now! if anything, maybe go over it with a paste wax to protect its current state.

  7. alikaye – I don’t have an email for you but just want you to know that I will do up a quick tutorial on the charcoal rubbing technique tomorrow!


  8. Goof off is what I use for small jobs, and I can’t wait to see the charcoal rubbing technique

  9. Lolo says:

    What a neat find!! I think it will look awesome either way :) I personally would sand it down and do a greyish brown wash (to look like weathered wood)so some of the wood shows through. Then distress the edges where it would normally be beat up after years of use.
    Whatever u decide, I think you should definitely restore the brand of the maker! Lightly paint it in :)
    LOVE IT and cant wait to see you make it your own !!

  10. Jami,I totally get your struggle. This is what I’ve learned after years of the paint or no paint debate in my mind over numerous pieces. It’s your box and you need to make it so you love it and can live with it. Pretend it wasn’t from the 1800s…would you want to paint it then? If so, paint it. It’s your box and the paint won’t take away that it was made in the 1800s. It will just add another layer of history to it. (Now, if you were going to paint pink flamigos on it…I might try to talk you out of it, but it is still yours and you need to love it.) If you love it as is and want to show the box in it’s naked glory, then try to lightly sand or strip the paint off. A good cleaning and a coat of paste wax will do wonders to protect it and make it more useable.

    Hope that helps. :)

  11. Megan says:

    um… I have to say, I would leave it. Paint marks and all. It gives it character. Let it live with you for a while the way it is- and if you decide to paint later, so be it! But give it a chance to be naked first!

  12. Megan says:

    look! theres the famous Miss Mustard Seed now! Listen to her!!! Let it be naked!!! lol.

  13. What Cassie said….much as I love painting furniture, I love the colour of that trunk as it is!

    xx Karen

  14. My Yellow House says:

    Hi Jami! I know exactly how you feel right now! It’s tough because you can’t take it back once you paint it but my thought is – the trunk will still be the same even if it is painted, it will just be more your style. I don’t think painting ruins a piece, there’s no rule that says a piece always has to remain the same for years and years. I think your ideas about lightly painting, not over the nails and latches, and perhaps a little glaze over the wording so that it stands out better sound perfect. I would ever-so-lightly paint it.
    I can’t wait to see what you do with it! :)

  15. My Yellow House says:

    btw…does that give you a hint what I’ve decided about my cabinet? :)

  16. Yikes…the old “to paint or not to paint” dilemma. I’m in agreement with Miss Mustard Seed…do what will bring you the most joy. After all, it is yours, and you should enjoy it. I am not opposed to painting antiques…even those from the 1800′s. But it does have a FABULOUS patina. Good luck deciding. :-)

  17. Allison says:

    I am so glad to read your post today. My father just the other day brought me a turnk that has been in my family for 6 generations so it is very old. Looks very much like your trunk. I should send you a photo. I am tossing around the same idea…to paint or not to paint. That’s a tough one! I think you have to do what will make you happy! I look forward to seeing what you decide. Maybe it will help me, too!

  18. Gúa says:

    I just loooove it as it is!!!
    …but what ever brings you joy, it´s your trunk..:)))

    Good Luck!

    Huge hugs from Sweden…

  19. Carla says:

    Try the mentioned ideas for getting off the paint and see how you like it. Also, use some sort of technique to darken the stamp. Mrs. Mustard Seed might even paint it on the front. If you can’t get off the paint, or don’t like it after you do…then do a whitewash or light paint. Just my ideas. You could also paint the inside to help get out any musty odor.

  20. Pamela says:

    Boy this is a hard one Jami! I love the way it looks now but how you described how you will paint it sounds wonderful as well.
    I would probably end up painting it because all the paint on it would start bugging me.
    Can’t wait to see what you decide.

    I loved the photos of your twins in their leg warmers! Too adorable!!
    Pamela xo

  21. There are ways to remove the drips, try a light sanding. If some of the paint remains, I think that would be ok. As long as you don’t oversand. I would think in a few places you would sand it a bit anyway, edges, corners, etc. A good paste wax will do wonders to the piece to bring out a great patina! What a great piece to have!

  22. Lisa says:

    I can’t decide between paint and not paint for the outside, but I would definitely paint the inside. And do some technique to bring out the old lettering. I’m sure you are good at figuring that out.

    Hope your eye is feeling better.

  23. julie says:

    Where’s antiques roadshow when you need them? Is there a way to remove the paint splotches? I could ask my dad who’s a professional carpenter. If you’d like to go that route he may have some answers. I’m sure it will look beautiful whatever decide to do. It’s a truly beautiful chest!

  24. Nancy says:

    Watching HGTV and seeing these people who get $$$ for old ‘stuff’ heehee I would NOT paint it but would at least call, send pics, etc or the link to this post! to someone with knowledge of antique furniture before I did anything to it. I love it in it’s natural state but totally agree something should be done with the paint drippings :/
    Oh, I came here via Adventures in Renovating and have since added you to my list of favorites on my blog!!

  25. Nancy says:

    Loved your site so much I’ve given you a shout out!! Here’s the link http://johnhoodfamily.blogspot.com/2010/08/i-heart-blog-hopping.html
    Love love love your site!!

  26. Holly says:

    I love this crate.trunk/whatever. You have quite a decision to make. I would leave it, try everyone;s suggestions of goof off or steel wool. I thin it is beautiful as it is. Although if you do decide to paint it, I know you will do a stellar job! You are going to have a beautiful piece no matter what – how;s that for dancing around the question.

  27. Hello…found your blog through Brooklyn Limestone.

    Can you remove the paint drips with light sandpaper and then match the old paint somehow? It looks so wonderful as is….

  28. I successfully removed paint drips from an old kitchen work table with water and a SOS pad. I then did two coats of Johnson’s Paste Wax and it has the perfect old worn look. I would try this if you want to preserve the original features.

  29. Bekki says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read the comments so perhaps this was mentioned. I purchased an old tool box that I loved and wanted to keep the orginal color. It had some paint spots on the top and on one side. I clean all of my peices with vinegar and water solution(heavy on the vinegar) and noticed as I was cleaning that the paint would soften enough to scrape off. It took a bit of elbow grease but it worked. You could always try that and then see if you still want it painted. The piece is probally worth more left alone but of course it is living in your house. :)

  30. KjO says:

    My belief is if you asked the makers of the trunk they would say paint it up. They made it to be beautiful and functional. In fact, if they we alive today, aside from being really really old,and man would I have a few questions for them, they would probably fix the trunk up for you.

    I think you stay true to the makers by bringing it beautiful once again.

  31. Hi There,
    I found your blog by way of The Beautiful Life…you may have already painted that wonderful trunk. But I thought I would still make a suggestion. I paint alot of pieces and I would just dry brush that piece creamy white. That will leave much of the wonderful patina…and still cover the drips.
    Have fun with it…I would love to hear what you decides to do.
    Cathleen alyce

  32. Lucide says:

    Brand new to your blog and absolutely love it! And luckily, I just might be able to help you with your paint removal dilemma (since I’m a finisher).

    The best way to get rid of that long drip down the face of it is with a razor blade. Hold the blade at a 90 degree angle against the paint and scrape up and down, but slowly. Do not angle the blade because you risk gouging the wood (and wear thick gloves and goggles… the blade may fly suddenly). You’re basically going to shave the drip until it gets transparent enough (or you get too close to the wood) to then move on to simple warm water. This will work on the paint on the top of the box as well, because the layer is thin enough. Just dampen it a few times with warm water, and use a 3M sponge (the yellow one with the green side… you want to use the green side) and scrub little by little until you get it all off. You’re probably going to rub off some of the patina in the process, but that’s easily put back in with a watered down stain.

    I love using black BriWax whenever I’m doing a french polish on a darker wood or something I want a little more aged. When rubbed out, it leaves a raw umber color, and does wonders on anything metal (like the nails) and in the crevices and worm holes. But it does take a lot of elbow grease to keep the color even.

    Hope this helps!

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