Even though communications and financial transactions have been swept up in digital data streams, goods still must be transported physically. Thus, the containereven more so than the computerepitomizes the global trade interlinkages of the modern world.
Containers are simple, standardized receptacles that can accommodate all sorts of things: food and weapons, electronic appliances
and scrap paper, sneakers and medications. As standardized and stackable entities, they are suitable for trucks, freight trains,
cargo planes, and container ships. Introduced by American freight companies in the 1950s, the container has become a global
Containers save time, allow large quantities of goods to be transported, and enable industries to operate facilities outside
of central locations. They have changed working methods and made job performance as invisible as the products in their interiors:
hidden away behind the sober housing of the container, cargo remains anonymous and replaceable.
The boxes, coffers, trunks, and caskets on display here do not have much in common with impersonal containers. They stem from
an earlier era of global trade (the 16th and 17th centuries), when gestures and symbolic acts still were greatly valued. Of
course, that era also had its unadorned casks and crates, yet many shipping cases conveyed messages that went beyond their
function as a means of transport.