Demand for commercially produced biscuits soared in the 19th century, along with demand for tea and coffee. As biscuits were fragile by nature, a tin, box or barrel provided a modicum of protection, with the additional benefit of being air-tight, keeping biscuits fresher for longer.
Alongside the large scale manufacturing of foods such as biscuits - as opposed to creating them being created only by hand within an individual’ s kitchen - and the popularity of taking afternoon tea with biscuits and cakes rose over the course of the Victorian era. This meant that biscuit boxes became necessary for storing biscuits which had been bought and were to be brought to the table while taking tea.
One of the men cited as creating the idea of the biscuit box is George Palmer, of Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits, who supposedly created the biscuit tin in the mid 1800’s to enable his products to be shipped securely around the world. The tins would’ve been costly, compared to shipping in bulk, but also had the added benefit of offering retailers the opportunity to sell a batch of the biscuits with a tin which could be used for storage in the customer’s home too.
Huntley and Palmers Biscuits quickly became the largest supplier of biscuits in England, however the tale of George Palmer’s biscuit box idea may be a work of marketing folklore.
What is a Biscuit Box
Biscuit tins and boxes varied in size, shape and materials depending on the desired use. Large tins were used to transport goods, whereas smaller, more decorative boxes and tins were for domestic use.
Biscuit tins became more grandiose during the Victorian era, as did much silverware, especially pieces which adorned the dinner table. The advent of afternoon tea also increased both the need and the desire for highly decorative biscuit boxes, which would be required to be aesthetically pleasing to take pride of place alongside tea and coffee services.
Antique and vintage silver biscuit boxes were often created in either a highly embellished Victorian style, complete with floral motifs and figural characters.
Occasionally, larger biscuit boxes are referred to as biscuit barrels. These pieces are often less refined than biscuit boxes, but their large size allows for greater space for ornamentation and decoration. The term ‘barrel’ sometimes refers to a more rounded, cylindrical shape, in comparison to a geometric biscuit box.