Writing boxes became popular among the upper classes in the 18th century. Initially, they were used predominantly by military officers. During this time, they were a functional item that a person could take from room to room or on his travels. They were also a status symbol, showing the owner's position, and of course, his literacy. Between the late 18th century and the early 19th century, writing cases became popular with women. From then on, the boxes became more ornate and often encompassed features, such as a reading stand and inkwell. Some also had a slope so the lady could write more easily. They are a fascinating object to collect.
Find out as much as you can about the history of the writing box. Take note of the finish, the presence of brass fittings and any stamps or markings. This will help you determine the value the box and decide on your method of restoration. Ask the advice of an antiques specialist or curator. If the box is very valuable, they may advise that you skip restoration.
Assess the damage to the box. If there appears to be significant damage, take it to a specialist restorer. Only do what you can without causing intrinsic change or damage. Tighten any screws. Apply a suitable wood glue to any loose joints. Carefully remove any chipped varnish with a suitable stripper.
Carefully remove any removable parts, such as an inkwell or drawer. Dust the inside with a soft shaving brush. If the inside of the box is lined and very dirty, seek expert help, rather than attempting to clean it yourself. Wash the wood with soap and water and a cloth, if it is waxed. If the wood is bare, switch to a solvent-based cleaner. Use a circular motion to clean. Allow it to dry thoroughly. Apply a coat of wax, and allow to dry.
You can improve the appearance of your writing box by cleaning and restoring it. However, you can also ruin its value quite easily and unintentionally, so if in doubt, take it to an expert.