Antique trunks, also called traveling chests, were originally used as luggage for extended trips by stagecoach, train, or steamship. Today, given the weight limitations on airplanes and the new, lightweight wheeled luggage available, most people use these old trunks as furniture—chests for storing things like blankets, linens, papers, and other memorabilia.
Antique chests, unlike trunks, were always designed for storage and were never intended for travel. The earliest examples commonly found today are from the Victorian Era. Generally the interior box is made of a wood like pine and then lined with materials intended to protect and decorate. Early Victorian trunks are upholstered, much like the furniture of the time, with studded hide or leather. Later, trunks were covered with paper, canvas, or plain or embossed tin. They were typically reinforced with hardwood slats and metal hardware, and locked with a key.
Most trunks fall into two categories: domed and flat-top. Domed trunks have high arched lids that range from camel-back to hump-back to barrel-top varieties. Flat-top trunks, or steamer trunks, were designed to makes these pieces of luggage easier to store on steamboats or trains. What people think of as steamer trunks today were once called “packers”—the even smaller “cabin trunks” or “true steamer trunks” were the most practical pieces for ship or train travel.
Other types of trunks include monitor-tops, barrel-staves, and bevel-tops. Jenny Lind trunks get their name from a Swedish singer who toured America with P.T. Barnum, carrying just such a trunk. Only made between 1855 and 1865, these trunks have a keyhole shape when looked at from the side.
Saratoga was the name used by many manufacturers for their top-of-the-line trunks. These trunks are known for their serious hardware and complex compartments and trays inside. Large wardrobe trunks are meant to be stood on one end when opened. Inside, one side has drawers while the other is a void so the traveler has a place to hang clothes. Some of these are equipped with interior straps to hold shoes, briefcases, curtains, vanity mirrors, and makeup cases.
Wall trunks have special hinges so that, when open, it can stand flat against the wall. Dresser trunks, also called pyramid trunks, are a particularly coveted form of wall trunk. Perhaps the most desired kind of trunks of all, though, are the ones covered in thin oak slats, placed side-by-side. These were extremely prestigious trunks, made in dome-top, flat-top, and bevel-top styles.
Well-known malletiers (trunk makers) include Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Moynat, Haskell Brothers, M. M. Secor, Leatheroid, Clinton, Hartmann, Oshkosh, Molloy, Truesdale, and Taylor. La Malle Bernard and Seward Trunk Company are still making trunks while Shwayder Trunk Company of Denver, Colorado, became the luggage firm Samsonite.
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Best Bets: Week of October 20, 2014New York Magazine, October 19th
Hartmann Luggage, founded in Milwaukee in 1877, was responsible for both President Cleveland's honeymoon steamer trunk and James Bond's briefcase. Meet the new Tweed Spinner 21, available at the brand's just-opened debut flagship (520 Madison ...Read more
Duo continues fundraising efforts long after fair's endCecil Whig, October 19th
Hunter Madron, 14, from Colora, and Alison Ferver, 17, from Earleville, were selling raffle tickets for this Ralph Young-restored steamer trunk full of prizes during the open house for the new 3-D mammography at Union Hospital's Breast Health Center...Read more
News Classifieds WebUnion Democrat, October 15th
Quality furniture, including some antique items, steamer trunk, blanket chest, French Armoire, art deco bedroom set, nearly new loveseat, washer/dryer, refrigerators, dining set, bookcases, all-terrain Nordic Track, gobs of cameras/media equipment...Read more
The mistake of Tim Lincecum on the NLCS rosterMcCovey Chronicles, October 11th
The first thought is that anyone denigrating Tim Lincecum -- Cy Young winner (2x), World Series winner (2x) and Padres no-hitterer (2x) -- is a bad person who should be locked in a steamer trunk and forgotten about until they've realized what they've...Read more
Catalina Authors Celebrated at Catalina Island Foundation EventCatalina Island News (press release), October 9th
All three books featured at the event may be purchased on the Island at The Steamer Trunk in Avalon and DC-3 Gifts and Grill at the Airport-in-the-Sky, and may be available at other locations on the Island. They can also be purchased on Amazon.com...Read more
Puppeters will let their hair down in West LibertyMuscatine Journal, October 9th
The classic Grimm Brothers tale will be presented with elegant rod marionettes using an antique steamer trunk as a stage. All of the scenery and props come out of the trunk, which is used in multiple inventive ways to create a forest, a scene with a...Read more
'Rapunzel' puppet show coming to MacNiderMason City Globe Gazette, October 8th
“Rapunzel” by Great Arizona Puppet Theater is a rod marionette show using an antique steamer trunk as a stage. Puppeteer Nancy Smith pulls puppets and props out of drawers, nooks and crannies and sets them up in, around and on top of the vintage trunk, ...Read more
Yes, I am going to show my ID and vote on Nov. 4, but under protetChippewa Herald, October 6th
For all anyone knows my grandparents smuggled me and my brothers and sisters into the USA in a steamer trunk (it had to be fairly large, given there were five of us) from Switzerland, or Ireland, or Poland, or Germany, or Lebanon, or Moscow, or Beijing...Read more