Thursday, August 28, 2014

Guest Post: 19th Century Trick Snake Boxes, from Bruce Heckman

Bruce Heckman sends us another post about the Heckman collection of book objects. In this post he focuses in on an amusing collection of folk art trick snake boxes. Bruce hasn't told us, but I'm assuming that they are American-made in the late 19th century and in many cases made as gifts. As you can see in the photos, the boxes were made in endless styles but their purpose is the same, to delight, surprise and shock the unsuspecting 'reader':

Snake boxes are whimsical and diabolically ironic. The coiled snake boxes described in Mindy's post are created to have exploding coiled snakes. They are sight gags. This post shows a collection of carved wood book-shaped boxes that, when the foredge slide is shifted, a painted wooden snake equipped with a sharpened steel nail rears its ugly head. 

Here is a photo of a group of snake boxes in Bruce's collection:

The snake operates by a string assembly, to emerge and strike on the finger, the one who naively opens the box.  Grooves or applied hearts are situated along the slide to assure the nail's effectiveness.  Make sure you have an up-to-date tetanus shot! 

This snake book has a spine title: Vol. IIX. Ruth Love Hid Out of Site
Diabolical irony is expressed when a box has a heart on it or conveys deep affection on its outside but a painful experience when activated.

The whimsical aspect is clear in the funny shapes and polka dot painting of the wooden reptiles.



  1. What a neat collection. I would love to see one in action.

  2. My grandfather just recently passed away and I was left a snake box that his father left him. It looks very old, with no real distinguishing markings on it. I would love to find out more about it, and I know he would love to learn more about it also :) Any info of help that you can give me would be greatly appreciated. If you would like me to send you pictures I would love to just let me know where to send them to, I will try and post them here first. Thank you for your help, hope to talk with you soon, I absolutely loved your article too ;) , John