An antique wooden ice box is a great collectible item that can be used as a wine or liquor cabinet today. The ice box is such a part of American culture that you may even hear older people refer to a refrigerator as an ice box today.
Wooden ice boxes were the predecessors of the modern-day refrigerator. The earliest versions date back to around 1830. Made from hardwood such as oak or walnut, ice boxes looked similar to a large dresser. The hollow walls were lined with zinc or tin and packed with insulating materials such as flax straw fiber, sawdust, seaweed, cork, mineral wool or charcoal. There were several storage compartments inside, including the ice compartment, which had a drainage hole. Melted ice water would be collected inside a catch pan or holding tank that would need to be emptied on a daily basis.
The ice which was used to refrigerate ice boxes was harvested in winter from snow-packed areas or frozen lakes. The commercial ice was stored in ice houses and then delivered to residential homes by way of the iceman, who sold ice from a horse drawn cart and eventually, a motorized truck.
By the 1930s, most residential homes were replacing ice boxes with refrigerators. However, not all households could afford the luxury of electric refrigerators, as indicated by the lower income family portrayed on the 1950s television show, The Honeymooners. Bus driver Ralph Kramden and his stay-at-home wife, Alice, shared a one bedroom apartment which had an old fashioned ice box in the kitchen.
Depending on the condition, an antique wooden ice box can be worth a lot of money. Many restored ice boxes are selling online for as much as $2000-$3000. At Vintage Appliances, you can buy a restored antique wooden icebox that has been converted into a refrigerator or wine cooler with modern refrigeration equipment. This company also has unfinished vintage ice boxes for sale.
If you decide to buy an unrestored antique ice box, you can still find good uses for it as a collectible antique.
You may need to clean the ice box up if it is dirty or in poor condition. Wipe it down inside and out. If the hardware, such as hinges, screws and latches on the outside of the box is rusted and in poor condition, you may want to consider replacing it. You should be aware that replacing the hardware can devalue the piece; always try to obtain hardware from the same era if you must replace it. You may be able to clean and polish the metal with a cleaner such as Brasso. Always try cleaning an inconspicuous area of the hardware first.
If the wood is in poor condition, you can sand it down and re-stain it. With a little work, you can vastly improve the appearance of an old ice box. Again, you should talk to an appraiser or experienced antiques dealer before you do this. Improving the look of the ice box may result in a lower value. Always ask before you make significant changes.
Once your vintage ice box is cleaned up, you can find the perfect spot for it in your home. You can display other vintage collectibles on the top and use the interior compartments as storage for practically anything.
Where to Find Antique Wooden Ice Boxes
Finding antiques is always a bit like going on a treasure hunt. You never know when you might stumble upon something awesome.
In addition to the previously mentioned Vintage Appliances, other online resources for finding antique ice boxes include:
You can also try checking the Yellow Pages in your local community for antique dealers who might carry or know where to get an antique ice box.
If you are unable to find an actual antique ice box but still want the vintage style look of an old ice box in your kitchen, you can buy a reproduction ice box. These units have remote compressors to keep food or wine chilled without the noise and heat of most modern electric refrigerators. This would be the next best thing to actually owning a restored antique ice box. You can choose from beautiful hardwoods such as oak, maple, cherry or hickory.
Whatever use you find for an antique wooden ice box, it will make a wonderful addition to your home.