‘glory box’: meaning and origin

The Australian-English expression glory box denotes a box in which a young woman stores clothes and household articles in preparation for her marriage.

This expression occurred, for example, in the column Wild Life, by Bary Dowling, published in The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) of Thursday 27th July 2000:

“WHERE’S that towel with greenhood orchids?” I asked. “I never embroidered greenhoods,” she said.
My woman brought much to the marriage, including a glory box, a cedar cabinet restored by her father. Filled with tradition and expectation, it was a potent symbol. In the linen section was a set of hand towels embroidered with wildflowers—nymphaea lilies, running postman, tea-tree. I could have sworn there was a greenhood, but there was not. Thus, as the bard said, doth memory make liarth of uth all.

Synonyms of glory box are:
– in British English: bottom drawer;
– of American-English origin: hope chest.

Both the expressions glory box and bottom drawer occurred, for example, in Our Australian Cousins. A Pre-War Impression, by Beryl Starr, published in the Northern Weekly Gazette (Stockton-on-Tees, Durham, England) of Saturday 2nd April 1921:

Self-reliant as I thought only the American girl could be, with a sweeter, more girlish air than that fascinating young woman of the world, quick-silvery to her taper finger nails, possesses, the Australian girl is pretty, with a more fragile prettiness, however, than that produced by our dear old foggy, beautifying clime, extremely hearty, hospitable, and generous, and very keen on improving herself. In the smallest out-ports of South Australia I found the girls going in, heart and soul, for private theatricals, elocution, music, song, and art. And as for fancy needlework, I have never seen sweeter confections of muslin and silk and lace than those I saw in the glory boxes of my Australian friends. (“Glory box,” by the way, is the Australian euphonius [sic] synonym for our English “bottom drawer.”)

The origin of the expression glory box is unclear. According to the Australian National Dictionary Centre (Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory), glory box is probably related to the British dialectal expression glory hole, denoting a place for storing odds and ends.

I have found early occurrences of the expression glory box—but of unclear meaning—in the following three texts:

1-: A list of objects that were to be sold by public auction, in an advertisement published in The Petersburg Times and Northern Advertiser (Petersburg, South Australia, Australia) of Friday 28th April 1899:

12 Pictures, 5 Glory Boxes and lot of useful articles too numerous to particularise.

2-: One of the unconnected paragraphs making up the column Electric Sparks, published in The Standard (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) of Saturday 2nd September 1899:

About the most bashful man of the party received those bootees. One young lady suggested that he might store them in his “glory” box for a future time.

3-: The Children’s Corner, published in The Advocate (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) of Saturday 10th February 1900:

Dear Chicks,—The competition letters (for Japanese tale) are not to be published till the name of the successful competitor is announced. Letters on that subject I am putting safely away in my “glory-box,” till the momentous time arrives. Keep sending them along; they will appear in print by-and-bye.—Your affectionate

The earliest occurrences that I have found of the expression glory box unambiguously denoting a box in which a woman stores items in preparation for marriage are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From Lady’s Letter from Sydney, by ‘Flora’, published in the Ulladulla and Milton Times (Milton, New South Wales, Australia) of Saturday 4th January 1902:

I was fairly charmed with a display of silken garments that I saw being prepared by a young lady for her “Glory box.” Do you know what a “glory box” is? It is a special trunk that a young lady keeps (a young lady who is going to be married, I mean) to store her future house stock and underclothing, etc., etc., in.

2-: From the following advertisement, published in The Great Southern Advocate (Korumburra, Victoria, Australia) of Thursday 4th September 1902:

Commercial street,

Has the largest stock of Fancy Goods, &c., in South Gippsland, and consequently has a splendid assortment of useful Wedding and Birthday Presents. No need to send to Melbourne, just call in and we are sure we can please you. The following are a few lines just in: Albums, Writing Desks and Cases, Travelling Cases, Glove and Handkerchief Boxes, Wallets, Purses, Cigar and Cigarette Cases, Ladies’ Bags, Ladies’ Companions, Work Boxes, and a very choice selection of Fancy Needlework of all kinds (ask to inspect, as we cannot show them in the window), just the thing, young ladies, to fill the glory box with.

3-: From the following advertisement, published in The Darling Downs Gazette (Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia) of Wednesday 3rd December 1902:

Glory Boxes.—The Glory Box has become quite an established institution with young ladies. We can honestly recommend those wishing to put something by for the “Sunny Wednesday” of the future to visit the final sale at Carew, Gardner, and Chisholm’s, where it will pay to invest, even if the “happy event” is a long way ahead.

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