I started this project a while back, and documented it elsewhere, but in the interests of documenting my re-enactment creativity both civilian and military, I shall post the project from start to finish here.
The project came about because we needed, as a unit, some way of storing and transporting paper for our cartridges to and from events. If we could keep made-up (and empty!) cartridge tubes too it would be a bonus. The idea came when reading a court-martial transcript while doing research for something else.
Q: Do you know the contents of those boxes that were handed up and examined next morning?
A: They contain’d fill’d musket cartridges; the boxes were such as are generally used for that purpose.
There was no actual description given, but I did not need a bigger box than would comfortably hold uncut A4 paper, and so my search began on Ebay and Amazon. Pine boxes such as the one I purchased are readily available, but most have handles cut into the sides of the box, which would not be suitable for holding paper and keeping it dry in damp camping conditions. The box I found had string handles and a string lid-lifter, and was more than suitable.
The first steps were to sand the whole thing, inside and out, and coat it with a wood preservative, which dried clear and would prevent (or help deter, at any rate) mould growth and insects boring into it.
I also had to make runners for the bottom, which I made out of the top rail of a broken fence panel, and treated in exactly the same fashion then attached them before priming the whole thing.
The third stage was to paint it with a primer, which also included a knotting formula to provide a barrier, preventing sap from the knotholes from discolouring the painted wood at a later date. I got one thing to do both jobs.
The colour I chose is a close approximation to a shade known as ‘Board of Ordnance’ blue. The Board of Ordnance were responsible for supplying cannon, and the various cannon carriages or trucks, limbers and other assorted equipment to both the Army and the Navy. The army’s carriages, limbers and canteens were painted blue, the gun trucks supplied to the Royal Navy were painted red. The shade of blue I chose was from the Valspar range, an own brand range of B&Q’s (a chain of DIY supplies store here in the the UK) and is called ‘Princeton Blue’. It is not an exact match, but is close to it. I chose exterior grade paint because the box is going to be used at events, where we camp out.
Priming and painting both had to be done in stages as it’s not possible to paint the whole of the outside of something and expect it not to stick to whatever you put it on to dry.
Once the paint was dry, I removed the string handles and lid-lifter and drilled the holes out a bit larger in order to replace them with rope. I was lucky in having to hand a length of rope from a demonstration in the Ropery at Chatham Dockyard.
It went easily through the holes (with the aid of a bit of tape at the end to stop it fraying while getting it through the holes) and is simply fastened inside with an overhand knot at each end, pulled tight.
I also needed to add some sort of stop to keep the lid from opening all the way, and used a length of brass chain for this purpose.
The very last thing required was a legend on top of the box, denoting the regiment and purpose. I decided it would be labelled ’50th Foot Quartermaster POWDER’ with ‘Qt’r-Mas’r’ as the period-correct abbreviation. I typed the required legend into Word, set the font to ‘Essays 1743’ (downloaded from Dafont.com) and played around with the sizing a little. I wanted it all to be in capitals, with the parts that would naturally be lower-case to be sized smaller. The ‘Powder’ part I kept in the larger size and italicised for emphasis. I used a different font (CF Bonaparte) for the apostrophes as I didn’t like the shape of the ones in my chosen font.
Once the wording was to my satisfaction, I printed it out onto ordinary A4 paper. To transfer the lettering to the box, I turned the paper over and used the schoolkid’s trick of shading the edges of the letters heavily in pencil, then turned it back over and put it into place on the box, going over the edges of the letters in pencil. Finally, I filled in the graphite outlines in black paint, using a very fine-tipped paintbrush. The underlining of the ‘th’ in ’50th’ was totally free-hand, without a outline to follow.
The broad arrow mark I got via a Google Image search. The broad arrow is a centuries-old emblem used by the British government to mark government equipment (which is why British prison uniforms used to have arrows on them where the US equivalent were black and white striped). The broad arrow mark is still used on military equipment to this day.
Finished – apart from one or two tiny areas that need tidying up or painting over. And no; we’re not going to keep actual gunpowder in it (modern safety regulations require a much sturdier, lockable box for one thing) but it’s a close period approximation and will serve admirably to keep empty cartridge tubes in. I just want some sort of suitably-sectioned tray inside – but until then, our cartridges will keep very nicely in a Snickers retail box inside.